The Things I Love about Montana

I cater heavily to the romanticism of Montana and the West.

Boy oh boy it’s been a while since I updated my site. I’ve taken a little social media break the last few months, not for any lack of projects. As I slog through the busy summer I romanticize Spring and Fall, always thinking about new horizons. I’m not sure if complaining about one season and wishing for another is a Montana thing or just something most people do. I do know that Montana’s land and weather are powerful forces and affect our behavior more than we realize.

A delightfully clear night at Holland Lake. Jupiter rises with the Milky Way.

In the Summer I find myself in a precarious position between ideology and business. Most work I sell or am paid to make involves serving Montana’s beauty on a silver platter for visitors and lovers of the State. Our tourism economy continues to grow as we’re one of the wildest places in the good ‘ol USA. Are we, though? Even five years ago, Missoula really quieted down after the University let out for the Summer. Now, those ‘Mellow Missoula Summers’ are but nostalgia shared by the OGs. Now, there is an eruption of activity in June that doesn’t let up until October - with events every single day and bountiful outdoor recreation. Trailheads are as packed as box store parking lots. People from countryside come into the cities to shop while urbanites conquer the wild. Tourists do both.

Mirrored ridgelines look like guitars.

The romanticism of Montana is a double-edged sword. On one hand it stimulates our economy and awareness of the natural environment. On the other it increases the use and impact on those beautiful places. A perfect example (not pictured except for its headwaters at Holland Lake/Falls) is the Blackfoot River running from The Bob Marshall Wilderness all the way down into Missoula. Once a prized fishery and travel corridor for indigenous people, the Blackfoot became a logging channel throughout the 20th century. Logs were floated downriver to the mills near Missoula. It was a logging/mining town through and through, with dense smog and gruff people. If you ask an old person, they think of Missoula as a nasty industrial town - not the tourism oasis it is now. The Blackfoot was positively trashed back in the day, full of industrial waste and debris from logging and mining operations. Fish populations were minimized - some to near extinction, and it was simply not a happy place to be by the end of the 20th century.

The powerful Holland Falls plummet hundreds of feet into the lake.

Norman Maclean’s book, A River Runs Through It paints a beautiful picture of Missoula’s wild at the beginning of the 20th century and into the Great Depression. At that time, the Big Blackfoot (as it was known in the book) was still somewhat pure, and the book is now considered biblical by fly fisherman. The river and our relationship with it was characterized in poetic and even spiritual terms. Rights of passage shared by brothers and fathers and the ghosts of a pre-white Northwest. An anthropomorphic river with a spirit of its own. After it was made into a movie starring Brad Pitt in 1992, A River Runs Through It had a cataclysmic impact on the interest of fly fishing worldwide. When the public realized the movie was actually filmed mostly on the Boulder River near Bozeman, because the real Blackfoot was too disgusting and inaccessible to film in, our harmful impact became all the more real.

Looking towards the back side of the Mission Mountains from the Holland Falls overlook.

In 1993, shortly after the film’s circulation, The Blackfoot Challenge, a non-profit dedicated to cleaning up the river, was formed. Now, 25 years later, logging has been shrunk massively, the river is clear, and it is delightfully fishable (not perfect though nor like it once was - Bull Trout are sill in danger of extinction). Fly fishing is as popular as ever. The term ‘combat fishing’ has emerged in Missoula - so many people are fishing the rivers that it’s hard to find a hole. Drift boats and rafts flow through like a state highway. The fish grow smarter and more weary of our tactics by the day. Thus the cycle seems to have reset. Maybe we’re in a 21st century Maclean era.