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Further Fetchins – Adventures from Montana to Alaska



By Mike Mannelin, Columnist

The air is easy to breathe. It isn’t hot or cold, and the wind carries with it the aroma of 1,000 blooming fireweed, forget-me-not, chocolate lily and lupine flowers. The sun has just picked itself out of the abyss below the horizon. As it works its way off the ground and into the sky, the southeast wind calms to a simple breeze. The airspace above me is filled with seagulls, ducks, cranes and magpies. I look across Bear Lake at the mountains. A glacier hangs onto one of the peaks, its icy cracks growing all summer long. Quite a few patches of snow hang on amid the green grass on the rest of the mountains around the lake.

Each day, the clouds paint a different picture of the surrounding world. Some days they stretch themselves thin along ridges. Other days they hang as a low fog, covering only the lake. The high wall of mountains at the back of the lake separates the Pacific Ocean and the Bering Sea, also separating two different weather patterns. Just like Lone Mountain in Big Sky creates its own weather, these mountains have a unique ability to hold up a stop sign to the clouds, causing them to form their own wall above the ridgeline. Today, the high, silvery gray clouds are joined together by glowing white ones, the sun shining through to light up sections of a mountain.

It’s taken me a couple of months to adjust to the lack of noise here. As I walk down the trail through the tundra, I hear the birds singing, the creek rippling, and the river meandering toward the ocean. About once a week the natural sounds are accompanied by the foreign noise of an airplane bringing supplies and human contact to our neck of the woods. I can hear an airplane about five miles away, which is before the pilot announces his arrival on the VHF radio.

The short hand on the clock spins around twice for every rotation of our planet. Many people today will be cramming in as many tasks as possible during that time period. Goals will be met and new ones created. Communications are being sent and, simultaneously, others are received. I imagine people in a city, rushing from place to place, focusing on projects immediately at hand.

Spending enough time at this particular GPS coordinate has slowly pulled me away from all those things. A complete sense of contentment combined with a lack of urgency places me in a balance similar to what I feel when riding the Lone Peak Tram in of January. It feels as though I’ve been freed from some kind of gravity—not in a physical sense, but a gravity that pulls members of American society towards a conventional idea of time management that isn’t reflected upon, but accepted as a given.

The tall grass lining the sides of the bear trails has grown to four feet tall, and it waves in the wind. The water level in the river rises and falls with a margin of around six inches, depending on the rain. Foxes and bears wander through the yard. Swarms of gnats and mosquitoes hover in what seem to be random places. Anywhere else I could be living right now, all these things would amount to nothing happening. Here, that nothing is just about perfect.

Mike Mannelin spends his summers in Alaska with his wife and dog, counting migrating salmon at a remote spot on the Alaska Peninsula. He is always looking forward to his next tram lap with friends in Big Sky.

The Outlaw Partners is a creative marketing, media and events company based in Big Sky, Montana.

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