Protect ‘hush of the land,’ support wilderness protection efforts

Even old outfitters remember the days we were green. Fortunately for myself, l learned the ropes from one of Montana’s great legends, Tom ‘Hobnail’ Edwards, who along with his wife Helen, ran the Whitetail Ranch near Ovando for decades.

Tom hired me as a young wrangler and taught me skills I’ve used 50 years outfitting the Bob Marshall. Helpful lessons, like never give the cook too much sass if you value your dinner and always make sure your horses are happy before bed so you don’t have to go looking for them in the morning. The most important lessons he taught me, however, was how to make my guests listen for the hush of the land because the hush is what kept them coming back to the wilderness again and again.

Of course, Tom did more than just listen for that hush, he defended it. Back in the ’60s, it didn’t sit very well with him when the Forest Service wanted to road up and log out the very country he took hundreds of guests into each summer. “We’ve got to get this Lincoln Backcountry saved,” he used to tell me.

Tom joined Lincoln resident Cecil Garland to fight tooth and nail for the lands surrounding Scapegoat Mountain so full of elk, trout, and ancient trees. Together they formed the backbone of the nation’s first citizen-initiated Wilderness designation sitting around a living room table in Tom’s cabin. They were successful because they spoke from the heart, fought for something bigger than themselves and got private citizens and Montana’s congressional delegation involved.

Tom wasn’t a very large fellow but people sure would listen when he spoke, including Congress. His steady voice echoed across the halls of Congress the day he testified in defense of the Scapegoat and gave words to something I’ve always felt in my bones. He said:

“Into this land of spiritual strength I have been privileged to guide on horseback literally thousands of people – the old, many past 70, the young, the poor, the rich, the great and little people like myself. I have harvested a self-sustaining natural resource of the forest of vast importance. No one word will suffice to explain this resource, but let us call it the ‘hush’ of the land. This hush is infinitely more valuable to me than money or my business.“

After Tom died, his ashes were scattered over the limestone of Scapegoat Mountain. His final resting place was chosen to forever look over the wild country he loved and fought so hard to protect.

My only regret to this day is that the boundaries that were drawn for the Scapegoat missed some crucial areas. They left out the wild elk-country of Monture Creek and the gin-clear, trout-filled Dearborn river drainage.

These areas still represent true western wilderness and are already part of legislation that is sitting before Congress. Just like the Scapegoat effort decades ago, the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act and the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act were hashed out over kitchen tables, in community halls, and through public meetings.

Forty years after the Scapegoat designation, Montanans have a chance to add to its legacy if our congressional delegation can move their bills through Congress this year.

It would be the noblest effort because only in Wilderness do we find something more important than oil and gold and the commodities that make our stock markets tick. Here, we find the hush of the land, and that hush is more ancient and primordial and precious than anything we can produce again.

Maybe one day I’ll too have my ashes spread over the lands I’ve outfitted all my life. One thing is for sure, I’ll rest a lot easier when we finish the work that ol’ Hobnail Edwards and Cecil Garland began for us decades ago.

They showed us the way, but we need to follow.