"Hermit hoar, in solemn cell,
Wearing out life's evening gray;
Smite thy bosom, sage, and tell,
What is bliss? and which the way?
Thus I spoke; and speaking sigh'd
-- Scarce repress'd the starting tear; --
When the smiling sage reply'd --
-- Come, my lad, and drink some beer."
- Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)
Winter and Sylvie Go 'Round the Aliner
Moonlight Camp north of Missoula
It had been fifteen years since Sherri and I had been to Glacier National Park. The last time we were here, "Grunge" was just starting to taper off in Seattle, and people were finally starting to talk about "Generation Y," after the "Generation X" craze. We had quit our jobs -- Sherri's at Boeing and mine at Bad Animals Studio in Seattle -- to strike out on an adventure. That whole expedition could be traced to a couple of conversations over one (or two) bottles of wine where we talked about quitting our jobs and traveling the country. Finally, after one particular long day of hiking, followed by one (okay, or two) bottles of wine and dinner at Sher's, we spit in our palms and shook on it. We spent the better part of 1993 and $3800 living large from the back of a 1984 Toyota long bed pick-up, backpacking in wilderness areas along the way. Our time in Glacier back then was a highlight.
It's 2008, and we're back. This time we'd brought our offspring, and we'd be meeting our friends from home, the Broys. It had been a month since we'd seen the Broys -- Lance, Merrily, Elli, and Katey (who comprise one third of the group of friends we affectionately call "the gang" back home) -- and we were looking forward to re-connecting with them. As a matter of fact, the phrase which had topped the "back seat" charts for the last week (that is, what Sylvie and Winter would most often say over the course of an hour, pushing "when do we see our cousins" out of the number one spot) was "When do we see Katey and Elli?" I was glad to be the one who pointed out the Broy-mobile as it entered the Fish Creek Campground that evening. The excitement was palpable.
Seeing friends after an absence is sweet. I don't just mean that in the 1980's sense, like "Sweeeeeeeeet." I mean it's actually a really good feeling to be among friends. I'm not sure if, in this case, absence made the heart grow fonder, but I think I can safely say that it made the beer taste better. These friends had made a similar journey to ours, traveling 2500 miles from home to be in Glacier, and we all started back just about where we left off. The kids all ran off to play, adding a couple of new friends from the campsite next door to their group, while the adults settled down to catch up.
Most kids jump . . . Elli levitates . . . nice trick . . .
Tea? . . . for two!
The Broys had, since we left them, bought the Aliner Classic camper (a bit smaller than our model, the Ease) and had gotten some pretty good mileage themselves (they estimate 14.5 mpg pulling the Classic with a Honda Pilot). They'd made their journey in significantly less time than we had, so the impression of the car seats was a bit deeper on their behinds than ours. We decided that the next day would be a "no driving" day, and planned some hikes which would leave right from the campground.
Even if you've never been to Glacier National Park, I probably don't need to tell you that it's absolutely breathtaking. The peaks are jagged teeth, cloaked in white, towering above sapphire lakes and windblown, scraggly trees. There are goats, marmots, bears, moose, and deer, and all of them seem to have adapted to having humans walking in their midsts. There's not a hike in the park which would leave you wanting. It really is a jewel of a place.
We first trekked out to Rocky Point on Lake MacDonald for lunch and a very brief dip in the icy-cold water. Grizzly bears are fairly common here (twice as many bears as Yellowstone in 1/4 the space, one observer told us), so we made plenty of noise and kept the kids from wandering too far on their own. The kids were quite happy to have their friends around, leaving us to have conversations in which words like "potty," "American Girl Doll," or "ice cream" rarely or never occurred. After getting back to camp, we made another trip, this time down Fish Creek to its mouth on the lake. Again, the kids hit the cold water running to see who would be the first to go all the way under. After dinner we took in an action-packed, multi-media event in the form of a ranger talk on 90 different species of birds in the park. Note to rangers: everybody loves birds, but about twenty species would have sufficed. The rest of the week we would point to a bird, make up a name, and give it a number. I liked to reply to a bird-name inquiry like this: "What kind of bird is that?" "Oh, that's a Red-Warblered-Tree-Footed-Snarp. Number 47 on the list, I do believe." It actually didn't matter what we named a bird, since we would be re-naming it within the hour. Mrs. Audubon was heard to groan audibly from her final resting place.
