I am in Missoula, Montana, for the weekend, a city approaching 70,000 people.
“Noise, and busy, and so much traffic. And noise.”
“You say that every time you come here,” my friend commented as I sprawled on her floor in fatigue from the long drive. Or shock.
“I feel it every time,” I sighed. “Did I mention the noise?”
The city feels disconnected from all things real, as if I’ve dropped into a bubble removed from the way the wind plays over the land, the way Raven calls from the dead tree across the pasture, the way Bear moves things around at night, or the way Fox leaves his small pile of scat on the doorstep as a reminder of whose territory this land really is.
Like I’ve dropped into a bubble disconnected from the deep reality of the natural environment and all the life it holds – that living, conscious, wonderful non-human world. The Real World.
Years ago, I started thinking about The Statement so often made as people leave the Yellowstone region where I live, usually said with a deep sigh: “ah, now.. Back to the Real World.”
I started considering this phrase on a plane from Montana to California. I was going to visit my brother and his family. I was sitting in that big metal container with its synthetic-covered seats that would take us hundreds of miles in a few hours. I was remembering the feel of mountain air, the sound of wolf howl, the scent of big sage. Holding that reality.
The woman in front of me spoke to her friend beside her. “Yellowstone was great. All that space. Those wolves we saw. Amazing. But now, it’s Back to the Real World.”
Back to… what?
I opened my eyes, realizing that I had just been thinking that I needed to carry the real world within me, while I went away to a human-dominated city.
Have wildlands become NOT the Real World in our minds? The beings and life and flow and cycles that have developed over millions of years? Granted they are not the day-to-day reality for a majority of people. But they are real, and even as I sit within this city, I think of the wilder places as very real. They are not just a vacation spot, a holiday destination. A retreat. They are not places created for humans to enjoy as a respite.
Wild places and even rural lands are habitat, home, spirit, and life.
I look at the city as an alternative reality, and not one I choose to live within. That does not negate these places: cities and suburbs are part of a larger reality.
When The Statement is made by people leaving the slip of land between Yellowstone and Wilderness where I live, I reply, “THIS is the Real World,” waving out to the rich lands around.
“Oh,” they say. And usually smile.
“Oh.” And nod. “Oh, yes.”