Big thoughts at Bowman

I believe each of us has a few favorite places that we’ve been in the world. One of my favorites is Bowman Lake up the North Fork of the Flathead. I love that lake and have made such good memories there it will always be a place that I call home. It was a perfect day at Bowman yesterday, even if it was as crowded as I’ve ever seen it. Oh yeah, Labor Day weekend. Note to self: go to the lake on a weekday.

BowmanPeanut had a great time splashing in the water on the lake’s edge. He tossed pebbles, felt the water on his fingers and toes. Big Country and I sat beside him and nibbled on that huckleberry turnover I mentioned in the last post. It was delicious as ever.

Peanut at bowmanAfter hanging out on the lakeshore for a while, we took a stroll down one of the trails by the lake. Over a bridge that crosses Bowman Creek, then back into the lake shallows for more splashing. Peanut loved being able to “hike” himself instead of riding in the backpack. He stopped to pet leaves, pick flowers, and look all around.

Peanut hikin'We stuck to big thoughts all day, and it was a perfect day. Sunny but not too hot. Surrounded by beauty and keeping the worries at bay. It’s hard to be unhappy watching your child explore the world.

Did you succeed in thinking big thoughts too?

 

 

 

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Lake hikes and beargrass in bloom

This afternoon we went on a quick hike to Avalanche Lake in Glacier National Park. It’s one of the easiest (and thus most heavily traveled) hikes in the park, but the lake payoff at the end is worth the hike. It also winds alongside Avalanche Creek nearly the entire way, so the sound of the rushing water in the dim of the mossy forest is a treat no matter how many times you hike it (and I think I’m closing in on a dozen times). It’s a good thing it’s a gentle hike too, because both Big Country and I were pretty tired at the end… but considering we’re both getting over one heck of a nasty virus, I think we get a bye for being wussies on this hike. Felt good to “sweat the sick out” as we called it, though. Big Country packed Peanut in, and I packed him out. And to tell the truth, carrying 35 pounds of child/backpack on your back makes an easy hike a solid workout.

Fam at avalanche lakeThere are waterfalls running down the bowl into the lake in at least three different places, and even across the length of the lake the din of the tumbling water is a constant presence. While we were hiking it was cloudy and humid, but the clouds cleared a bit while we were at the lake.

There were two chipmunks there that have been completely habituated to people because moronic tourists feed them, so they were climbing all over the rocks we were sitting on, and even climbed on us a bit. Ran over our shoes a few times and once one chipmunk was so bold as to climb up on my leg. Cute, but creepy too; I’d prefer not to get rabies, thanks. Peanut thought it was the funniest thing, of course. When I was very little I called chipmunks “dirt mice” and perhaps we will continue that tradition with Peanut.

There was a beautiful Steller’s Jay flying around the lakeshore while we were there, too, and Big Country got a nice photo of it perched on a beached log.

Steller's jayWe typically only hike to Avalanche Lake once a year, or not even that often, because it’s overrun with people, being one of the most popular hikes in the park, and today we saw a whole lot of people. But we enjoyed the hike anyway, and started keeping a tally of the number of people who commented on Peanut’s backpack being the way to hike, as opposed to using one’s legs.

Beargrass 1

On the drive to the lake and back, of course, there were thousands of beargrass (Xerophyllum tenax) blooms in their ghostly glory to be seen through the pine trees. Beargrass bloom in 5- to 7-year cycles, and in clusters. This year is already a great beargrass year; I saw more beargrass today than I have since I first moved to Montana in 2009 (which was also a great beargrass year). And in doing a little beargrass research, I discovered that beargrass is in important part of the fire ecology in alpine regions; the rhizome roots of beargrass aren’t killed by the fire, which allows the plant to bloom again after fire sweeps the area, clearing dead foliage. Beargrass is a lovely plant (don’t pick the blooms! the plant won’t ever bloom again if you do!), and I love seeing the milky flowers contrasting against the dark trunks of the trees.

