This Montana Place, Part II

By DANIELLE LATTUGA

SuzAnne put a bug in my ear about her This Montana Place expedition not long after we met. Since then, we’ve worked together on this project. The following, in part, is about what it means to me.

I was the child who spent her summer days barefoot in cool New England streams, catching crayfish and turning stones with my toes. The faces of Black-eyed Susan flowers and Daisies carried as much expression as the faces of my siblings and playmates. I listened as much to the voices of the bullfrogs behind our house as I did to the rise and fall of my mother’s voice in the kitchen.

When the challenges of my parents’ marriage became too much, mother would send us out the red screen door, to the world of the woods. It was a sanctuary that she spent little time in, but somewhere within her, she knew it would keep us safe and set us free.

Growing up in the woods brought physicality to feelings that I didn’t have the words for. Building forts, hiding in the leaves, watching deer, practicing silence—all of these allowed me expression. It has taken my lifetime to find the words that explain my inner landscape and still, I search for more. Not surprisingly, my search always takes me to land and animal.

My own creativity exists at the interface of the internal and external landscape. My craft is informed by my connection to the natural world, and animal nature. This is an integral part of who I am. Therefore, I’ve never known art without nature, nor have I ever observed nature and not witnessed artistry.

I chose to live in Montana because it is a place where I can interact with a landscape that still holds a raw quality. The landscape gives me insight into my own nature, and also allows me to seek insight into the nature of others. It is a palate for interpreting my relationships. I can study the language of other animals and learn to speak more wholly each time.

A long slow breath

Eyes high and wide

Shoulders shift, tail switch

Lean in

Step away

Sounds are words, even if they don’t feel familiar on my tongue

This land is honest, as much as it is unforgiving and still nurturing. In this place, there is ample space for heartbreak and elation. In this place, one can watch resilience bloom on the faces of those who live here.

What fascinates me is that there can be several interpretations of this place and they can all be beautiful and powerful. I am bemused by the fact that humans perpetually make art from art—re-creating and re-interpreting natural forms —yet somehow, still, they evoke primal, profound and inquisitive responses.

Horses on canvas, moving in the wind.  Paint on a feather, fine and detailed, like the feather itself. Glass in the shape of horn, refracting light, as if rubbed against bark.

I give my thoughts, my love, my fury to the ground that I walk. When I write to feed my creative hunger, I am asking questions. I am trying to find my place in the order of things, and through that process, I invite others to ask these questions. The act of asking is an act of stepping forward, closer to the cliff’s edge, or reaching deeper into black soil. I scatter questions like seed and I learn to value those that don’t germinate as much as those that grow intoanswers.

I cannot separate myself from landscape. I feel it breathing all around me. I cannot make a choice without considering this connection. Nor, can I make a choice that doesn’t consider the impact on those whom I love or any being for that matter. Sometimes this is paralyzing. But I always return to the land—for comfort, for hope, for resolution. There is always an animal showing me now. I always return to my art to record the questions, and the tiny remnants of an answer found in silence, under stone or in the gaze of wildness, probing my soul.

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Danielle Lattuga is a novice horsewoman, frequently found guilty of confusing hoof beats with heartbeats. She believes that riding and writing are not so different: both part poetry, part sweat.  Follow her into Montana’s horse country, and find out if she’sright.