“We need more Americans to engage with wilderness, and not just by visiting national parks, because many can’t afford to vacation there. We need people to appreciate nature where they live, so they’ll see the importance of preserving it everywhere.”
— John Elder as interviewed by Leath Tonino in the June 2013 issue of The Sun.
I’ve been making an effort lately to appreciate where I live. And when I came across the John Elder interview above and it referenced the wonderful phrase, “the undiscovered country of the nearby,” coined by John Hanson Mitchell in his book, The Wildest Place on Earth, I was touched.
So I’ll share these pictures — all except for the one above made within three miles of my cookie-cutter house in sea of beige in northwest Bozeman. I found the snow covered boulder above along the Gallatin River about 30 miles south of me.
Mr. Reynolds passed away Friday at age 77 while loading hay at his ranch near Twin Bridges.
One of Sports Illustrated’s 50 greatest Montana sports figures of the 20th century, Reynolds was inducted into the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame in 1993, and a career that spanned six decades includes honors like Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association Rookie of the Year for 1958, All-Around Champion in 1961, and more than 300 belt buckles.
Plus, he was a heck of a nice guy.
“He had to be every one of our heroes when we were growing up,” Jim Croff, president of the Montana Pro Rodeo Association, is quoted as saying to the Great Falls Tribune in 2010.
What better way to be remembered?
Like many parts of the country, Montana is weathering through a patch of frigidity these days. Even for us, this is especially cold. But opportunity is in the eye of the beholder and here in Bozeman, we happen to be close to a center of great ice climbing famous the world over: Hyalite Canyon.
Last year, Sierra magazine assigned me to photograph a Veterans Expeditions trip up Hyalite that brought about a dozen veterans up to a U.S. Forest Service cabin for a few days of adrenalin-pumping fun.
The story focused on Demond Mullins, a 31-year-old Ph.D. student, former dancer and model, from New York City who served in Iraq and like the rest of the expedition, was seeking a way to readjust to non-combat life. Mullins would soon become a husband and sociology professor.
The group talked to me about the camaraderie of being among people with a shared set of experiences. About how people who had been strangers a week before were now close friends who could relate to missing the adrenalin rush of combat and the difficulty of re-entering a world ignorant of what it is like to be shot at.
I often speak about my love for the rural American West. I love its spirit, its character.
Sometimes that character is visible in the faces of those that live here. Other times, on the landscape.
Here are some pictures from a recent trip through Fort Benton and on up onto Montana’s Hi Line:
Fort Benton, along the banks of the Missouri River, bills itself as “The Birthplace of Montana.” It was established as a fur trading center in 1847 and was the farthest a steamboat could reasonably travel up the Missouri from 1860 until the railroad came through toward the end of the 19th century.
The land in central and northern Montana is rolling, fertile farmland these days. This is one of Montana’s Square Buttes. This one is near the town of Square Butte south of Fort Benton and I’m aware of another Square Butte near Great Falls.
Meet Pepin, an 8-year-old Belgian malinois. Pepin’s special, but not because of his fancy breed. He’s special because he’s crazy.
“Spirited,” or “high energy,” might be more diplomatic, but when Megan Parker of Working Dogs for Conservation went looking for a dog, crazy was a good thing. Working Dogs for Conservation is a program that uses dogs and their great scenting abilities to, “find poachers’ snares in Africa, exotic weeds from Missoula to Minnesota, and stream contaminants such as pharmaceuticals,” says the article Jeff Welsch wrote in the winter issue of Montana Quarterly.
The dogs are also being trained to smell a stream and tell if native fish species like cutthroat trout are present, or if non-native species have taken over. Really.
And Megan Parker says one in 1,000 dogs are suitable for the program.
“They’re so super high energy, it’s a little scary,” Welsch quotes her as saying. “Pepin is sweet as the day is long, but he’s focused and toy obsessed…. They have to really want to do this.”
“Crazy eyes” is how Parker describes the look Pepin gets when it’s time to go to work.
Preparing for a trip to Myanmar, Pepin must learn the difference between the scent of wild elephant dung and that of domestic elephants. In Myanmar, he will help researchers get accurate numbers on the endangered wild elephant population, which is surprisingly elusive in the dense jungle.
Actual scat from a wild elephant in Myanmar was collected and then sent to Bozeman so that Parker could hide it around her yard south of town and Pepin could find it in all sorts of places.
His favorite reward? Play.
