Place Where You Live:

the bitterroot valley

How much time does it take for place to seep in, for the here to quell the longing for there? When we lived in the forest, there was no question of where to train your eyes. The small patch of sky that displayed one corner of the summer triangle, the kinnickinnick patch, the corner of the yard with the saskatoon bush my husband transplanted, the sedge that displays its anthers and stigmas when the garden was flattened from snow-  the beauty commanded attention. It was specific, obvious, and rewarding in its fine elegant detail.

Three hours south, our new house sits on former sagebrush prairie. Every inch has been converted into irrigated pasture.  Our first spring I wandered among the bluegrass, timothy, clover, and smatterings of noxious weeds in search of just one native plant, but found none. We bought hundreds of seedlings for windrows and planted trees and planned gardens. We moved here to grow.  My eyes stretched out on the horizon, rested on this peak, that ridge, the umber hills unfolding to the east. Sitting on our deck, I could see the wind begin and felt the strength that thrums through the valley. For a while I loathed the wind, the starkness, the dry hills. The forests were out of reach, just across the valley and leaking from the lush canyons where the snow lies late. The beauty was here, but it was not close, and it was not mine. Snow laden granite crags arched to the sky, clouds billowed and swirled across the valley. Cows milled about, horses speckled the landscape, and houses rose awkwardly from the open land.

Today the Bitterroot Valley has seeped into my sense of place, of now, of the ecological home. The sun sets and my husband sits quietly outside near the rock that we claimed from the forest. We are building closeness, relief that we can examine, splendor that we can name and caress. I can let my eyes free range- they trace the ridgeline and follow into canyons, rest on our burgeoning aspen grove, rest in the blanketflower patch under the plum tree, and on the one finch pair that has found my birdfeeder. My daughter laughs at me from her sand pile as I tuck my head into a divot and admire the sky with my feet in the air, embracing the infinite.