Did you manage to fit everything in last year?
Not me. It wasn't even close.
If you're like me, you might have stumbled out of bed this morning, looked in the bathroom mirror, carefully noting the ravages of another 12 months, and wondered for a moment how it could have gone by so quickly and what you have to show for it. Only last winter, there were all of those schemes and plans rolling around in your head. There were places to go that you had never been. New experiences awaited. There were the old friends you would encounter and the new friends you would surely meet along the way. And on the first morning of the New Year, you are left to wonder what happened to all that time.
Now I suppose I could sit down and put together a long list of things I didn't get around to doing, the hikes and camping trips, the fishing excursions and the road trips that never got past the stage of, "Wouldn't it be fun toŠ?" But I'm not inclined to do that. I have long since given up on the notion that it will ever be possible to do everything I would like to do and see everything I would like to see in this great place in which we live.
That's because there's just too much of this place called Montana.
In fact, the way I figure it, no lifetime can be long enough to see and experience all this state has to offer. There are too many little nooks and crannies that demand to be explored. There are too many "Rock Creeks" and "Elk Creeks" and creeks with a hundred other names on the map, each and every one of them offering mystery and possibility. There are too many valleys to be explored, trails to follow, mountains to climb, rivers to float and lakes to fish for any one of us to ever do it all.
So, after that sudden recognition of the passage of another significant chunk of a lifetime, I am more inclined to dwell a little bit on those days that reminded me once again why I have chosen to live here. When I do that, it immediately becomes clear that I am in no position to complain about what I didn't manage to do during the last year.
After all, not many people in the world have the opportunity to spend a winter night skiing along in a ghostly procession searching for a species of owl that calls out, "Who cooks for you?" from the frozen darkness. I got to do that.
And not many can step into skis after work, only a few minutes from home, to pass an hour or two sliding along in the quiet among towering fir and pine, as though civilization were miles and miles distant. I did it every chance I got last winter.
Nor can most people, on a whim, wander down to one of the rivers that flow through town and drift a fly past waiting trout, any day of the year. Whenever I got the urge, I did exactly that.
Where else can one spend the lunch hour walking among fields of balsam root or a carpet of blooming bitterroots? I didn't miss out on that.
How many have the opportunity to stand knee deep in a legendary trout stream, casting to feeding fish while the sky and stream bank willows are filled with giant salmonflies? I was lucky enough to do that.
Who else but we fortunate few can spend long summer days floating and fishing and swimming in rivers that run clear and cold? How many are lucky enough to experience unforgettable fall afternoons on those same sparkling rivers, fishing and laughing and basking in the soft autumn light? I had my share of that and probably more.
I woke in my sleeping bag in the midst of trackless wilderness. I watched days begin and end from high, open ridges that only rarely feel the footsteps of humans.
From my bed on the porch up at the cabin, I listened to loons calling from the far side of the lake under a sky full of stars.
And so much more.
I may not have gotten it all done last year, but I had a wonderful time trying. And best of all, I got to share those days with friends and loved ones who feel the same way I do about this place where we live. And I also had the great privilege of sharing much of it with you.
Now the days are getting longer again, and the year ahead stretches out ahead like a vast, blank canvas. I can hardly wait to start filling it.
Happy New Year.
Greg Tollefson is a Missoula free-lance writer whose column appears each week in the Missoulian.