Beargrass 2

Walking in the woods

Avalanche creek waterfallWhen my mom and sister were here for a visit a few weeks ago we spent some time one day going for a stroll in Glacier. My sister, poor thing, busted her tailbone snowboarding so we stuck to a very gentle trail for her sake. Trail of the Cedars is a boardwalk through a very old cedar grove. Some of the cedars are more than 500 years old! Avalanche Creek runs through it all, and comes down the ravine in twists and turns around the stone. In this photo the creek is actually about as low as I’ve seen it. This photo was taken before the melt really started.

Girls in the cedarsHere’s my mom (left), yours truly (middle), and my sister (right) at the overlook of the waterfall. Family resemblance?

Boys trail of the cedarsAnd here are my boys in the same spot. What lovely boys they are, too.

Feeding park employeesSomebody let a prankster loose with a permanent marker on the trail, and that person had all sorts of funny things to say (including ridiculous bovine-themed haikus). This is one example.

Pathway through the woodsIt’s a very easy trail, but a very beautiful one too. I love the hush of cedar grove, the humidity those trees create beneath their canopies, the sound of birdsong from branches distant.

 

 

 

 

Go outside

I’ve found one of the best salves for the busy, stressed, or troubled soul is to get outside. Go for a hike. Plant a garden. Push your child on the swing. Read a book on the lawn. Snowshoe. Shovel snow. There are so many ways to get outside that doesn’t cost a penny and can be so soothing and restorative. I know I’ve written a lot lately about being stressed or worried, and it’s been true. There has been a lot of stress and worry in my life recently trying to get a small business operating while maintaining a welcoming home and raising a child the way I think that child should be raised. I certainly am an advocate for extending the hours of every day just so I can get things done! On the other hand, I’ve had to tell myself to pull back a bit lately and to get outside to enjoy life. And to enjoy the beautiful part of the country where I live. I am truly blessed to live in northwest Montana and there’s no point living here unless I get out and enjoy it!

A few weeks ago I went on a great walk with my friend Flannery. We explored an old homestead (now vacation rental), and enjoyed a wonderful walk through big meadows and beside still-white mountains. We watched a herd of elk move across the meadow and into the trees.

Big skyThose peaks never fail to amaze me. What beautiful mountains. Those white peaks in their imposing, monumental, wind-swept, snow-covered splendor. I run out of adjectives every time. I think there are just some things that language cannot describe. Some things are just meant to be gawked at, to be enjoyed on a primal level. To be connected to as a child of this planet connects to the earth.

Charred treesTurning around from the mountains, you can see that this valley has experienced fire. Fire is good for forests. It rejuvenates the land, and did you know for many pine cones to germinate they need to be burned? Fire is part of the ecosystem here. It’s always painful to think about how might those burnt forests must have been, though, when all that remains is charred lodgepole trunks. Someday again, there will be forest.

Wagon mountainsAnd even though this part of the world can be very remote, it is also touched by humanity. This was a homestead, many years ago. A family struggled to make a living here through winters harsh and howling, through summers bright and bountiful. Hard people making a hard way, but in one of the most magnificent places on the planet. That family still owns the property, by the way. The homestead has made way for a vacation rental now, but at least the place is still enjoyed and that view is still appreciated. I will always wish that the land were still worked, but that isn’t this piece of land’s destiny, at least not right now.

Wagon wheelFor now, this wagon will gather moss and make for pretty lawn art. The wheels will sink into ruts and eventually the earth will reclaim the wooden spokes and the iron rims. Everything in this life is eventually reclaimed, you know. The earth is one heck of a great recycler.

After our walk, we retired to Flannery’s rented summer cabin. Like all cabins in this part of the world, there’s no electricity save for generators. Heat comes from the wood stove which comes from the wood you chopped and split. Chopping wood is great fun, great exercise, and I can’t say enough about its virtues. Go chop some wood, people.

Twice warmedWe were also warmed by some strong coffee spiked with whiskey and with excruciatingly rich chocolate cake Flannery baked. Flannery is a world-class baker, after all.

Flan 1

Flan 2

Flan 3We followed our chocolate snack with some gypsy stew, bread, and wine for dinner, eaten by candlelight (because there’s no electricity, remember?).

Delightful dinnerWhile I obviously enjoy the perks of electricity, I do love getting away from it too. I think there’s something in all of us that yearns for the simplicity of a life lived close to the earth, and without distractions like television and Internet. Of course that simple life did lack things like coffee, easily procured beautiful yarn, and blogs. And I would greatly miss those things.

