Life on Montana’s Highline

Authors note: I don’t remember writing this poem, but I must have when I first began teaching here–when the racial differences between me and my students were most obvious. It’s fun to look back and see what I thought when I first got here. 

Life on Montana’s Highline

I’d never seen plains before.

The miles of rolling grass, unbroken by trees or saguaros.

Unbroken by people.

It’s yellow and brown.

Not the lush green that the little research I’d done about Northern Montana had promised me.

The ground is not flat here on the Highline.

But it is not mountainous either.

It rolls, like the sea.

The air is warm and moves the grass like the purple storm clouds of the Sonoran.

Like sheets of rain in the distance when you stare from the top of the canyon.

The mountains in the distance are not of red rock, but are almost fuzzy in appearance

The snow on their peaks looks harsh and stark in comparison to the softer trees beneath the icy cap.

If you close your eyes, you can almost see horses galloping across the landscape

Their painted hides splattered across the yellow hills like paint on a canvas.

There is an openness here.

A feeling of freedom without boundaries.

It smells so different from the sage I remember.

But that’s okay.

It smells like…

Nothing.

Like open air and sunshine.

Like pride. And work. And heritage.

Since moving here,

I’ve discovered that the plains are not plain.

They are not ugly.

They are a different type of beautiful.

Sometimes I wonder…

Do my students look at the plains

And see the horses too?

Do they see a heritage that we talk about so often

And wonder at the fact that those traditions seem

Lost to them now?

Taken by hands that had no business taking anything at all…

Much less than what they stole through generations?

Do they look at me and see the hands of my ancestors?

Do they look at themselves and wish they could more clearly see

The faces of theirs?

These Plains, I think are theirs.

They will always belong to those children

Despite any laws or claims that say otherwise.

It is kind of the children to share it with me.

To show me a world that I had no knowledge of before.

But I wonder sometimes if the decisions of my ancestors

Have made the gap between us too great?

Sometimes we break down these bars created by society.

Sometimes we see just people

And it does not matter that I am pale and my eyes are green.

Sometimes, those boundaries disappear and there is only the earth.

And the people that dwell on it.

All of us.

It is comforting to know that these plains exist.

And that, at some level, it does not matter who claims them now.

They have always existed, and they will exist even after those claims have been forgotten.

But for now…

The boundaries remain.

And I am glad for it.

This is a world I have been allowed to experience

But it is not mine.

It was never supposed to be mine.

It belongs to those painted horses

And the smell of sunshine.

It belongs to a heritage that sees it as more than just rolling grass like storm clouds

And that sees it as more than just a different type of beauty.

And I’m glad of that, too.

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