By Kelly Pohl, Gallatin Valley Land Trust Associate Director
During my senior year in college, an MSU geography professor stumped me with this essay question: “Which is more important in shaping landforms — large, sudden, catastrophic events like floods and landslides, or slower but persistent processes such as everyday weathering by wind and water?”
There was no right answer. The dramatic breakage of ice dams in Glacial Lake Missoula shaped hundreds of square miles of badlands across eastern Washington and created the vast Columbia River Gorge. But every single day, the rain, wind and snow break down our mountain ranges particle by particle, creating the craggy ridgelines and iconic silhouettes that frame our beautiful valley.
Today, that question stays with me, though it has morphed beyond questions of the physical world into something more personal.
What shapes who we are, as individuals and communities: large magnitude events or everyday encounters? Am I defined by the five or six biggest moments in my life, or by the way I live each day? Is our community defined by the headlines in this paper, or by the ordinary decisions we make as we flow through our lives?
Undoubtedly, we are impacted by the uncommon, significant events that affect us – the crises as well as the huge victories. In the last few weeks, our community has endured unthinkable tragedies. The acute pain of these losses will carve a dent in our collective soul, like floodwaters scouring the plains.
These violent events were so surprising because they are so rare here. This is not who we are, and though we may be growing and such events may become more common with a larger population, this is not who we want to become.
If this kind of catastrophic event doesn’t totally define us, what does? Our future is driven not just by memorable events, but also by slow, routine processes that drive our daily lives — the policies and social expectations of how we treat each other and how we spend our energy and resources.
At his state of the city address earlier this year, Mayor Carson Taylor predicted that our number one challenge will be managing growth. Can we grow while maintaining our quality of life? Can we grow and maintain the same expectations for public safety, access to nature, excellent schools, and a tremendous sense of community?
Today, we are at a turning point on many issues: Meeting the demands for social services in a rapidly growing population. Determining the future of our high school and education system. Planning for our transportation needs. Protecting our water quality and stewarding our parks, trails, and natural environment. Expanding our Law and Justice Center and ensuring public safety. Developing affordable housing. The list goes on.
There will likely not be a huge catalyst, no large magnitude crisis or victory to resolve these issues. Many of these discussions will be long, slow processes. They may not involve high drama, but each of these issues affects our community on foundational levels and the choices we make today will impact our future decades from now.
Government alone cannot do this work. Public-private partnerships help strengthen the resources and deepen what our community can achieve. Without organizations like HAVEN, the Human Resources Development Council, and the Gallatin Valley Land Trust, our community wouldn’t be what it is today. As we grow, these partnerships will be even more important.
However, none of this is possible without you — without involved, engaged, committed individuals participating in the public dialogue and supporting the organizations on the ground.
Now is the time. Join the conversation. Attend public meetings to voice your opinion. Support the organizations that support your community. Vote. Volunteer. Join a citizen advisory board or your neighborhood group.
All of us — like the landscape in which we live — are shaped by both significant events and routine processes, by the fast and the slow, by the dramatic and the mundane. By influencing the ordinary decisions made today, we can create the community we want to be in the future. We can move mountains.