It’s about balance people. Do some soul balancing and get outside. There is a big, beautiful world out there for exploring. The Internet will be there when you get back, but the glaciers will be gone if you tarry too long at your computer screen.

Lake hikes

As I think many other folks will agree, when you’re chasing a little kid around all day, trying to get meals on the table, squeezing in a shower somewhere, and oh, yeah, starting a small business, exercise and enjoyment of the beautiful countryside that abounds without can take a back burner. Silliness, I tell you! Silliness!

So, one of my New Year’s resolutions was to do yoga. And I’ve been doing that (it feels great!). But I also want to take care of my body more than I have the past few years. It’s not only about weight loss. It’s about being physically active and cultivating a lifestyle that is a model for my children (I should say child, because no, I’m not pregnant, I’m just thinking in future tense). I want my kiddos to grow up being active. We live in an amazing place with scads of recreational opportunities, and it’s foolish to just sit at home when we could be out there in that beauty getting skinny.

So yesterday I went on a short loop snow hike (took the snowshoes but didn’t need them in the end) near the reservoir. And it was awesome. Though I’m still sore as I write this.

Starting at the beginning, I drove up to the trailhead, and when I came to the parking lot, which had about 6-8 inches of snow covering it, I thought to myself: “Self, you probably shouldn’t try to park in there. You’re going to bury the 2-wheel drive Honda Civic lacking snow tires.” So what did I do? Tried to get into the parking lot anyway! So like I thought, I did bury the front tires and that was that. Got about three feet into the driveway to the parking lot. So my friend, who was just behind me with her dogs and baby in her four-wheel-drive, snow-tire fitted car that actually makes sense in this climate/area, tried to get my car rocking so we could push it out, but no dice.

But why ruin a perfectly good hike worrying about the car? It was mostly off the road. So we flipped the flashers on and loaded up the babies and did our hike. Have I ever mentioned that 30 pounds of baby/backpack combined is sorta heavy? Well it is. My shoulders and my hips ache. But that means I did something, right? Yoga will sort out residual aches anyway.

It was a very pleasant hike through the trees around the lake. The weather was fabulous, warm actually, and we both quickly worked up a sweat and started stripping off scarves and gloves. The Peanut babbled away in the backpack and was quite content, even though I had to crawl under several downed trees with him in the backpack. All part of the adventure as I told him!

View from lion lake hike

When we were nearly back to the cars we called a local mechanic to come tug the car out. Which he did for free because he’s a nice guy.

A great little morning adventure!

Lion lake hikers

A stomp in the woods

This past week, we went for a stomp in the woods. We tromped around on U.S. Forest Service land north of town. Shawn carried our son the Peanut in the backpack, as usual. This was a bit different though in that we didn’t follow a trail. We followed a friend and her son as they modeled their mountain goat skills for us. Up the mountainside we went, stepping over moss-encrusted logs and crunching through a golden carpet of fallen leaves. We picked our way through brush and low-hanging branches. The Peanut  had a good time being along for the ride, looking around and reaching out to grab an occasional branch or a leaf.

After walking about for half an hour, we came to a small bowl on the hillside. It was ringed with aspen trees. The late-afternoon light (which is fading earlier and earlier as winter approaches) filtered through the trees. No glow, just quiet. A bit dim. And boy did that place feel holy. The trees creaked a bit in the wind. Our friend’s son went tearing off into the bowl to climb stumps and launch himself off their rotting backsides into the air. He yelled and whooped. I listened and watched, gazing beyond his small body on its short journeys into space. There was something special about that place, something reverent. We didn’t linger long, but it’s a place I would love to return to, to sit myself down in the piles of leaves and just be. To inhabit that space for a little while, to fill it with the sound of my breath leaving my lungs. To be alive as the trees are alive. Fully present in a moment. A part of something bigger and older than my small human mind can comprehend. Too many people believe they exist outside of nature. We are just as much a part of nature and the world as the deer and the butterflies and the aspens. It is our silly belief that we are on some different plane than these creatures that truly separates us from nature.

