It's now been over two months since I drove west from Vermont, headed for Kalispell, Montana. Two months since I left that hip little city of Burlington. It's really a funny kind of town, Burlington. She’s nestled between the jigsaw puzzle shores of Lake Champlain and the quiet hills of the Green Mountains. It's a city where college kids stream endlessly out of every nook and cranny. Where the last of the hippie vanguard mourn the long defeated dreams of the 60s and instead have settled for the nostalgic sounds of the Grateful Dead that still echo out of Nectar’s Bar and bounce along Church Street every Tuesday night. It's an Eastern town through and through. A town quite unlike the far Northwestern towns out here in Montana, the likes of Kalispell and Libby. That is aside from their equal fondness for craft breweries.
It's over two months since I left Burlington and just exactly two months since I camped out on the shores of some slow-rolling river in, God-Knows Where, South Dakota. As I sat there on the bank I asked myself, “What in the world do you want to get out of all of this?”
And now it's been almost two weeks since I sat on the side of, coincidentally, Green Mountain in the Flathead National Forest watching a bull moose calmly stride down the ridge. Which is to say that it's been almost two weeks since I had an answer to the question I’d posed to myself on the banks of that Dakota river.
Green Mountain stands resolute in the Flathead Forest deep in the Northern Rockies. From our MCC campsite on Middle Big Bill it was a good three-and-a-half-mile trek up the winding trail each morning heading for the worksite. It's an equally challenging and serene hike; dotted by trickling streams and blooming fields of wildflowers as well as steep grades and rocky terrain. We hauled a few shovels and pulaskis up the way for good measure but what you really want up there on Green Mountain are pick mattocks. For eighteen days, over the course of two hitches, the six of us swung our picks into the dust and dirt of that overgrown stock trail we’d been tasked with finding, widening, and in-sloping.
For those eighteen days, we powered ourselves with plenty of summer sausage, blocks of cheddar cheese, jambalaya, Brayden pasta, and what most rational people would consider to be an unholy amount or perhaps even an unethical amount of Snickers candy bars. But to those high and mighty rational folks, I say, “Can it!” because I’ve never felt better and I know five more pick-swinging, rock-whacking MCC members who would tell you the same.
Of course, this hard-earned bliss would not have been possible without the work and help of the good people at the Spotted Bear Ranger Station. By the end of this season, they will have had two years of work completed by MCC members on the trails of Green Mountain and I’m thankful I’ve had the good fortune to be on one of those crews.
Spotted Bear, for those not in the know, is considered to be a rather unique station and I feel that our experience out in the Flathead acquired a good deal of that same kind of antiquity and charm which seems to be so prevalent in the woods around said ranger district. The sights and experiences we encountered ranged widely throughout our two hitches. From the lumbering leviathan moose that I spoke of earlier who graced us with his daunting, full-antlered presence, not once but three times to the simple-minded young deer that was so curious about his new neighbors and so void of manners that he’d go so far as to come to watch us while we were on the latrine. The crew sheltered through wild hail storms, fended off unending swarms of cruel little biting flies, scared off cowardly black bears, and endured a few bouts of that ego-humbling Rocky Mountain Thunder.
It’s been a long two months since I left the Green Mountains not yet knowing I was headed for THE Green Mountain. The two states are nearly a continent apart and can sometimes even seem a whole world apart. Montana, with its vast and often daunting landscape, transposed against Vermont which is so small and holds so firmly to its historic quaintness. But for all their differences I can still see them in one another. And though the Rockies tower over the Greens they both hold within them that same spirit of natural peace. Camel's Hump Mountain in Ducksbury, Vermont and Green Mountain in Montana’s Flathead are both home to acres upon acres of fraternal, sturdy pine. Up atop both evergreen forests, so many thousands of miles away from one another rests that same endless blue sky. These are two landscapes connected somewhere along the line by networking roots below and by the ever-expanding ether above.
For me, it’s been up on both Green Mountain overlooking the Spotted Bear station and on the rolling hills way back in Vermont that I’ve discovered a kind of beauty I had yet not known existed. A kind of beauty l hope the years will never let me forget.