Personal Journey: In Montana, outdoors truly is great

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The Crazy Mountains, as seen from the uncle’s ranch. Montana’s mountains are spectacular and its silences can be heard. At night, the sky — free of light pollution — is dense with stars. SIMON BASS

We had often talked about visiting my wife’s uncle in Montana one day, but in our nearly 19 years of marriage, it had not happened.

And so, as often happens, it took tragedy to finally spur us to action.

When my wife’s aunt died last year, we decided that it was finally time to go visit her uncle. We knew his ranch was big, but it wasn’t until we arrived that we grasped the true extent of the property — 620 acres, 1 square mile, near Livingston, Mont. Little Indian Creek Ranch is small by Montana standards, but it got me wondering if the entire town I live in would fit on this property.

They call Montana “Big Sky Country,” but, quite frankly, everything in Montana is big and spectacular. The first sight that hit me was the mountains. The mountains! The enormous mountains, some still snowcapped even in August, were spectacular. So spectacular, that the first site that moved me to take a picture in Montana was a spot about 20 feet from the gate of the plane I’d flown in on. Of course that was to be only the first of many spectacular views.

The biggest surprise, however, was the change in the passage of time. Put simply, time seemed to come to a halt. Not in a boredom-filled, monotonous sort of way, but more in a relaxing, stretch-your-mind-and-take-time-to-think sort of way. In Montana, you can hear silence. In the early morning, as the sun was rising and no one was stirring, I could actually hear the sound of absolute silence. On the ranch, if you hear a car, everyone looks because it can mean one only thing: You’ve got visitors. I live in such a stimulus-laden environment in Southeastern Pennsylvania that in a quiet place like Montana, nature’s awesome beauty really stood out.

Nighttime is when the Big Sky really shines. The stars are electric. At home, it’s easy to forget to even look up. In Montana, without the effects of light pollution, the stars practically scream at you to look up. The night sky is so dense with stars and clear that you can even see the gas clouds around the stars.

The only thing lacking at our Montana ranch was something distinctly unnatural — cellphone service. In dry southwestern Montana, water is the most valuable resource. On this ranch, the stream and our house are at the bottom of a valley that runs through the middle of the ranch. Hence we had terrible reception. But I didn’t mind at all. True, there were times when I huddled near the window, turning my phone just the right way to get one bar of signal to check my e-mail. But had my phone worked better, I might have missed the best message Montana could send — the experience of the great outdoors.

Simon Bass lives in Wallingford.