During weddings at Dunrovin Ranch, Sterling and I escape by taking a little trip around Montana. Yesterday found me at the foot of the Highland Mountains where 52 summers ago I lived in a fire lookout as a US Forest Service employee. It gave me pause. I could not help but transport myself back to those summers. Never did I expect to see the 70 year old version of myself looking up from a landscape that I had come to know like the back of my hand and that left an indelible imprint on my heart and mind.
The Forest Service had wisely asked to me create a "viewshed" map of all that was visible from the lookout. It took me days to draw out the lines and color in those portions of the mountains and valleys that I could see from those that were hidden. The process cemented in me a thorough knowledge of all that lay at my feet and instilled in me a lifelong love of maps.
As I gazed at the lonely perch on the mountain, I could feel the tug of the tether that binds me to that young woman. Some of the tether's filaments are frayed, some entirely broken, some fade into ghost strings that evaporate into thin air. Others have solidified, petrified into granite-strong links that have supported me throughout time.
My days at Highland Lookout had been spend in reflection, anticipation, wonder, and yes, some fear. I was on the doorstep of becoming an adult. I had just graduated from high school and had yet to face any of life's challenges alone. Throughout the summer, my parents dutifully drove the nearly impassable road to the lookout to give me comfort, play endless rounds of three-handed pinochle after dark, and share home-cooked meals. The mountain was visible from their living room window, and every lightning storm found them watching with anxiety. Indeed, lightning struck the lookout often - but the ground wires held until the very last day of my second year when I was forced to abandon it after a strike had started a small fire. I put the fire out, hiked to the highway, hitchhiked into Butte, and reported it to the Forest Service. We went back up the next day to retrieve my things and close up for the season. I never returned to live there.
This place is a seminal part of my history. It taught me to trust myself, to be self reliant, to take risks, to enjoy my own company in total isolation, to love and know a vast landscape that scrolled across my mind during times of trouble. I am grateful to that young woman for choosing this place as her launching pad - however much of her lives in me still.
Suzanne Miller is the owner and operator of Dunrovin Ranch in Lolo, Montana