We Take Our Stand: The path of water

40 Montana outdoor writers take a stand for public lands
Swan range Montana
Montana's Swan Range (photo: Todd Tanner).

Every day, we—my wife, my son and I—are infused with the blessings of public lands. And not in some vague, generalized, ambivalent sense; not in the way that some folks are inspired by the presence of public lands as a remote bastion of wilderness or as a metaphor for freedom. When my family turns on the tap, water that falls as rain or snow on the Swan Range a mile or so to our east - water that works its way down through the cracks and crevices of those sheer, gorgeous, publicly-owned mountains - comes gushing out from our faucet and slakes our thirst.

That water follows a traceable path. It starts high up with the grizzlies, the elk and the mountain goats and then trickles down into the ancient bones of the mountains, where it turns west as a subtle yet massive movement of groundwater, cold and pure and perfect, pushing into our valley. It gives birth to Wolf Creek, which offers shelter and sustenance to wild trout, and it percolates up through the myriad springs and seeps on our land, where it also fills our well with the very essence of life.

When I walk out the front door and look east towards the Continental Divide, I know that those majestic mountains—public lands, owned by “We the People”—are not just there for the hunters, anglers, hikers, bikers, horseback riders, skiers, berry pickers and campers who visit them on a regular basis. They’re also the origin of the single most valuable commodity known to man.

Water is life. I can’t say that enough. Water is life. And here in the West it’s impossible to build a wall between our public lands and our waters; we can not separate the source from the spring, the mother from the child. I look up at those mountains and I am humbled and grateful that our forefathers had the generosity and the wisdom to leave behind such an incredible legacy. Now it’s up to us to protect our public lands for our families and for future generations. I only hope that we’re up to the task.

Editor's note: Montana has a long tradition of listening to and respecting—revering—its writers and the state’s literary tradition. In an unprecedented show of unity, more than forty of Montana’s best writers have gathered, in rapid response fashion, to write original essays and testimonials advocating for the protection of our public lands, and endorsing Democratic House of Representatives candidate Rob Quist’s position on this (literally) most common ground of issues. Visit We Take Our Stand to view all 40 essays.