Jumbo Lookout sits atop a cliff, with one corner of the porch hanging off the edge. I did a handstand there once and when I realized I was looking down about 100 feet, I almost got sick. The lookout is at 8,054 feet above sea level, but it actually sits above the ocean of wild that is Montana’s Bob Marshall Wilderness. From Jumbo, you can’t see a single artificial light. There are no highways in sight (it’s at least a 21 mile hike to get there), and I only imagined the hint of the prairies of eastern Montana stretching out past the continental divide.
Feeling at home on top of a mountain is easy. Sunrises woke me every morning practically peeling my eyes open with the brilliant light through the surrounding windows, and the movement of the sun dictated the day. The wilderness would tell me what I needed to know if I listened: to the wind direction, the birds and chipmunks, and more importantly, the quiet. Storms could be seen hours before they arrived, and when darkness set in, the mountain gently put me to sleep, protecting me with her steep, inaccessible terrain.
I shared the mountain with a family of mountain goats that came up regularly to lick the salt from the rocks around the lookout. A former lookout saw a cougar one night, and tracked it carefully as it wove between the rocks, circling the lookout. Once, I saw a medium sized blonde Grizzly bear foraging in the saddle a few hundred yards away. That fall, I watched four statuesque bull elk in velvet feeding in the old growth forest just below the lookout.
By the end of the summer, fires roared on the mountains around me, and I knew every peak and drainage by name. I still remember the skyline perfectly, years later. Evenings spent sitting on the west porch with my legs hanging over the edge, I’d listen to Garrison Keillor tell stories on Prairie Home Companion while the sun set behind the mountain peaks that looked like the tips of waves in the ocean of wilderness.