Daily Passage: American Prairie Reserve

The prairie birds are up—but I’m not actually certain they ever slept. Not last night, with the clear skies, the full moon, the solstice just three days past. Right now, I think, all our sleep is a little addled. I tried: I parked up, then bedded down, on some level ground by a cattle guard. Went through the motions, but the sleep was slow to come. It wasn’t that I felt unsafe. Though I was exposed—in fact, to someone with binoculars, my truck was probably visible for many country miles—that didn’t bother me. In fact, I was feeling about as secure as I ever did.

For this, there were several reasons. I knew what I was doing the next few days, an uncommon luxury. Someone else bore the responsibility of deciding the when, the where, and the what. Friends were much closer than they usually were, and this awareness changes, powerfully, the mood of a place. But, bigger than that, I sensed a wholeness in my surroundings—one absent from many of the lands I’d been through, getting here. In the entire world, there are just four areas of temperate grassland intact enough to inspire hope that conservation on the landscape level remains possible. And that night, I was in the heart of one of them—what a gift.

It was only an hour before midnight; only a few more after that, and I would need to be clothed, coherent, and ready to tag along with the crew of nest searchers. I think the sleep problem was that there was just so much brightness, so much energy —so much life happening, all around. A western meadowlark still sang: low, clear, honeyed notes lilting up from that big yellow moon of a chest—playing out, like the lunar light, over the prairie.

Meadowlark lullaby; then, for the bedtime story, an old American classic—the saga of what sort of relationship we should have with the land. First, I read some Save the Cowboy, STOP the APR:

APR’s ultimate plan is to gain control of the 3.5 million acres and be beholding [sic] to only a few elites at the top of their board of directors, the major doners [sic]…Anyone who spends any time in north central Montana will find close-knot [sic], thriving communities with great schools…” The “great schools” thing wasn’t really checking out, so I moved on.

Next, United Property Owners of Montana: Their opening statement was “Everyone owns something, and whether you own a city lot or a sprawling ranch, your property rights are sacred to you.”

I think that so much of our trouble starts with treating ownership as sacred. The places that remain the most whole, like American Prairie Reserve, are, often, the places that are most contested. They become attractive because they still have something to yield—something that hasn’t yet been tamed. But you can’t own the sacred.

Horned Lark getting weighed in a pill-bottle lid at American Prairie Reserve.

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