By Karen Elizabeth Land — originally published on November 22, 2001 in “The Great Falls Tribune.”
Barn’s burnt down —
now I can see the moon.
— Mizuta Masahide,
17th century Japanese poet
Witnessing the Montana sunset is a daily ritual for me. Usually as the sun slides behind the last rise, I am watering and feeding the sled dogs, tucking them in for the night. On September 11th, the beauty was overwhelming. The sunset seemed to last forever.
It is hard to imagine anything good ever coming from something so bad. I knew, on the other side of the country, the World Trade Center was burning. The pain and ugliness of the day weighed heavy in my mind as I went about my evening routine. It was the sunset that helped me to see the moment in a new light — a light both brilliant and reassuring. I became instantly aware of how beauty helps us heal and move forward.
We are lucky here in Montana. And I mean really lucky. Natural beauty is such a part of our lives that we sometimes forget it is all around us. We expect to see snow-peaked mountain ranges in the distance, shimmering fields of wheat, clear streams and herds of antelope grazing. I know I expect these things; that’s why I moved here from Indiana seven years ago.
Last week Borage and I returned to Indianapolis to speak in the schools about dog mushing and to attend an Iditarod fund-raiser that family and friends had organized for us. As soon as the news of the “girl dog musher from Montana” hit the media, my poor parents were bombarded with over 160 RSVP phone calls in just two days.
The residents of the city and suburbs were dying to hear and talk about dog mushing, Montana and Alaska, and “the wild.” Keeping my parents on the phone for hours, everyone seemed to be starving for the beauty that is our home here in Montana. They know wilderness exists here in our state and it seems to give them hope even if they might not ever run a team of sled dogs, hike the Bob Marshall, or float the Missouri River.
It was good to go back to Indiana and even better to come back home to Montana.
I have been back East dozens of times since I moved west, but this trip was different. I was reminded of my first pilgrimage to Montana seven years ago to attend school in Missoula. My rusted Chevy S-10 truck sagged under the weight of my entire life’s belongings, my two cats, and my dog Kirby. The beauty and endless space of Big Sky Country was exhilarating. I felt more alive than ever and so thankful to just be here.
Thanksgiving will have more meaning than ever this year. Sometimes it takes tragedy, ugliness, or a trip away from home to show us the beauty in our lives. In the natural world, aggression and darkness are always replaced with peace and light — I take comfort in this.
“The barn has burned down,” but all of us, anywhere in this world, can look up and see the moon.