Psalm 46 reads in part, “Be still and know that I am God.”
I don’t think of myself as religious, though I have, at times, been a regular church-goer. Over the past year or so, the only times I find myself inside a church are when I’ve been asked to play trumpet for a service.
That was the case just before Thanksgiving when I was part of the music during a service at First Presbyterian here in Bozeman, where Jody McDevitt is co-pastor. That day, Jody gave a short sermon based on Psalm 46 and Luke 12:22-31. I took the two passages and the sermon to say that taking risks and being who we are is what we are made to do — and that by being still and by being who we are, we can be energized and focused and assured.
I believe in a universal, nurturing force for love, for good. I don’t care what people call that force — Mother Nature, Mother Earth, the Universe, Allah, Jehova, Love — that’s not what this post is about. Jody calls that force God. She says her message “is about resting in God….”
This rest is what I get from visiting the beautiful, quiet and still places that are so easy to find here in Montana. This stillness, this rest, is what I want to share with those who see my landscapes. I hope they energize, refresh, reassure.
According to a link a very dear friend sent me, following your calling — being who you are — brings about mystical coincidences that support you with the things you need to follow this calling. I believe that’s true. And I believe moments spent in stillness, in rest, are what open us to finding our callings, to knowing who we are. These moments allow us to listen and be receptive to what it is we most desperately want to do with our lives.
This time of year can be the ultimate in crazy, and it’s ironically tied to a man who advocated this rest we’ve been talking about. A man who said not to worry, all of our needs will be met while we’re doing our work, being our true selves.
Let’s all try to find some time for reflection in the coming weeks. Let’s be still. Let’s rest.
I think it’ll do us good.
Conrad Burns still has a gift for affability. And he keeps sharp with a group of buddies he meets for coffee every weekday morning near his home in Billings, where Scott McMillion and I found him one morning this past summer. McMillion wrote a wonderful profile of Conrad Burns in the fall issue of Montana Quarterly.
Burns spent 18 years as a Republican U. S. Senator from Montana and during that time he rankled more than a few feathers. But say what you like about Conrad’s conservative outlook, his Republican voting record and his “rustic mannerisms,” as McMillion calls them, Burns actually did a lot to protect Montana wild places.
After Burns, now 78, lost to Democrat John Tester in 2006, he suffered a stroke in 2009 and spends a lot of his time in his Billings home, filled with plaques and pictures from his time in Washington…
I love it when people who have a history of conflict, come together and agree on things. And that’s what’s happening along the Blackfoot River in western Montana.
Ranchers like Jim Stone have a lot to worry about. There’s the weather, expenses like fuel and feed, and there’s medical problems too, not to mention the danger of vaccinating a new calf while its 1,500-pound mother might be getting over protective.
Understandably they don’t like it when a bunch of environmentalists and government agents come poking their noses in to tell the ranchers how to run things better.
So you can see the potential for conflict.
But some years ago, folks like Stone and Neudecker got together with other ranchers, government agencies and environmental organizations and started following the 80-20 rule. They figured they agreed on 80 percent of the issues involved in caring for the land. They all wanted a healthy ecosystem. So they resolved to work together on those 80 percent issues and leave the 20 percent for later. Sure enough, trust was built, common ground, common interest was found and now the Blackfoot Challenge is making waves across the world.
Sad, but it happens.
It’s a fact of ranching. And Stone says ranchers used to bury their dead calves in the fields or just leave them for scavengers. They didn’t want their neighbors knowing they had lost livestock, even though the neighbors were probably losing some too. But Stone and his neighbors got together, realized that they were creating kind of a dangerous situation leaving meat out when grizzly bears were around. Some of them were nervous sending their teen-aged sons and daughters out to check on the calves in the middle of the night.
Fish & Wildlife didn’t like bears and coyotes getting the idea that hanging around people and livestock was a great way to get an easy meal, and it turns out that the highway department was composting road kill to keep roadside vegetation green. So now the ranchers put their dead where a hired man can come get it in a pickup. The pickup is paid for by Fish & Wildlife and the highway department gets some extra compost material.
