Liz Domenech

Liz Domenech

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During the pandemic, public land, open space, and trails became refuge. What seemed like perks of living in Montana before the pandemic suddenly felt non-negotiable. When I connected by phone with friends and family in bigger cities across the country, I was reminded how fortunate we are in the Gallatin Valley to have trails and public land access.

On days when I felt overwhelmed, I would slip outdoors for walks and count the things that brought me joy or gratitude. In the spring it was birds returning, the sound of red-winged blackbirds reclaiming their cattail perches. In summer it was warmth and June green-up, and a chance to spend nights under the stars. With fall, it was the deepening red of willows, and golds of cottonwood and larch, until the leaves dropped and the snow eventually returned.

When I extend this reflection to our human community, I’m grateful to live in a place where my neighbors shovel my sidewalks and put air in my tires. I’m grateful to live in a valley that values agriculture, where residents prioritize the conservation of ranches and farms that provide food and wildlife habitat. I’m grateful to live where we haven’t extinguished all of the natural predators in the landscape, where bears roam high school halls. I’m grateful to live more connected to the seasons, where an entire community gets excited by first snow, or first daffodils.

I am writing this piece from a visit to the Texas hill country, where I grew up in the fourth generation of a ranching family. Spring is in full bloom. A Texas Bluebonnet has appeared by the ranch house gate, a sentinel in what will soon become a field of bluebonnets. Bluebonnets are in the lupine family, so I feel like I’ve traveled to the future — lupines won’t reach their abundance in the Gallatin Valley until June or July.

But lupines aren’t the only reason I feel a sense of foreshadowing when I’m back in Texas. Our family ranch is just 18 miles outside of the city of Austin. Today, Austin’s tendrils have unfurled into the hill country. New subdivisions and strip malls are taking root in the stead of family ranches and open space. I have newfound appreciation for the foresight of previous generations of my family, who placed our ranch in a conservation easement in the 1990s to ensure the stewardship of the land, water, and wildlife for future generations.

I fear for the future of the Gallatin Valley. I fear how Bozeman is changing, what it will become, and what we will lose in the process. If anything, the pandemic has heightened this fear. I find myself in this place of fear after only four years in Bozeman, so I can only imagine how longtime residents feel.

As we emerge from a year that has starkly shown us all that we have and all that we stand to lose, I wonder what it would look like to acknowledge our gratitude and our fear, but choose to act from someplace deeper. If our fear and gratitude are both born of love for the valley, what would it look like to invest that love back into the valley itself? What would it look like to move from gratitude to reciprocity?

As the pandemic lessens its grip, I hope we take time as a community to pause and reflect. That we let the season of pandemic seep in and enrich our foundation — so that what emerges as new growth is grounded and rooted in its lessons.

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Liz Domenech is a writer and naturalist. She is a member of the Gallatin Valley Land Trust’s NextGen Advisory Board, which works to ensure GVLT’s work remains relevant and meaningful for future generations as our community grows.

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