Time & Place
This much we know: all things are connected. —Chief Seattle
Wind whispers through the firs as I make my way up the mountain. It’s steep, with loose duff over dry, rocky earth; I use the game trails for better footing. From a ravine below comes a dull thump, first in slow staccato, then faster, rising to a rapid-fire finale. Like a favorite song from high school, the sound carries me back, through the years, to this same mountain, that same pulsing beat.
It’s the year 2000: a new century, a new millennium. Y2K paranoia has passed and it’s business as usual in the Bozone, a smallish Montana town just starting to perk up in the summertime. I’m a cocky 20-something, fresh out of college, convinced I can do whatever the hell I put my mind to. I charge up this mountain like a Viking war horse. The bird’s resonant wingbeats stop me, but only for a moment. The unrelenting march resumes.
This fledgling magazine moved the same way back then: bold, adrenalized, breaking our own trail. Bozeman ran a little roughshod, too, with bloody elk in trucks parked downtown, wild fraternity parties, and regular fisticuffs outside bars and along the road. Newcomers either assimilated or evacuated. Life was coarser, rowdier, and more real—and considerably less civilized.
But I didn’t come to the mountain to reminisce. I came here to find something. To feel something. What it is, I’m not quite sure, but I know that this is the place to look.
As I crest the saddle, a grouse flushes—blue this time, bigger than the ruff down below. Another game trail wraps around the peak; by the time I regain the ridge, I’ve seen scat from deer, elk, and moose. Coyote, too, and what appears to be lion. Overhead, a hawk soars, and in the drainage below, two grey jays flit among the treetops.
Slowly, it comes. Like snow melting into the earth, thick and heavy. It’s what I’ve needed, amid all the tumult of this past spring and over the past 20 years of growth, challenge, and change in Bozeman. It is gratitude. For everything.
I’m grateful that I can still scamper, albeit slower, up this mountain. That despite the transformation down in the valley, this alpine forest remains unchanged. That Outside Bozeman, little more than a dream back then, is alive and well, its team loyal and devoted, its place in Bozeman secure. That hundreds of writers and photographers have used O/B to share their thoughts, ideas, and creativity with their community. That together we are able to bring something to Bozeman that is worthwhile and beneficial—that gives, rather than takes. And that this town, though it may look and act different, is still Bozeman. Which is to say, it’s still freakin’ awesome, and it’s still home.
I head back down. Again comes the amorous thumping. Now my mind flies wild, careering amid a stream of images and impressions—my life, the magazine, the town of Bozeman, all interlaced like DNA: a triple-helix of time. Gratitude commingles with a sense of connection: a realization that we are all, indeed, in this together. We are all here together, moving forward together, our fates and futures woven together. And after 20 years, there’s still no place I’d rather be.
I remember the first time I read Outside Bozeman. I was a freshman at MSU and picked it up on campus. I don’t remember what issue it was; I don’t even remember a specific story. But I do remember the feeling it gave me. It was like I’d found a treasure map—an insider’s guide to the coolest place I’d ever been. It provided context for the people, places, and events that define this place; it inspired me to follow in the footsteps of local badasses; it encouraged me to get out there and explore for myself, without pretense or prejudice. Outside Bozeman was, and still is, an invitation into the club.
The first story I wrote for O/B was four years later, an essay entitled “A Sense of Place,” published in 2006. It was a simple and unapologetic love letter to this town, and my life here. I wrote it before my last year at MSU, while contemplating a future somewhere other than Montana—my way of acknowledging how Bozeman had shaped who I was. It wasn’t exceptional prose, but it was honest and heartfelt, and that’s always gone a long way with Mike. He asked me to write a story for the following issue, and then the next. I haven’t missed an edition in 14 years.
The magazine in your hands is unusual—unlike any other, actually. Just look at it: it’s glossy, substantial, original, well-conceived, and completely free. It’s an excellent resource: hunting and fishing, running and backpacking, skiing and snowboarding, river trips and whitewater, climbing and mountaineering—we do it all, because Montanans do it all. But it’s not all service-oriented. Essays, fiction, environmental advocacy, land-access issues, profiles, historic accounts, misadventure, etiquette, satire, farce—hell, we run original art and poetry in every issue. Like the diverse readership we serve, Outside Bozeman contains multitudes.
Southwest Montana isn’t the same place I fell in love with nearly two decades ago, and this magazine isn’t the same either. Both have grown up, in many ways. But O/B is part of this town’s outdoor culture, and for tens of thousands of readers over the last 20 years, it’s helped shape the character of the place we all love so much. Sometimes that means calling out negative trends or behaviors (like the plague of dog poop on trails), or helping to prop up things we believe in (like stream and public-lands access). Sometimes it’s by profiling a local legend (of which there are many) or publishing a deeply personal essay. Sometimes it’s with a ridiculous farce or piece of satire that we create because, well, it makes us laugh. And because perhaps above all, we don’t want Bozeman to ever take itself too seriously—playing outside is excellent, but it’s not everything.
Taken together over 20 years, that’s a legacy of which I’m proud to be a part.
Change of Pace
Comparing film photography of the early 2000s to the streamlined digital photography of today reminds me of the differences between old and new Bozeman. There are things we miss, like the extraordinary aesthetic quality and handmade value inherent to both negative and positive film. And, there are things we don’t miss, like the inefficiency of spending insane amounts of time developing, printing, scanning, and cleaning up images. Like it or not, Bozeman has also become more streamlined over the years, and to keep up one must adapt and embrace the new pace of life. If we can’t keep up or don’t want to, we move to Livingston, continue developing our own film, and whine about traffic that is arguably worse on Park St. as there are not many options for detours or shortcuts.
Coincidentally, digital photography and Outside Bozeman Magazine are basically twins in terms of age. In 2000, the year that O/B first went to print, Sharp introduced the first commercially available mobile phone with a camera able to take and share still photos. There were digital cameras available in the mid-1990s but I think we can look at Sharp’s phone as the beginning of popularity for digital and the beginning of the end for the old style of photography. While film photography is still very much alive today, mostly among professional photographers, it sits in the back of the bus with the majority of seats occupied by vast forms of digital imaging—for better or for worse. I mean, look at us now! While the quality and efficiency of digital is phenomenal, watching people take and post selfies today is like watching videos of chimps making faces at themselves in the mirror.
Back in the mid-2000s, when I first began editing for O/B, I spent a colossal amount of time wading through submissions, scanning slides, cleaning up dust spots, etc. While that had its drawbacks, it came with the advantage of actually meeting people in person to sort through images. I will never forget my visits to Dale Spartas’s cheery downtown office to comb through his monumental body of slide photography—a human touch that is being lost in the new age of photography. Nowadays I spend much less time editing and sorting images, which leaves me with more time to get out and enjoy life outside Bozeman. But at the same time I feel detached from most of the photographers I work with and likely wouldn’t recognize them if we passed on the street. Besides human interaction, there is an unequivocal feeling when holding a physical photograph in one’s hand. Reckon that’s also why we still read magazines—the look, touch, and feel in our hands impacts the soul.
As we move forward into the next decade of Bozeman and surely another era of photography, let me remind you that no matter how much Bozeman changes, for the better or worse, the two best things about Bozeman have yet to change in the last 20 years—Outside Bozeman is still in print and Bozeman is still only 15 minutes from Montana.