The Rehab of Big Sky Country

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In this personal essay for Beside, Simon Hudson reflects on the time he spent as a teenager in a wilderness rehabilitation center in Montana. It was not somewhere he went willingly. His parents, scared of the path Hudson was on, signed over custody to “two ex-Marine types” who turned up in his bedroom at 3am to take him on a plane to the woods of Montana. Initially, Hudson was filled with rage at his lack of choice, and his only thoughts were of escape — managing to leave the facility and hitchhike the 483 kilometers to Missouri. However, Hudson was soon sent back, and when he finally accepted his time in the woods, he found that the wilderness did have something to teach him. 

Montana is known as “big sky country.” On our long hikes through the mountains, the wide summer sky framed everything we saw: eagles perched on cliffs looked like giant boulders before swooping into the valley below; mountain lions took a path along the ridge that ominously intersected with our bearing. Beneath our feet the snow melted, edible glacier lilies and berries spread out, the colour of the rocks shifted from deep reds and blacks to translucent pinks and blues of quartzite and rare lightning glass.

I remembered the things I wanted to do and create, the things that sparked my curiosity, but mostly the people that were important to me with whom I wanted to share those things. I understood how I had intentionally broken off relationships as a way to hide from my shame of being a terrible friend. I had such an outpouring of old, packed-away ideas to examine and process that the long walks were never boring.

These intense moments of clarity persisted even in my sleep. Each night as I lay in a bivy sack under my tarp hooch, my thoughts morphed into dreams that were as vivid as real life—my subconscious working out what I couldn’t when I was awake. I once dreamt our group was trekking through a park back home in Seattle and we encountered some of my friends in a circle getting high. I left the trek to go join them and I sat down in the circle just in time for my turn in the rotation. One of the counsellors came up to me and asked, “What are you doing?” I was surprised at how I hadn’t even managed to muster a doubt about rejoining my old life. At the same time, I was also certain it wasn’t what I wanted to do. I got up and got back on the trail. Then I woke up.

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