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.

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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?

Going to the Sun (and some waterfalls)

Over Labor Day weekend, we took a little trip over to the east side of Glacier National Park. We don’t get over there too often because it’s about four hours round trip. We made the impromptu decision to get over to the east side, though, and it was a great boondoggle. The east side sure is lovely! We hiked to St. Mary Falls, a glacier-fed waterfall (you can tell it’s glacier-fed because of the turquoise water, which looks like something you’d see in the Caribbean). And then we drove over the Going-to-the-Sun Road close to sundown. The long shadows thrown up by the arched backs of the mountains painted the park in a beautiful light.

Here’s my boys at St. Mary Falls. Jonathan was pretty into watching the waterfall. This was a good hike for us. It ended up being about three miles round-trip, which is about six miles too short for Shawn and I, but a good length for our little Peanut. Next summer we’re planning to do some longer hikes with him.

St. Mary Falls sure is beautiful. For a waaaaay better photo, check this out.

We didn’t quite make it to Virginia Falls, but we did spend a nice fifteen minutes hanging out on the rocks on an unnamed cascade along Virginia Creek.

After the hike, we drove home over the Going-to-the-Sun Road (we’d taken Marias Pass on the way to the east side). Here’s the view from almost on top of Logan Pass, looking east.

Mist in the morning (and stories at night)

Today, as I drove to the daily newspaper in the valley where I live for a long day of designing the newspaper on our asinine new computer system, I was treated to some spectacular misty views on the stage road. I couldn’t help but stop to shoot a couple photos.

Idyllic, no?

In this photo, I love how the fenceline undulates up and down into the mist, with the imposing mountains behind.

NaNoWriMo update: I have written 3,955 words so far! That’s about 600 words ahead of schedule. I’m having fantastic time with the writing so far. I sneaked home for lunch yesterday and spent most of it writing. After the school board meeting last night, I went home and wrote for another hour or two. Today, I drove back from the daily newspaper, shoved some food in my mouth and wrote some more. Let’s hope I can keep up the pace!

Here’s a teeny excerpt (please note all contents of this blog are copyright!):

As Tom negotiated the next curve, Clint craned his neck to stare at the sloping back of Summit Mountain. The verdant mess of pine crept up the stone and came to an abrupt end at tree line. Every time Clint passed the mountain he thought about Brody Thompson, one of his best friends from high school, who’d gone alone to snowboard down the bowl, triggered an avalanche and came home in a body bag three days and a long search later. Clint had gotten the phone call his sophomore year at Northwestern. He’d flown home for the funeral, the one time he ever did. He remembered Brody’s girlfriend’s sobs from the front of Two Ocean United Methodist, how they seemed deliberately out of sync with the hymns. Remembered Brody’s father’s face, which looked like all the light had drained out of it. Brody’s mother wore a black veil and didn’t move during the entire service.

Clint and his best friend Derek Wilson split a case of Bud Light that night in Derek’s truck behind the Get N’ Split. They talked about Brody in the glow of the radio dial.

“Remember when he sacked that mean sonufabitch from Chester High during the game when you blew your knee? You might’ve blown your knee, but that kid looked like he might worry himself up a tree until the end of the game,” Derek laughed around a gulp of beer. “Kept looking over his shoulder and hesitating, waiting for another wicked hit from Brody.”

Clint tossed an empty can over his shoulder into the back seat and reached for another in the cardboard case between his legs.

“Remember when he first started dating Laura?” Clint recalled, a faraway look on his face. “Man, he was into her. Even skipped practice once to go make out with her in the church parking lot.”

“Yeah, they made a pretty swell pair,” Derek mused and the two clicked their beer cans together. “To Brody, snowboarder, football player, friend.”

“To Brody,” Clint replied and chugged the remainder of his beer.