Notes From the Badlands

My dream title of the article I’d imagined did not translate to the truthfulness of my life. The Badlands are actually in eastern Montana, an estimated drive of 11 hours 45 minutes and walking distance of 10 days without a stop to even take a nap or refill a necessary water bottle. They’re dry where these mountains I reside in are forever green. I don’t know where I am, a perpetual symptom of the last two years. But direction, like time, falls away when faced with much more urgent questions. Where is the water, who opened my cabin door while I slept? Am I making a difference with my four hundred hours of (non-labor) labor?

I am in western Montana, forty five minutes away from a town that’s diminished to a population fewer than nine hundred souls. I intern at a political research organization that compiles a profile of every politician at a state and federal level. I’ve read through, edited and composed the political profiles of over three hundred candidates who’ve sought office, from Alaska Treasurer to the California Supreme Court. What can I tell you about these people? How many children they have, their spouses’ names, and, if they have more courage, how they voted for certain hot-topic issues. They say very little on websites that sometimes earn my youthful approval or are so glitchy and archaic that I wince at whatever audience they’re failing to reach.

Sometimes I find the dirty laundry: an angry spouse, drug convictions, charges of violence. Too often I find ignorance, misspellings, all around shitty, shitty ideas. I listen to podcasts and Kendrick Lamar at work so I don’t completely fly off the walls.

I’ve never spent much time in the wilderness. My parents didn’t particularly care for hiking or camping. I thought Amherst was the wild. Laugh, please laugh. The green replaced asphalt suburbia and my violent, pollution-ridden sunsets became respectable New-England sunrises.

Now I live in rural Montana, much different than home or college or the other places I imagined I’d be this summer. I never imagined this: there was no way I could imagine this. I find crowds a bit frightening, warn newcomers about altitude sickness (we find ourselves 6000 feet above sea level) and hike nearly every day. I was frightened, when I came, precisely of what I adore now: the great big skies that I’m not sure I’ll be able to leave come August. Each day is a chaotic mix of sunshine, hail, rain and thunder. Nature, what I’ve always believed we’ve been killing, is what’s most likely to kill me here. I’ve never felt so vulnerable nor so comfortable.