Place Where You Live:

Upper Swan Valley, Montana

Looking southwest to the Mission Mountains on a warming March afternoon.

Sometimes, I know it will kill me. In winter’s deep belly, where the whole land has held its breath for months, where my world’s beating heart has stalled to wait, sucking its own veins for color and warmth and movement and light, I will surely die. I fall to my knees at the first red-winged blackbird’s watery song. When the land takes its first shattering breath, I stare, disbelieving, into the sun.

Beargrass blooms like white flames up the high alpine avalanche chutes. I follow wolf pups through meadow nurseries, and their parents gently whoof me away. The goshawk keks and dives when I wander near its nest and I walk in grizzly bear tracks that swallow my own. I stroke cutthroat trout as they rest beneath logs at the inlets to mountain lakes. Each morning I wake to mosquitos stinging my nostrils while sandhill cranes whoop their ancient hollers above the field where I lie. Death can seem so far away.

Thunder rakes its claws up and down my spine. The mountains light afire and choke me with the ashes of a thousand whitebark pines. Their ghosts rise in a column and fall heavy to the valley floor, where they linger in the hot, still air for weeks. They haunt me through the cracks in my uneven log house, seeping between windows and underneath doors. In the heat of the year, as in the freeze, I cannot breathe.

Fall soothes raging fire to rest beneath a soft dusting of snow. Western larch, cottonwood, paper birch, and aspen blaze golden through my forest. The slanting afternoon sun alights the air and a sweet chill creeps into evening’s fading light. White-tailed bucks swell their necks to make war for love and then die. I reap my land’s bounty: venison, fall morels, huckleberries, grouse. I make a healing salve from swollen cottonwood buds and beeswax. The wood stove’s fire fills the holes inside my chest. And then November bursts in, snarling.

Fire and ice bound life in death, and I am alive, in this place.