By Riley Egan
I am a consumer. I take elk, deer, trout, firewood, mushrooms, grouse, berries, experiences, memories, insight, and perspective. I take all of these things selfishly, albeit reverently, from the Yaak Valley. I tout the phrase “The Yaak provideth” as if speaking part Shakespearean part biblically. I serve huckleberry margaritas while I tell stories of trips into the cedar and larch filled forest. It is in this rather small part of the world where I exist in the fullest. There is no distinct separation between hiking, fishing, hunting, learning, or living for me out there. I am purely being.
I was late to discovering the wonders of the Yaak Valley relative to all the other unique and wild places I’ve explored across Montana and Idaho. While many other places entice me, the Yaak captivates me. It captivates me in part because it eluded me for so long, but also because it has eluded many others.
For me, the Yaak has mystery, both in the individual places I have yet to explore, but also in the things I don’t know. What side streams do the Brook trout spawn in? How many lynx are still cruising around? Where did the last woodland caribou cross into Montana, and can they utilize this area once again? Where is the greatest spot for a 360 degree view of the valley and the lands beyond? All these things I am eager to know, yet in no defined rush to consume the answers. It’s the discovery I’m most interested in. A journey I can only take in the wild places such as the Yaak.
Obviously the Yaak Valley has not eluded those who live in or around Libby, Troy, Bonners Ferry, or Yaak. This area is utilized by a myriad of recreationists, workers, ordinary people, and eclectic folks – all consumers in one way or another with varied loves, interests, and needs. Some need quiet, undisturbed places, some need family sustaining jobs and income, some need a way to transcend the day-to-day and reach a place of mystery and exploration. Thankfully, I see things such as the Kootenai Forest Stakeholders Agreement, and I can hope for a place that will continue to allow me to be the sustainable consumer that I am.
When I am not in this particular part of the world, I still find myself pretending I am. I am drawn to incorporate its parts into my daily life – the elk roast I eat, the wood I burn, the hucks I cook with, the stories I tell, and the thoughts I ponder. I am a consumer in the Yaak, but sometimes I wonder if it is me who has been consumed.
Riley Egan, whose story appeared in the December 5, 2017 issue of the Western News in Libby, Montana, is an avid outdoorsman who spends most of his time on the rivers and in the woods of Western Montana and Idaho. A graduate of the University of Montana, he enjoys teaching others how to catch their first fish or shoot a bow and arrow. @RileyMT
Voices in the Wilderness is written for the Western News and The Sanders County Ledger by your neighbors and friends in Western Montana, featuring memorable personal experiences in wild places. If you have a tale based in untamed country (it doesn’t have to be local), write for guidelines, or just send it along to email@example.com.