BY SUZANNE MILLER
I live in Montana. Vast prairie vistas nurture my senses and my soul. Crisp mountain air fills my heart, as well as my lungs. These mountains with their wide valleys and abundant rivers; these dramatic skies with ever changing cloudscapes, inhabit my very being. My life is bound to this place.
I live with animals. Soft furry ears; gentle knickers that call me near; quiet, inquisitive eyes tracking my every move; comical smacking of lips or joyful legs leaping into the air, punctuate my days and define my moods. They are my teachers; their raw vitality and total commitment to survival speak to me of the gift of life. My life is bound to theirs.
Moving through this incredible landscape in unison with my horse and my dog—beautiful sentient beings so very different from myself—brings me as close to God as I am able to get. Heightened senses, exhilaration tainted with danger, attention to every detail as the ground flies beneath our feet—we are bound together, acutely aware of every moment, every mile, every stone, and gust of wind.
It has always been thus for me. My parents dutifully took me to church in Butte, each week, where I earned my Bible through church school. Afterwards, they took me to the mountains to hike and fish. Every Sunday, I fought to pay attention to the teachings of the church. I heard the words; I thought the thoughts; but I didn’t feel the feelings. It seemed that my spirit did not accompany my body. It stayed outside waiting for the afternoon adventure that was sure to follow. It resisted the notion of finding majesty and life’s meaning in man made places or peace and awe in words alone. It needed to be outside.
In church, I contemplated good and evil, right and wrong. The lessons still inform my life. In nature, I have contemplated the mysterious act of living that we share with all others. I witness both the beauty and destruction that nature continually displays: A mother cougar kills a fawn to feed her own; a fire sweeps through the forest to open space for new growth. These acts are neither good nor evil, right nor wrong.
For me, God resides in the connections that bind us together, the shared experiences—those fleeting moments when eye meets eye with recognition of our mutual bond, our interdependence, and our shared life force. Surely it is good to strengthen those bonds. Surely it is right to extend heart, mind and hand in curiosity and consideration of all of life.
This spiritual connection I feel with nature, animals, and people underpins my desire to operate a guest ranch. It feeds my soul to see a child light up when she finds the confidence to trust and enjoy an animal many times larger and stronger than herself.
It moves me deeply to take a small group of riders to ancient tipi rings along Dupuyer Creek and sit quietly with them to let the spirit of the earth and the voices of the past whisper with the wind in our ears. I am filled with delight when I spend a night at a lookout with an astronomer helping our guests understand the beauty and mystery of the night sky. What better way to live?
Living in Montana with animals is such a privilege; one afforded to few in this world. I do not take it for granted. I am grateful every time I look out my window, every time I mount my horse and head into the hills, every time I share a quiet moment on the trail with my friends – both two and four legged. I treasure every moment I spend in my cathedral.
My desire to capture this remarkable spirit of Montana has led me to organize a special expedition in September of 2011. We will go to the Rocky Mountain Front, where artists and writers will draw inspiration from and focus their talents on, this unique landscape. For more information, please visit This Montana Place.
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SuzAnne Miller is the owner of Dunrovin Ranch, a small guest ranch nestled against the Bitterroot River and the Sapphire Mountains, south of Missoula. She shares her home with her husband of 42 years, 2 sons, 20 equines, 2 or 3 dogs, the resident wildlife, and anyone looking for high adventure.