Monday, July 14th, was already scheduled for Sherri and I to work for Thompson's Water Seal in the park. We shot the full day, highlighting the work Thompson's is doing with the Glacier Park Fund to preserve and protect wooden structures. Jane Ratzlaff, from the GPF, had lunch with us in the Lake MacDonald lodge and heroically submitted to an on-camera interview with us. She is a true "local," and had lots of great stories and advice on what we could do with the kids. Karla Neely, our PR liaison with Thompson's Water Seal led our tour, and the four of us got a lot done and had fun doing it.
While we worked, the kids played, staying with the Broys for the day and hiking up to Avalanche Lake. Once again the highlight seemed to be the ice-cream they had consumed, although so much of it was on their faces that I think they took it in mostly by osmosis. If there is such a thing as "ice-cream jerky," it was probably invented by peeling it off of childrens' faces. Lance and Merrily commented that most of the people on the trail that day seemed to think that all four of the kids were theirs. Thanks, Broys, for taking the whole crew with you. You're brave.
We opted to spend the next day taking the shuttle buses up to Logan Pass and hiking to Hidden Lake Overlook. While waiting for a shuttle, four more Junior Rangers took the oath at Glacier. The hike to the overlook was still mostly covered in snow, and we got to watch some Big-Time-Marmot-Wrestling (yep, the WWMWF -- World Wide Marmot Wrestling Federation). It was just the sort of wild-life encounter you might expect to see on "Mutual Of Omaha's Wild Kingdom." Except for the fact that on Wild Kingdom you'd see bears wrestling on a windswept precipice, and we were seeing a couple of cute, fuzzy, roly-poly marmots bash the heck out of one another on a windswept precipice. I figured that we could dub in some bear growls, make the focus fuzzy, and pass it off on You Tube as the real thing. The next wildlife encounter was equally bizarre. Sherri settled herself to get some video footage of four goats as they walked toward us from a distance. "Wow, this is great," she said, as they wound their way along a path, still 70 yards off. As they walked closer, she was still commenting on how great it was that they were coming toward her. They came closer still, and I started to get nervous -- sure, they're around people a lot, but they're still wild animals, and unpredictable. The lead male marched straight up, his front legs planted two feet from the lens, and put his nose out as if he was going to kiss the camera. Sherri cautiously tilted up to catch his long snout in the frame, and then he wandered off, followed, just as closely to the camera, by the other three. Sherri can be heard off-camera, after the last one passed, gasping, "Oh my god!" The footage is hilarious. Eat your heart out, Marlin Perkins.
The shuttle buses seemed like a good idea at the time, since there is major road construction on the Going-to-the-Sun-Road, but we soon learned that they haven't exactly perfected the system yet. It took the better part of the day to get to the pass, transferring from one bus to the other, and then, once we were ready to come down from the pass, the system was so overloaded that we would have to wait almost two hours for our turn on the west-bound shuttles. Instead of waiting, we opted to take the east-bound shuttle, which was completely empty, down to Rising Sun Lodge to get a quick bite to eat. The trip down was gorgeous, of course, but when we arrived at Rising Sun and read the bus schedule there we found that the last shuttle up the mountain (in order that we catch the last shuttle off the mountain to our camp in the west) left in ten minutes. Instead of dinner at Rising Sun, the kids got potato chips, and the adults got a couple of six-packs of the local micro-brew. As we headed back up the mountain, Merrily commented that, from her perspective, what we had just accomplished was probably the most scenic beer-run in history. I do, indeed, concur, whole-heartedly.
Wednesday would be our final full day in the park, and we wanted to do something all of the kids would remember, so we scheduled a horse-back ride for the afternoon, and decided, once again, to eschew the vehicles for the day. We walked the 1 1/2 miles from our camp to the Apgar Visitors Center, ate lunch in the restaurant there. After lunch, we realized that the corrals were another 1 1/2 miles further on, which would leave us three miles from our camp at dinner time with four hungry, tired kids. Lance's solution was for he and I to run back to camp to fetch the vehicles. Literally, "run" back and fetch the vehicles. Okay, I thought, while it's been six or seven weeks since I've run (I run 5-miles, three times a week back home), I can do this. I hadn't banked on what that time off from running, along with a big lunch and slightly higher elevation than I'm accustomed to, would do to my breath. The young, strapping, Dr. Lance easily sprinted off down the path with me wheezing unsteadily behind for the first half-mile. Eventually, I urged him to save himself and let me die there by the side of the trail. He'd have none of that, and offered to save me by loping ahead, getting his vehicle and ferrying me back, wounded pride and all. To save what little dignity I had left, I limped along behind him, making it as far as the camp entrance before he pulled up alongside me. The only resolution better than those made at the New Year is the one made in complete and utter shame. It was time for me to start training and stop eating again.
