A column by Tony Smith: Reflections on a summer for the ages

Reflections: a column by Tony Smith


“I remember now how our bright spring green deepened. With the years, the seasons changed, and we were lush as the underside of August.”

Ani DiFranco, American singer/songwriter


Oh, the summer of 2019; a remembrance of past summers so long ago with spring rains, green fragrance prolific throughout the land, and smokeless skies; an occasional fire in the woodstove until the 4th of July; August days, normally hot, tempered by wonderfully cool nights; a bountiful huckleberry year, thriving under perfect conditions. And yet a season that is discernibly fleeting, soon to depart as I drive though the morning fall mist rising from the Yaak River, enveloping the meadows in a shroud of mystery. Emerging from the mists, horizontal clouds greet me, blazing red from the rising sun over Mt. Henry, eliciting memories of dear friends who “manned” the lookout: Shamus Sedler, lost to us on February 2, 2018, and dearly loved by all; Jeff Ferderer, beloved former Troy High School teacher, the best of friends, mentor, and hiking companion; Dr. Jim Moody, former Associate Professor at Duke University; currently Professor of Sociology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, along with his spouse, Dr. Lisa Moody, Professor of Economics, and fluent speaker of Mandarin Chinese, also at the University of North Carolina. Can this be the young man, destined for greatness by all who knew him, who entered my classes as a freshman at Troy High School, participating in drama and our musical group “Reflections,” and bestowing upon me the honor of “best man” at his wedding in the Yaak?

Yes, the Yaak has a propensity to produce and shape remarkable people, in particular those many students I had the pleasure of teaching at THS and who attended the Yaak School, as well as Slyvanite and McCormick from grades 1st through 8th. I found these students, many coming from families living “off the grid” (as if that were somehow a detriment to their success), particularly well-read, resilient, self-reliant, creative, exhibiting the healthy glow of participating in numerous outdoor activities throughout their young lives- partaking in a pesticide-free diet of huckleberries, fresh vegetables, and elk backstrap, and possessing a maturity that suggested growing up in a social environment surrounded by adults bonded together by their geographical setting.

Of course, I speak of Zach Sedler (one of my first and beloved Yaak students), followed by his brother Ed Sedler,  Krystal Murphy, and the Graham sisters (Robin and Cory) coming out of the 17-mile creek  region, all of whom attended Sylvanite School (aka The University of Sylvanite). From the South Fork  came the Hendersons (Rachael and Sam);  And out of the Upper Ford came the Valentines (Hosannah, Ben, Mary Beth, Matt, and Sarah); from the Vinal Lake Rd, the Moutains (Dawn and Aja), and Mary and Lowry Bass; From the Yaak Highway above the “Dirty Shame and “Yaak Tavern” came Jenny Folkerts, Willow and Ian Lindsey, as well as the Janssens (Tyler and Wendy); out of West Fork came a remarkably gifted Jed Nussbaum, and from the far reaches of the North Fork came the exceptionally creative “Karuzas kids,” Haakon and Aaron, all of them to the Yaak School where they received superb instruction from Dr. David Henderson and others.


One might suggest that living in such a geographically- isolated environment as the Yaak was an impediment for these kids. It wasn’t for Mary Bass, a graduate of Stanford University, one of the most prestigious colleges in America. Nor was it for Lowry Bass of Middlebury College in Vermont, where the acceptance rate is 17%. Or for Rachael Henderson, a graduate of Sarah Lawrence college in New York State, one of the finest Liberal Arts colleges in the country (one must be in the top 10% of all SAT test-takers for acceptance); not for Tyler Janssen, a graduate of Washington State University in Pullman; or for Dawn Mountain, a graduate of Montana’s own Rocky Mountain College in Billings, just to name a few! Furthermore, many of the Yaak kids have lived abroad (Australia, Spain, Italy), demonstrating the  adaptability and curiosity one would expect from kids eager to explore and expand upon a world where learning came from extensive childhood reading.

Regarding the theme of “geographic isolation,” the Yaak has, in my view, benefitted from the absence of technological “gifts,” ones that, in our mainstream culture, have been abused in the worst possible way.  Furthermore, families who choose the geographic privacy offered by the Yaak are not bereft of a human-level community, but rather thrive in one that offers a diversity of views, a variety of civic activities, educational opportunities, and volunteerism. For example, the dedication to “Wings” by the Yaak community is unparalleled across the state of Montana.

In truth, those who either live or own property in the Yaak really don’t “own” it. Rather, the Yaak owns us!

Let us praise privacy, solitude, and the natural world offered by the Yaak, and praise families who make that choice for their children!


“When summer opens, I see how fast it matures, and fear it will be short; but after the heats of July and August, I am reconciled, like one who has had his swing, to the cool of autumn.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson, American essayist and scholar