Kathleen Clary Miller has written 300+ columns and stories for periodicals both local and national, and has authored three books (www.amazon.com/author/millerkathleenclary). She lives in the woods of the Ninemile Valley, thirty miles west of Missoula.
Sometimes when I walk in the Ninemile Valley, I don’t see another human being for days on end. Not an automobile, tractor, or any piece of equipment that emits a manmade sound. If my husband is away for more than a day or two, I can easily feel like the first person on planet earth, a modern-day Eve, plopped down on this dirt road right after God said let there be pine trees and white-tailed deer.
It is during such retreats from humanity that I begin to feel more like a member of the wildlife community indigenous to these woods than one of the Homo sapiens encroaching on it. My ears prickle to the wind’s wild approach from a distance, telling me which storm system is coming and how much time I have to seek shelter. My hair stands to signal any imminent lightning strike. A ten-degree temperature uptick eases me from hibernation, itching for the discovery of a new food source—perhaps the back patio barbeque or a trip to town and an outdoor table at Caffe Dolce.
Whenever I face a power failure or an impassible blizzard, I am reminded of how little I really need to be comfortable. Like the animals, I wear my winter coat that I then shed in summer. What is the reason for the rest of these things that dangle on hangers in my closet like ghosts of my former life, wherein I required wardrobe accoutrements to announce the season?
When my husband and I were on our way out of the valley and into Missoula the other evening, we noticed our local elk herd had scattered aimlessly, one over on this hill, another in that neck of the woods, yet another standing and looking rather bewildered outside our neighbor’s barn door. There had been word of wolf sightings in our area.
We concluded this must confirm the rumor; why else would they be separated and sprinkled all over our high hillside instead of congregating together munching in the usual field below, unless they had crossed paths with peril?
Sure enough, when we reached the main road that abuts the valley where dozens habitually enjoy an evening meal, there were none. Brad slowed his truck to circumvent a recently partially devoured deer carcass.
“We live such a different lifestyle out here than we used to,” he commented, an understatement to say the least. I knew he paused to consider, as did I, what we were likely to encounter on Ninemile Road as opposed to Southern California’s 405 Freeway. Survival of the fittest, and not characterized by car, clothing, college, career, or cash.
Instead of how fast can I get there and how far can I go, rather, how shall I live? Brad turned the wheel sharply to avoid a pothole the size of which would have been covered by a manhole anywhere in California.
“In a way,” he mused, “it’s more real.”