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What a grumpy man and the wild mountains taught me

December 4, 2021
Jim Mellen photo

By Heather Ferrie

Heather Ferrie and Kluane
I’d just said something about wanting wild mountains and deserts even when I can't be there, simply because we need wild places, when a man snipped, “You sound like one of those hippies! It’s all gonna be gone someday, anyway. Why do you care?”

I regretted only replying with, “I just do.”

When I was ten my family took a trip to the Rockies. I recall amazement, as a little girl bending my neck to see the peaks. I remember crisp mornings in my tent, fishing in cold streams, playing in snow, and joyfully seeing mountain goats and bears. Not long after, however, we moved east. It would be many years until I made it back to those mountains but a longing remained.

There were signs. As a child I kept an old topographic globe on which I could run my fingers across the bumpy parts, my favorites - the mountains.

After college, I worked in the city. I gazed outside feeling out-of-place. But the world I grew up in taught me success was in titles and accounts. I built a life where I had a good degree and a good job, but it was hard to admit that I also lacked authenticity, was in a struggling relationship and lacked a sense of identity.

Then, I went to San Diego for work, after which I headed to the Sierra Nevadas. I returned east with a renewed longing. At the time the ultimate destination was Montana. Once there, my enthusiasm had me nearly numb to the cold and the grizzlies. I knew I’d never get over it. But more years passed.

Suddenly, everything I knew came tumbling down. Broken trust ripped away at my heart. I ran to the mountains. Off I’d go exploring, often just my dog and I. There, I began to mend. The wilderness teaches us humility and attentiveness. Once changed, we're forever filled with a vivid existence. These wild places, to which I owe much, were there all along. In every mountain I see stories of those who found their way. I see hope, wisdom, and answers to our problems today.

I hadn’t known the sun’s rays shooting out behind a glowing peak of the Selkirks and Pioneers. I didn’t know that a goat family would frolic in front of me, trustingly with babies. I didn’t know the taste of wild currants or that I needed it.

“Something will have gone out of us as a people if we ever let the remaining wilderness be destroyed.” - Wallace Stegner

Laying atop the pass gazing at stars, teary-eyed, I reminisced. I saw myself in the Sierras, at Yellowstone, on the Clark Fork River, the heart-thumping moment of my first grizzly, the morning alpine glows, and all those nights under the Milky Way.

Then, it hit me. It was like the mountain spoke to me. At any moment, there’s someone in need of the wild and someone else, hopefully, fighting for it. These experiences had seemed just for me, but everything and everyone I encountered on my journey was an integral part of my story. And they need wildness. Every person, even if unaware, and every future generation will need it. When I needed it, it saved me. And I hope that’ll be the case for everyone else.

Now, if a man asks, “Why do you care?” I’ll say, “We’re all in this together. It’s not just about me. It’s about us all.” Then, I’ll walk off into the mountains.

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Mike Weland, Publisher  

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