By Jessianne Castle EBS ENVIRONMENTAL & OUTDOORS EDITOR
BOZEMAN – When snow falls in Montana the clouds draw in from the sky. They huddle close against mountain peaks and spread across the valleys, blanketing the sagey plains in snowflake wonder. Crystalline white drops of snow sail to the ground and gather there, smoothing cracks and ravines. When snowfall stops in Montana, the sky smiles, clouds part and sunshine dances with the glistening snow.
The experience of place, the way a landscape immerses the senses, mind, body and spirit, is widely appreciated in Montana. It’s why people come here, why they stay, why they live as they do.
A new literary anthology celebrates this Montana sense of place, featuring 20 of the state’s contemporary writers, including Rick Bass, Maile Meloy and Carrie La Seur, as well as 28 bright color landscape photographs by Alexis Bonogofsky.
Titled “A Million Acres,” this new release is sponsored by the Montana Land Reliance and specifically commemorates the land trust’s protection of 1 million acres of Montana open spaces, which was achieved at the end of 2017.
As the largest state-based land trust in the U.S., Montana Land Reliance has worked with more than 800 landowners—many of whom are working farmers and ranchers—in a partnership that permanently protects private land from development while maintaining private ownership of the land. This keeps agricultural land in production and preserves fish and wildlife habitat in perpetuity.
“It requires a willing landowner who has a conservation ethos or who’s really interested in stewarding the land,” said MLR southwest manager and Big Sky resident Jessie Wiese. “It leads to really meaningful conservation.”
Wiese said that beyond serving in tribute to open land conservation, the book also honors those willing landowners who have been partners in conservation. “It’s been working with landowners of all walks of life,” she said. “I think the writers did well showcasing that.”
She added that she hopes “A Million Acres” inspires its readers, whether they live in Montana, visit Montana or have only heard of Montana from afar.
“Hopefully it does connect more people with Montana,” she said. “It’s an important place to preserve.”
Editor Keir Graff, a Chicago resident who was born and raised in Montana, echoed Wiese. In the national scene, he said, “’Montana’ is like a magical word, an association with the mythic West. Montana will always fascinate people.”
Recognizing both his own and many a Montanan’s desire to keep the bounty of the Treasure State a closely kept secret, Graff offered one perspective.
“We really need to be less possessive of it and more encouraging of people to really know what it is,” he said. “Really this isn’t just about Montana. This is about land and open space everywhere.”
Ultimately, the book considers how the landscape touches those who set foot in Montana through the lens of multi-generational Montanans as well as out-of-state transplants. In essays, memoirs and short stories, the writers tell their tales of the rivers, mountains and plains from across the state.
“It’s such a Montana thing to do, to celebrate that,” Graff said. “We need everybody to visit Montana at least once in their life not only to experience the beauty, but to understand it and know why it’s worth preserving.”