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birds and words

June 25, 2013

slicken

Man am I thrilled to see that Audubon Magazine is running an excerpt of Opportunity, Montana: Big Copper, Bad Water, and the Burial of an American Landscape. I’ll excerpt the excerpt below, but you can read the whole (partial) thing here.

It’s becoming easier to take the poison part for granted and ignore it in favor of the more immediate sensory experience. The distinct but conjoined sounds of rippling water and wind gusting dry grass is momentarily exquisite. The hills, starting to close in here at the tail end of the valley, are arranged in soft undulations and shadowed with the contours of weathered mudslides. Bright light gives depth and volume to their monochromatic swell, and for a minute I entertain the fancy that I could grab the hills’ skin like the hem of a bedspread and unfurl it into the sky, snapping off the slickened soil and toppling the dwarfish pinyons, and let it waft back to rest refreshed.

Take away the fences, the concrete rubble, the mine waste, and the occasional noise blown over from the interstate and I could almost convince myself that I’m paddling through virgin Montana prairie, but then I don’t know what virgin prairie would look like. The pinyons that look to me to be stunted by mine waste could just be the offspring of a naturally dry microclimate, growing exactly the way nature intended. The relative lack of river-bottom cottonwoods may be nothing more than the spotty expression of thin and naturally alkaline soils. Whatever “natural state” means, there’s no sorting it out now.

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