Dirty secret: This is my eighteenth summer living in Montana and, until yesterday, I’d never been to the area in Glacier National Park that locals say is “heaven.” Blame it on the two hundred mile round trip car ride. Or the kids being babies. Or toddlers posing as bear bait. Or complaining, car-sick pre-teens. I explained it away summer after summer. It’s a lot like my New York City friends who admit to exhaustion when I come to town, demanding we see the hot show, eat at the best new restaurant, check out the live music and author readings. We become complacent in our own back yards. But yesterday, watching my children playing Wii Mario Cart on an exquiste not-a-cloud-in-the-sky morning, I put down the gavel.
“We’re going on a hike. In Two Medicine. Get on your sneakers and grab a bottle of water. I’ll be in the car.” I dug up my dusty day pack, some pepper spray, my hiking book, my camera, a bag of cherries, and a handful of Cliff bars. It’s not like we were going to ascend Everest.
Groaning and moaning, they got in the car, and for the first twenty miles, argued over who could use my cell phone to play Angry Birds. These are kids who didn’t have electronics until very recently. These are kids who have grown up in the mountains of Montana. Who take it for granted.
“Look out the window,” my husband demanded. “People cross oceans to see these views.”
“Pretend you’re a tourist and you’ve never seen this valley before,” I added. “Pretend like you’ve never seen mountains at all.”
They looked out the windows and yawned for the better part of two hours, crossing the Continental Divide where Lewis and Clark had intended to…before being shot at by the Blackfoot, dipping down into the wide-open wind-blown expanse of the East side, curling around into high-altitude scrubby aspens flanking glacial lakes until we arrived at the Two Medicine entrance of Glacier National Park.
There are times in parenthood when the adults know to just keep quiet and let the powers-that-be take over. And they did. We followed a trail up to Aster Park, the asters delivering amongst the mariposa, the balsam root, lupine, Indian paintbrush, columbine.
“Look, a moose!” my twelve year old son said, wide-eyed.
And a cow mama and her baby looked at us not twenty yards away, lumbering through a wetland, not really minding us being in their watering hole. We stopped and watched. The aperture of the natural world keening our eyes out beyond the tiny screens to which we have become so accustomed.
Now my fifteen year old daughter wanted more. “Let’s go up the ridge,” she said, pointing. “I want to stand on top of that waterfall.”
“I want to make snowballs in that snow field,” my son said.
And where in the past I would make sure to be there to hold hands and guard from cliff, waterfall, slick boulder, I let go. Let Mother Nature be their mother.
“Go ahead,” I told them. “I’m going to go slowly and listen to the wind in the trees.” Which is what I did. My husband and children went on and I found a rock and sat for a good long while.
When is the last time you sat on a rock and listened to the wind? Being watched by moose. In grizzly territory. To be so small. So utterly a part of something that without you was perfectly in balance. But now to be part of that balance. It was a stunning afternoon.
I love this D. H. Lawrence quote:
“I am part of the sun as my eyes are a part of me. That I am part of the earth my feet know perfectly, of me. That I am part of the earth my feet know perfectly, and my blood is part of the sea. There is nothing of me that is alone and absolute except my mind, and we shall find that the mind has no existence by itself. It is only the glitter of the sun on the surface of the waters.”
At the end of the day, we stopped at Red Eagle Falls, fording the rushing river water to sit on a rock in this sacred Blackfoot place, where elders gathered for vision quests and the legendary horse woman and warrier was buried in a tree atop the falls in the 1700s.
It could have been any time in our history. We sat in the timelessness of it all.
Nobody complained. Nobody wanted for something other than just the rock that served as their roost. Who knew the other humans who had used it for a roost. What their worries and dreams and visions were made of. What they had left at home and why they had come. I watched as we all let the water wash our thoughts and reassemble our needs and most important, our perspective. And nobody complained after that, either. And the ride home was quiet and window-ful.
Sacred is sacred. Is sacred.