Honoring the Exiles

A community needs a soul if it is to become a true home for human beings. You, the people, must give it this soul. -Pope John Paul II

Of all the stories that stream into Outside Bozeman's editorial inbox each season, the most common is what I call "Exile's Encomium." This little-known literary genre—which includes everything from introspective essays on the essence of Montana to wacky, nostalgic yarns about Bozeman's earthy underbelly—is typically the work of far-flung, city- or suburb-bound expatriates longing for their beloved and bygone Bozone. For whatever reason—new job, family issues, bad breakup—they’ve moved away, and they look back at southwest Montana with a deep and abiding fondness. This is their home, be it assigned by birth or chosen by proclivity, and they miss it.

Sometimes these submissions are thinly veiled love poems: eloquent, heartfelt tributes to the unbridled beauty and splendor of southwest Montana. Others are epic panegyrics commemorating a venerable old friend. But most often, they are simply a reaching out, an attempt to make a connection: an earnest embrace of something dear to one’s heart, like letters from a homesick soldier.

No matter the style, all these authors relate a sort of involuntary displacement—a sense of being forcibly removed from the promised land, whisked away against their will—and a clear expectation to return. In the meantime, they miss the mountains, the rivers, the fields, and all the adventures they offer. What they seem to miss even more, though, is a collective appreciation for these things: the deep, shared esteem we Montanans have for wild, magnificent nature and an active outdoor life. They miss the friendly, supportive community of like-minded folk that engender this love of the outdoors. In short, they miss us.

And this is why it’s our responsibility, to these impassioned emigrants and to ourselves, to get outside and get after it this season. Our displaced brethren are counting on us—we, the happy and fortunate few who still live here—to keep living the life they knew, the life they miss, the life they revere and long for and dream daily about restoring. We’re their rock, their people; we supply they stable platform on which they can rest their hopes of returning to Bozeman. We keep the dream alive.

So, let’s get out and ski harder than ever this season; let’s snowshoe and go sledding and play hockey and climb ice; let’s spend every possible moment out in the winter woods, moving among fragrant evergreens under the vast Montana sky. And when they come back, we’ll be here, faces flush from the cold alpine air, ski poles and Thermoses of Hot Toddies in-hand, ready to join them as they revisit all their old haunts and explore new ones. Ready to shake their hands and say, welcome home.