Over the past month, I’ve been able to walk downtown to run errands and conduct business often, sometimes twice in one day. On nearly every journey, I’ve also seen a lone great blue heron plying the shores and ice-ringed islands of the Clark Fork River in search of sustenance. The heron has appeared in slightly different places each time as ice and other wintry conditions continue to change in its environment. One afternoon, I watched it silently stalk the river’s edge and powerfully strike at something I could not see. The heron was unsuccessful in that moment, but I like to think that its persistence paid off at some point later that evening.

One morning, I watched the heron groom itself, then shake its entire body vigorously, before retreating into a standing position, hugging itself to stay warm it seems, with one leg planted firmly on the ground.

Great blue herons are improbable creatures: they appear somewhat prehistoric the way they navigate their environment. It’s amazing how well and easily they can fly, given their body shape and size. In spring and summer when they nest and raise their young in rookeries, their clamoring and calling evoke sounds I imagine their distant relatives, dinosaurs, also made when our planet was wetter and warmer for a while.

Yet human beings are also improbable creatures. Adaptability and flexibility are skills we have used over eons not only to survive but also to thrive in just about every type of ecosystem on earth.

We have succeeded when we’ve made long-term, far-sighted investments in getting to know, connect with, and ultimately protect and care for a place. When we’ve collaborated and shared our collective knowledge and wisdom with others. When we’ve gained a greater understanding that we truly are all in this together. All of us.

A close friend recently commented that there are lots of spaces where people can meet and hang out today, but places are where connection and community are built. Places foster stewardship and interdependence.

Places are where you can plant your feet, dig deep, and grow roots that feed your soul, your psyche, your health and your spirit. Montana’s unofficial nickname, “The Last Best Place,” resonates with me even more powerfully and hopefully today than when I first became a resident nearly 25 years ago.

Here’s hoping that in this still relatively new year, no matter where our feet are, we’ll choose to connect and invest more powerfully with place, and all with whom we share it.