Kids come out of the frigid lake and into a warm, waiting towel . . .
Lance's marathon training saved the day, and we all made it to the corral in time for our orientation and ride. Since video cameras were forbidden, and still cameras discouraged, we have no pictures to show from it, but the kids are still talking about the horses they rode as if they were long-lost-friends. Even though they spent a grand total of 60 full minutes with them, Jo-Jo and Roany Pony were their soul-mates. I think they'll remember the horses names the rest of their lives, since they plan to return as adults and ride the same horses. I suppose we could quash that dream by mentioning the average life-span of a horse, and the unlikely chance that they'd ever find the same horse there again, but I figured that, while the actual horses may change, horse names do not. Every barn or livery stable seems to have a "Jo-Jo," a "Colonel," a "Sid," a "Midnight," and a "Shorty." There is every likelihood that they'll come back twenty years from now and be able to ride a horse with the same name.
The Broys: Lance, Katey, Elli, and Merrily
The Wilsons on Lake MacDonald, Glacier National Park
Leaving Glacier the next day was hard -- we'd made some great memories, but it would be another six weeks before we saw the Broys again. Sylvie's goodbye to the kids was tearful, and it took a little while before our reminders about getting to Grandma and Grampa's house in a few days started to work. Thanks for the Glacier memories, Broys. Safe travels, and see you back home.
Winter contemplates life on the Yaak River before the family dinner . . .
We had another Nature Conservancy meeting to keep at Ball Creek Ranch Preserve in northern Idaho. We camped that night on the Yaak River, about 45 minutes from Bonner's Ferry, ID. The next day we met with Justin Perry at the home on the ranch where he lives and which houses the office for the ranch. Justin, a transplanted Texan who came north for the fly-fishing and wilderness, showed us the ranch and talked with us about TNC's operation there. Ball Creek Ranch is an interesting place, since a good portion of it is still farmed. Five-hundred acres has been returned to wetlands, and about three-hundred acres is managed for responsible timber harvest, but the rest is in wheat, hay, and some grazing. Justin explained this set-up as one of the reasons he likes working for TNC -- rather than completely removing the land from agricultural uses, they work with the local ranchers and farmers to work the land more carefully, so that the impact from human use might be dramatically reduced. We shot HD Video on the preserve and in the Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge just down the road. Along with some State and Native American land, these four areas help to produce a corridor for wildlife migration in an area historically used strictly for ranching and farming. Justin stopped us on our way out to mention a program he'd forgotten earlier -- with help from the Native American lands across the river, they were hoping to establish a corridor for Grizzlies to be able to migrate between isolated populations, mate, and strengthen gene pools. We got a great look at a Moose, hiked to some of the creeks and waterfalls in the area, and enjoyed the peace and quiet of the place.
At the end of the day of shooting, everyone seemed eager to get back on the road and close the distance between us and the M Bar J Ranch (better known as Grandma and Grampa James') in Washington State. We hastily made dinner in the camper along side the road, and then drove into the northern Idaho evening. In one of our worst miscalculations in finding campsites for the night, we thought we'd be able to easily find the National Forest campsite on Hayden Lake. After a couple of attempts (even after asking for directions twice), we found ourselves snaking along a 15mph road through a highly populated area on the south-western end of the lake. It took over an hour to go about twelve miles, when we finally pulled into the camp, only to find ourselves next to a bunch of kids who whooped and hollered into the night.
We were glad to pull into the ranch the next evening, the longest part of our journey now over. We would now set up camp down by the Columbia River and make forays from here. While we have arrived "out west," our adventures are far from over. We still have plans for tubing in Oregon, packing into some hot springs, a trip to Yellow Island with the Nature Conservancy and (hopefully) some Orca watching in the San Juan Islands.
Yes, I've started running, now that we're in one place for a little while. It's nice to get up a little early and jog on the dike road along the Columbia. I've already been accompanied by Osprey hunting along the shallow shore, Beaver coming in from a night's work, and Blue Heron stalking mice in the hayfields. We're looking forward to what a northwest summer will mean -- time with the Washington side of the family, ripe blackberries, salmon and moose-burgers on the grill, solemn moon-rises over the river.
Come on back for reports on these things, and some more, in depth information about the tools we've put to use this summer. Watch for the videos, since I'll have some time to edit, and look for the wind-generator to really kick out some power here in the Columbia River Gorge. It's still summer, and we're still living a green family summer.