Trout Unlimited is an environmental group with an interest in the Blackfoot Valley watershed. Scott Gordon, left, and Juanita Vero are part of it. They’re looking over Hoyt Creek on Stone’s Rolling Stone Ranch near Ovando. Stone says the creek had been lowered up to 12 feet in the past, probably to dry out the fields on either side so that they could support the tractors necessary to grow hay. Stone says he worked with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to install eight adjustable dams and a new channel for the creek. This work raised the water level so that the fields were now sub-irrigated, which means that he no longer had to drain the creek to grow hay. And the adjustable dams allow Stone to dry out the fields just enough to run equipment on them as needed. The result is improved bird habitat, a restored fishery (making TU happy), and a quadrupling of Stone’s hay yields. “It’s a win-win for everybody,” says Stone.
David Mannix runs a ranch near Helmville with his brothers. He says the Blackfoot Challenge helped him buy tire tanks that allow him to water his cattle away from Nevada Creek. Now Nevada Creek isn’t stressed by cattle on its banks for extended periods, and he gets to move his cattle more often to fresher, better grass, increasing his yield.
And now everyone seems pretty happy. Some of the issues in the 20 percent got talked about because so much trust was built up on the 80 percent. Meetings happen and issues are worked out. ”We exist to coordinate, to facilitate,” says the Challenge’s Sara Schmidt, right, meeting at the cafe next to the Blackfoot Challenge office with Traci Bignell, center and Elaine Caton. “We’re not an advocacy group,” adds Bignell. “It’s more about empowering people.”
Stanford, Montana, looks like it’s winning a battle a lot of rural American towns are fighting: to keep vibrant, to stay young, to have energy.
One of the leading forces for Stanford’s energy is Tess Brady, whose business card reads, “Resident Bitch,” a title she says she gave herself. She says that’s because she isn’t afraid to pester city government and businesses to get after and keep after projects that make Stanford look cared for and proud. And no one works harder than Brady, who is watering and weeding some 60 planters and 35 window boxes of flowers around town from 5 to 7 every summer morning and then again from 8 to 10:30 every summer evening. In between, she is a bank vice president.
Besides the flowers, Brady was one of the forces behind the repaving of Stanford’s downtown. Above, Don Dixon walks along Central Avenue to meet his wife at a corner coffee shop. The storefronts are occupied in Stanford and the downtown is clean. Residents say that shows off a strong community spirit.
As does the Stanford pool, an 85-foot by 45-foot source of local pride built in the 1970s and paid for and maintained by community fund raising, according to manager Sarah Bracha. In addition to the pool, there’s a library, a museum — even a staffed medical care facility. “There’s a lot of community spirit here,” Bracha says. “For a small town, we have it all.”
That includes Ted Kaste’s K’s Supermarket. Kaste, 41, grew up in Stanford, got a degree in archaeology and had established himself as a wild land firefighter, supervising an engine crew, when his dad decided to sell his grocery store in Stanford. “That’s when I got interested,” Kaste says. Until then, he says, the idea had never entered his mind. But he and his wife dropped everything and dove in. After a year, he began to make changes, investing in modernizing the store, changing distributors. He says he wants a store to be proud of. He makes sure his prices and selection are competitive with stores within driving distance. “I don’t want customers that shop here just because it’s the local place,” he says.
Of course Stanford has its characters. And barber Don “Andy” Anderson is one of them, shown here joking with a parting customer. Andersen, 74, has been cutting hair in Stanford for five decades, selling fireworks out of the shop for 35 years. He says he and his wife, Alverta, have been in a number of other businesses in town, including a clothing store and a deli. “We’ve been in everything,” he says. “It’s a fun town.” Dean Rowland remembers having his hair cut by Anderson at about age 6. He says Anderson told him a dog lying nearby was waiting hungrily for a squirming boy to get his ear cut off by mistake. “I was 22 years old before I ever moved in the chair again.”
“I come here in ’36,” says Florence Whitfield of her arrival in Stanford as a new bride from the town of Geyser, just 16 miles west of Stanford. Whitfield says she and her husband farmed wheat until he died in 1977, when she moved permanently into their house in town. But she has remained active, despite her age, which is nearing a century. Whitfield golfs and is an accomplished bowler, evidenced by her trophy collection. In 2005, she says she was the oldest bowler at the state tournament. Her high score is a 266, she says, which equates to nine strikes and one spare.
