Not All Who Wonder Are Lost

Dealing with the changing face of Bozeman.

“Wisdom begins in wonder.” —Socrates

I recently saw a bumper sticker that read “Make Bozeman Montana Again,” and I laughed. Bozeman will never be Montana again, I thought. And my bare cynicism was upsetting.

In a place like this, it’s hard not to become cynical. Sure, we’re surrounded by natural beauty and fantastic recreation, but by virtue of these resources, Bozeman has become an international tourism hub, an “it” spot for the rich and richer, and a place where the ugliness of greed and development and disparity often outshines a Bridger Mountains sunrise. Need a quick shot of rage? Read about the dark economic realities facing working people here, overcrowding and elevated fishing pressure on the Madison, declining water quality on the Gallatin and increasing water demand in Big Sky, record-shattering flights each year into Gallatin Field, and the loss of thousands of acres of cherished local hunting ground (like the Bangtails) to wealthy out-of-state landowners. The list goes on.

This spring, in the skies above our home, I am full of wonder.

It’s tough not to become cynical when we hear people talking about how affordable southwest Montana is, compared to San Francisco, or New York, or Seattle, or Denver, from where they’ve just moved. It’s tough not to become cynical when beloved trailheads that once were empty now overflow with cars, trash, and loud music. It’s tough not to become cynical while sitting in stalled subdivision traffic on what just a few years ago was a country road flanked by cottonwoods and fields, where hawks nested and deer bedded. But cynicism won’t make Bozeman Montana Again. It’ll only make us angry.

Instead, seek wonder. For me, wonder is found in discovery, learning, challenge—things that must be sought. I moved to Bozeman to ski and bike and climb, seeking wonder in these ways. And for nearly 20 years, that’s what I’ve done here. With practice comes competence, and while every day spent in the mountains is a gift, my sense of wonder has waned with experience.

I recently began paragliding—something altogether different than anything I’ve ever done. It’s returned a sense of wonder and rekindled a passion I didn’t even realize had waned. It’s given me a new perspective (literally and figuratively) from which to see familiar places for the first time. My absolute ignorance and incompetence are frightening and exciting and something I cherish, even as I learn. There’s a new community of people to meet, and new places to explore. For me, paragliding represents a return to the feelings that made Bozeman my home all those years ago.

Trying a new sport won’t fix any of the problems Bozeman faces. It won’t thin the crowds of tourists or transplants, or increase the working wage, or simplify any of the serious issues facing Bozeman and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. But paragliding is, in the truest sense of the word, wonderful. This spring, in the skies above our home, I am full of wonder.

And maybe that’s all anyone can ask.