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"It is the journey which makes up your life."

Saturday, November 18, 2006

A Last Gasp for Glacier

Ask me for the story about how I first saw the Grizz... and I will be more likely to go on about WHERE I first saw one. It was hiking alone on the highline trail from Logan Pass, on my last day in Glacier.

It was strange how quickly people dispersed from the Bio Station, after being so close-kint in that little community. Classes ended, and I had a week of burning the midnight oil to write up and present all my research. The other REU kids and I presented on a thursday morning, and by 2:00 that day, everyone but me had left Flathead Lake. It was suddenly a lonely place. But it's a place I love, and I took my time to say goodbye. A thunderstorm was rolling in from the East, and I went running a long ways along the lake before the wind picked up and then, because I had the lake to myself, I stashed my clothes under a log and swam out alone and naked far out into the middle. Farther than I had ever gone before.. so that I could see the station on the peninsula, with the bay behind, above the trees and the near hills, rows of mountains, and sky. I took a long shower to warm up again, and when I came out the sun was setting and a storm was blowing up from the east. One last sunset on the lake. It rained on all my stuff as I packed.

Tait had invited me to stay at his cabin, and I took him up on it. The place is wonderful. Tait's extended family owns land all across the south slope of a mountain near Columbia Falls, and he built the cabin with his father and brother on their chunk of it, all from logs they felled themselves. It's still part-way unfinished. The father passed away, and both the boys are in school and were left with his debt. But they were also left with the land and the cabin. It is a simple place. Functional, and not beautiful, but warm. I got a good safe feeling from it, like somehow it's been imprinted with the love of the strong, stern man who built it.

Tait kept it well filled with beer bottles and dirty dishes and friends sleeping on the floor, but he also took good care of it. He plowed his own road and chopped all his own wood for the winter heating, and was constantly talking about what he would build when he had time to finish the place. This is part of why I liked him.

I got there late, and slept for the whole next day while Tait was at work at the rafting company. He had to work all weekend, so Saturday I went out to Glacier on my own to do some exploring.

It was a stormy day, and I was alone so I decided to take a popular trail. The highline leaves from the main visitor center on the main pass in the park. You follow twelve miles of rimrock, with barely a tree to block the view, descending slowly to the next place you reach a road. I parked at the bottom and hitched a ride to the pass with two women from Missoula. The trail was magnificent. Clouds were blowing in and alternated rain with occasional brilliant sunshine. I saw my first Grizzlies. A mother an cub crossed the trail far away from me and ran down the slope below while I was picking huckleberries. I took a detour and climbed an extra 2000 feet to a pass, and was rewarded with a glimpse of the east part of the park.. a string of lakes below a glacier, changing color and stretching all the way out onto the planes. Needless to say I was happy. Put me above treeline with some wind in my hair, and I won't ask for more.

I got back to the cabin tired and aching, but with my soul filled up. Tait had a big drunken party with fishing buddies that kept me up grudginly late and nearly bored me to tears. Happy as I was in Montana, without the Bio Station kids I was lonely, and I knew it was time for me to go.

I had elaborate plans to go explore Canada, and then visit friends in Washington on my way back, but the thought that I could be home in Portland by the next day was so appealing that I dropped them all and went. Sunday I said goodbye to Tait and the cabin, filled up a last growler from the Flathead Lake Brewery, and bought fifteen pounds of fresh-picked cherries to take home with me. I didn't make it all the way to Oregon. That night I stopped somewhere in eastern Washington and slept on a hillside under the stars. Feeling free, feeling ready, I woke up at dawn and drove the last way home.
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