We walked up and up and up. We came to a slight clearing where the trees parted on the edge of the hillside. Out and beyond lay the valley, blue in hue, in distance. Miles distant, the lake was a bright shimmer against the mountains that ring the other side of the valley. Not so distant stood the mountains just across the dirt highway, splattered with the autumnal gold of the larches. There’s something vaguely erotic about autumn: all of the trees except the prudish evergreens throw on their showiest colors before stripping in winter’s frosty embrace.

And then back down the hill we went, nearly tumbling forward in our momentum (OK, that was just me). I stopped to pick up a few pine cones on the way, mementos of our stomp in the woods. But we made one last stop before we departed. We walked through the almost tropical air of a cedar grove. Like the bowl above it, the cedar grove was a hallowed ground. Darker there than in the bowl, the cedar grove was also hushed. Our shoulders brushed against the soft needles of those grizzled trees capable of near millennial lifetimes. Like other creatures before us, we left only footprints and wonder. Will that ancient, sacred place remember our passing? Or in the darkening hush will we be forgotten?

House made of sky

Yesterday, I hiked with a friend and sportswriter at a sister newspaper in the valley. We hiked the Huckleberry Lookout trail. The first mile is flat and wooded. We crossed a foot bridge suspended over a brook filled with glistening river stones. If there’s something I love about temporal presence, it’s the color of river stones. In water, they’re beautiful: rusty red, chocolate brown, aqua blue. Once dry, the stones are dull, boring. Sometimes it’s better to leave things be. Especially river stones.

After the first mile, the trail begins its ascent. It’s a solid climb until the crest of the Apgar range. More than once Dixie and I found ourselves panting for breath, paused in the shade of hospitable pine trees. A great workout, that hike. It’s 12 miles round-trip.

We met one other person on the hike, a man from east Texas. And boy, y’all, did he sound like he hailed from east Texas. I admire his bravery, though. I dare not hike alone in Glacier National Park for fear of the bears. Dixie and I saw bear scat, but no bears (we like it that way). We might of heard one, but whether it was footfalls in the bushes or just the wind, we’ll never know.

Before climbers can reach the lookout building, they must walk along the ridge of the mountain. Along the spine, the trees bend east, as is knelt in supplication toward the sunrise. It’s windy atop the peak. Downed logs are gnarled with the abuse from weather. Yet even in such precarious places, life remains. Moss grows on the old wood and wildflowers find refuge in the shadows of trees.

A recent college grad named Luke is this year’s fire lookout. He lives in the one-room building. His walls are windows. Gives new meaning to the phrase “a room with a view.” There was not a cloud in the sky Wednesday for as far as the eye could see. Just the blue dome, unreachable and so close.

While I’d part with my right arm for a view like Luke’s, unless I had Shawn to keep me company I’d probably go mad as a lookout. A person can stare all day into the landscape, surrounded by it and totally separate. The wind rustles in the walls of the lookout building. The silence without wind might be overwhelming. Luke said he doesn’t get lonely because 15 people or so come to the lookout every day. He’s got cell phone reception and Internet access. Friends and family visit. A train of pack mules comes to visit every few weeks bearing food. Still, in between the people, I think he has a lot of time alone with his thoughts. Sounded as though he likes it that way. Said he’s writing. Wouldn’t get specific, but he won’t be the first lookout to write a book.

“It’s amazing how much the same view can change every five minutes,” Luke said. “This place is very alive. It’s very dynamic.”

After spending 45 minutes or so on the summit, interviewing Luke and scarfing down our sandwiches, Dixie and I made the descent. The above is a shot from the lookout of the trail down the spine. On the right side of the frame, the North Fork of the Flathead River and the North Fork Road are visible.

The expansive view from the top of Huckleberry Mountain afforded a panorama of the Livingston Range, pictured above, which follows the North Fork river valley up to Canada, about 30 miles distant. Dixie and I could also see Flathead Lake, 50 miles south. So many acres of forest between us and everywhere else. Filled with birds, moose, elk, deer, bears and marmots.

I tell you this: if you need some perspective, climb a mountain. Sit on top for a while and just be. Then walk back down. You’ll feel better, I promise.

Going down was much easier. We munched on huckleberries (ssh! don’t tell!) and stretched out our strides. Cold beer awaited us at the end, which makes every hike even more worth it.