There’s a whole lot of empty up in northeast Montana. And that’s how people like it, I’m told. Medicine Lake is a town, a body of water, and a national wildlife refuge. I was lucky enough to be sent up there a few months back for Montana Quarterly magazine.
The wildlife refuge was established in 1935 to provide breeding and stopover habitat for migratory birds.
Medicine Lake the town touts its outdoor recreation, the ample wildlife, but the nearby Bakken oil field is seeping into its economy.
Oil, a part of the economy of northeast Montana since the 1950s, has played a much bigger role in the last five years. And that brings something of a boom to Medicine Lake, attracting new people, new trades.
This is Edie Burris working on one of the Wignall’s Trucking rigs in Medicine Lake. The trucks haul water in the Bakken oil fields. “They welcome everybody here,” says owner Bart Wignall, who moved his water-hauling to Medicine Lake from Utah four years ago. “They made us feel part of the family,” he says.
Donna Swain manages Medicine Lake Supply. Swain says she came to Medicine Lake 2007 to visit a friend. “In those 10 days, I got a job, I rented a house, opened a P.O. Box, went home, put my two weeks in and moved straight back. Me and my 10-year-old.” She says she bought her house for $28,500 in 2008. It was appraised at $76,000 in 2011.
Sandra Trupe, left, manages the Honker Pit restaurant and Jodie Fuhrer, right, is her assistant manager. Trupe, a lifelong Medicine Lake resident, met Fuhrer when Fuher and her husband moved to town recently. They say they quickly became fast friends. Fuhrer says her husband commutes to Williston, N.D. every day to work in the oil field. She adds he turned down a promotion that would have required moving to Willistown.
From left, Betty Hendrickson, one of the 15 owners of the Laketonian Cafe, confers with manager Jennifer Clarendon and cook Monica Nelson inside the cafe. Clarendon, 37, said she took over the cafe less than two weeks earlier, after leaving a waitressing job in Plentywood.
Raygen Metcalf, 9, plays tetherball after school. As the oil industry brings more people to Medicine Lake, it also brings more children to the school system, though some say not many.
But northeast Montana is still wheat country. Even the folks camping in Medicine Lake aren’t all working in the oil fields. Mandy Hege takes in the Amber Waves Harvesting custom cutting crew’s laundry from around one of their campers. Hege says the company, based in Malta, bounces around between Texas and Montana with its 10 custom harvesters and was in Medicine Lake to harvest wheat for a couple of weeks.
Booms come and booms go. Long-time residents like the Smith family have a rich history on this land. Above, Doug Smith, a Sheridan County planner, digs up a few potatoes in the family garden. Doug lives on the family farm with his brothers, their families, and the family patriarch, Big Ed Smith, 93, who grew up on the farm his grandfather settled in 1903 and got his nickname as a 6-f00t, 5-inch pitcher for the Dagmar Danes baseball team.
“We’re more or less isolated out here,” says Smith. Smith ran for governor in 1972 and he and his wife have been married 68 years. “We’ve had a wonderful life and raised four nice sons,” he says. “You go the extra mile and you’re rewarded.”
Richard Hendrickson, 81, says there have been a lot of changes to Medicine Lake over the years. Farming has become far more mechanized, 30 students now sit in classrooms where there were once 100, and he remembers when diesel fuel was nine cents per gallon. The oil business has brought some new families to town and picked up the local economy a little over the last five years, he says. “That’ll end some day. This oil, it isn’t going to last forever.”
I have earned my living by making photographs for more than 20 years, mostly for newspapers and magazines. I've authored a few coffee-table books and won my share of awards.
I believe a successful picture is one in which the viewer sees themselves.
The more we see ourselves in other people and in other places, the more we will cherish those people and places. But we must trust the truth we feel.
Truth resonates character. Character resonates truth. When we perceive true character, that generates trust.
Done well, photography speaks universally and authentically, overcoming barriers of language and culture and trust. So I choose photography to share true character of people and places.
I want people to see themselves in the people and places I photograph.
I want people to realize we all have more in common than in conflict.
I've just published a book, Montana: Real Place, Real People. It celebrates the true and authentic people and places writer Al Kesselheim and I have come across in our travels through this wonderful state.
I give a motivational speech called, "Be Who You Is." It's about the authentic, genuine character that I've discovered and been inspired by over the last decade.
My favorite color is orange and I like canoeing, classical trumpet and Nordic skiing. I love farmers and ranchers, even though I grew up in Chicago and I'm allergic to pretty much everything with four legs.