Gary Worm travels the quiet, shaded streets of Stanford on his motorized wheelchair. Worm says he was born in Stanford in 1951 and spent three years in the military during the Viet Nam War. Stationed in Germany, Worm says he was busy rodeoing, competing in saddle bronc, bulls, bareback and wild horse racing events. In 1974, Worm says he was home in Stanford, crossing the railroad tracks when his vehicle was struck by a speeding train. “It took me from one side of town to the other,” he says. Worm is from an old Stanford family that continues to care for him, one resident says.
Outside their mother’s home in Stanford, Kyle Marquardt, left, and his brother Jerry watch over their dogs and Jerry’s two daughters. The brothers, now in their mid-20s and working in the oil industry in Winnet, say they spent their elementary-school years in Stanford. “After moving away,” says Kyle Marquardt, “you realize how good it was.” Those sentiments are echoed by Ryanne Blank, who grew up in Wolf Creek, then moved around the country a bit before she and her husband took over the Sundown Motel from his parents four years ago. “Small towns are the best,” she says. “(Stanford) is a close-knit community. It’s almost like a big family.”
There’s something magical about ceramics. I think it’s the fire.
An artist spends hours, days, years molding earth into a vision, then puts their vision into an inferno. And instead of destroying the vision, the inferno brings it to life.
It was my pleasure to cover a pottery-firing event in Kalispell not too long ago for Montana Quarterly magazine. Lots of artists from all over gathered to talk about technique, about vision, about art, and then they made some really big fires and out came some really wonderful pieces.
The contest drew entries from publishers all over, including the really big names in New York, and it exists to recognize works which “examine and reflect life on the High Plains.” That includes Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado and Kansas, as well as the Canadian provinces of Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
Many of you know that most of the work in this book was done for Montana Quarterly magazine, for which Al and I are both extremely grateful. And we’re also glad to continue to work for that great publication, now owned by our friend Scott McMillion.
And I’ve just finished posting the Four Corners of Montana series we were lucky enough to do for Sheila Habeck and Montana magazine’s September/October issue:
Then I come home to find the current issue of Sierra magazine in my mailbox, inside of which is a wonderful story about an Army veteran on an ice climbing trip in Hyalite Canyon that I shot last winter:
And I’ve also connected with some great commercial clients recently to do some fun and meaningful projects both in the recent past and hopefully, in the not-too-distant future.
It occurs to me how lucky I am to be working with such fine people on such wonderful projects that are appreciated in such wonderful ways.
I wish every one of you who’ve read this far (oh hell, even those who didn’t) as happy and fulfilling an existence. And to all of those who have made my existence so happy and fulfilling, thank you. What a wonderful thing you’ve done.
Southeast Montana is a land of character.
Eighty-six-year-old Lyman Amsden, top left, manages the Corner Store in Broadus. A Broadus native and WWII veteran, Amsden says he has hope for better times in Broadus in the future, but no expectations for any big changes.
Wearing his cowboy hat while working behind the counter at the Corner Store in Broadus, Ken Johnstone, 64, says he’s a cattle rancher when he’s not behind the counter. “I love eastern Montana,” he says. “I just never thought about going anyplace else.”
Laura Lee Ullrich, 60, owns the Copper Moon gift and antique store in Broadus, selling what they bill as “the best milkshakes in 500 miles.” She says people are the diamonds in southeast Montana’s crown. They are are resourceful, bloom-where-you’re-planted folks.
And then there’s Diane Turko, who owns and runs the Stoneville Saloon in Alzada all by herself.
Perhaps the brightest prospects for southeast Montana are embodied in the future of Ekalaka native Nate Carroll, who is acting curator of the Clark County museum, while also beginning graduate work in paleontology at Montana State University in Bozeman. Carroll says southeast Montana is rife with dinosaur fossils and he’s been studying them since he was a kid working on his family farm and ranch. Now he is looking toward positioning the museum to lead Ekalaka into the economic world of paleotourism, hoping to draw visitors to hunt for the abundant fossils in the area.
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.