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The gold in them thar hills is a hush: Arnold “Smoke” Elser and Eva-Maria Maggi discuss Smoke’s ‘Lifetime in the Bob Marshall Wilderness’

‘Hush of the Land: A Lifetime in the Bob Marshall Wilderness’ by Arnold “Smoke” Elser and Eva-Maria Maggi (Bison Books, University of Nebraska Press).

This week on The Write Question, host Lauren Korn speaks with packers Arnold “Smoke” Elser and Eva-Maria Maggi, co-authors of Hush of the Land: A Lifetime in the Bob Marshall Wilderness (Bison Books, University of Nebraska Press).

Hush of the Land is a memoir that chronicles Smoke’s six-decade quest to protect wild lands by bringing thousands of people deep into the mountains of Montana, into the Bob Marshall Wilderness, on horseback. Based on hundreds of hours of interviews, Hush of the Land tells the captivating story of Smoke’s early days as a packer in the Bob Marshall Wilderness and in the Bitterroot Mountains. Readers will share in the joys and thrills of summer rides, harrowing grizzly bear encounters, fishing in clear mountain streams, and many nights around a campfire within some of the West’s last wild lands and with the people who know those lands best. Smoke also recounts how his testimony for the Wilderness Act, and the fight to preserve and expand Montana’s wilderness lands, influenced his career as an outfitter and educator and gave him a voice at the center of Montana’s conservation movement.

Note: Listen to an outtake from this conversation below.

About Smoke:

Arnold “Smoke” Elser is a professional animal packer and a semi-retired instructor of wilderness outfitting and packing at the University of Montana, from which he received a 2023 Distinguished Alumni Award. His work as an educator and outfitter has been covered in National Geographic and the PBS documentary Three Miles an Hour. He is also the co-author, with Bill Brown, of Packin’ In on Mules and Horses.

About Eva:

Eva-Maria Maggi, Ph.D., is a writer, social scientist, and packer, and teaches courses on wilderness issues at the University of Montana.

Lauren Korn recommends:

Hush of the Land: A Lifetime in the Bob Marshall Wilderness (Bison Books, University of Nebraska Press)

Crown of the Continent: The Wildest Rockies by Steven Gnam (Braided River, Mountaineers Books)

Indian Creek Chronicles by Pete Fromm (Picador USA)

Badluck Way: A Year on the Ragged Edge of the West (Atria Books), Down from the Mountain: The Life and Death of a Grizzly Bear (Mariner Books), and Holding Fire: A Reckoning with the American West (Mariner Books) by Bryce Andrews

Finding Beauty in a Broken World (Vintage Books), Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place (Vintage Books), and Erosion: Essays of Undoing (Picador USA) by Terry Tempest Williams

This America of Ours: Bernard and Avis DeVoto and the Forgotten Fight to Save the Wild by Nate Schweber (Mariner Books)

Temperance Creek by Pamela Royes (Counterpoint LLC)

Brave the Wild River: The Untold Story of Two Women Who Mapped the Botany of the Grand Canyon by Melissa L. Sevigny (W. W. Norton & Company)

The Write Question team for this episode was Lauren Korn, host, co-producer, and editor; and Chris Moyles, co-producer, editor, and sound engineer. This episode is supported by Fact & Fiction, an independent bookstore located in the heart of downtown Missoula, Montana, providing books for all ages and supporting the literary community in Montana and beyond. More information can be found at

The Write Question logo and brand (2022) was designed by Molly Russell. You can see more of her work at and on Instagram @iamthemollruss. Our music was written and recorded by John Floridis.

Funding for The Write Question comes from Humanities Montana; members of Montana Public Radio; and from the Greater Montana Foundation—encouraging communication on issues, trends, and values of importance to Montanans.

The Write Question is a production of Montana Public Radio.

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Lauren R. Korn holds an M.A. in poetry from the University of New Brunswick, where she was the recipient of the Tom Riesterer Memorial Prize and the Angela Ludan Levine Memorial Book Prize. A former bookseller and the former Director of the Montana Book Festival, she is now an Arts and Culture Producer at Montana Public Radio and the host of it’s literature-based radio program and podcast, ‘The Write Question.’
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