It’s funny how farm life follows me no matter where I am. Like the bits of hay that I find tucked inside my bra and pushed into the creases of my pockets. Or in this case… a couple of fireflies that hitched a ride and found themselves trapped inside our SUV in a state where they wouldn’t otherwise survive. The tiny yellow lights flashed and caught my attention as they clung to the windshield near my visor. My husband and I pulled off the highway to switch places and as we did so, I released them… knowing full well that they were doomed.
At home, the woods light up after dusk and if I’m not wearing my glasses… they look like hot embers dancing towards the treetops in the darkness. On an especially warm night, their numbers increase and if you catch them from the corner of your eye, you’ll be convinced of a raging forest fire taking place among the pines. These are the things I miss when I’m away, even if I’m surrounded by some of the most impressive scenes. Thankfully, it makes the homecoming even sweeter.
I woke up early because the chill in the air was nibbling on my numb toes and the birds were especially cheerful. Their shrill voices felt the same as stepping on Nikolai’s Legos with bare feet… except it was happening inside my throbbing head. I yawned and stretched my cramped legs as far as the floorboard of the car allowed them to go. When the promise of adventure glimmers underneath exhaustion and homesickness, you override your senses to radiate a joyful demeanor that’s infectious.
My sleeping bag had been pulled tight around my ears and I found it ridiculously complicated to wiggle my way out. I tried to look outside to see where we were but there was too much condensation. Droplets turned into rivers that ate up larger droplets until the glass meet rubber. I had to take the sleeve of my sweater and use it to buff out a peephole. Grey rock formations enveloped a rest stop where like us, rows of cars had parked to get off the highway sometime throughout the night.
The cold wetness on my sleeve mixed with the insane temperature drop raised the small fibers on my arm. My skin puckered like a freshly plucked chicken and sent a shiver that shook my bones. I leaned over to turn the key in the ignition and the dash lit up to inform me that it was a frosty twenty-six degrees outside. From the heatwaves we had in Georgia to a winter wonderland, my equilibrium felt distorted, but I was glad to be here in this magnificent place.
A place where green grass stretched out like an ocean, bending and rippling like waves against the shore. Only rather than hot sandy beaches, we were meet instead by cold and jagged mountains and water plummeting thousands of feet to the ground from melting glaciers. We arrived holding our faith in our hand like cowboys hold their hats. We couldn’t get the website for the national park to work. Reservations typically made 180 days in advance except… the sight would crash.
I would refresh the page and get on at eight in the morning per recommendation from Glacier’s Facebook page. Yet so would thousands of other visitors and only two hundred tickets were passed out daily. I kept trying anyway.
Page refresh… sight down.
Page refresh… tickets sold out.
We came with the hope of getting in but there was no certainty about it. Having driven thirty-one hours one way on prayer alone that I would be able to show my son and husband places from my youth that I visited again only in my dreams. I’ve taken more complicated leaps of faith before. I clicked on the campsite list, but I had pretty much given up. A lump of doubt formed in my belly and nibbled on my expectations like a rat. My husband was feeling moody. The thought of coming all this way to… be forced to sit outside the gate? It was heartbreaking.
Then there was this voice in my head about an hour and a half past eight… it said refresh it again. So, I listened. There it was… an available campsite listed for one night. My fingers shook with anticipation as I put in our credit card information and begged my phone to not loose cell reception. I hit the button to finalize the payment and forgot to breathe. Success at last! Time and time again, God proves to me that leaps of faith are the only way to live.
I couldn’t stop photographing one scene after the next. I felt a lot like Julia Andrews during that famous scene in The Sound of Music. Arms spread wide, wind catching my cardigan instead of the hem of a dress. Nikolai and my husband would pull off to the side of the road to pick handfuls of wildflowers for me that I had never seen before. I had to photograph some of them just so I could look them up later and decide if it was possible to grow them at home. I think I would need an icebox for these blooms to survive on my farm.
The greenery of the Rocky Mountains is so different to that of North Georgia. In comparison, Glacier National Park looked like a desert. Not because it was without lush beauty… but because Georgia’s lush greenery is on steroids. We own a mosaic of trees while Glacier’s trees need to be able to survive drastic climate changes and avalanches. Furthermore, there’s a line where things stop being able to grow altogether due to the altitude. They don’t measure things by sea level but instead, by above or below tree line.
The campsite was… everything I had hoped for and yet beyond what I had expected. We were snuggled into a valley surrounded by silver cliffs with gleaming tinsel of white. Glee bubbled inside the way it used to on Christmas eve when I was young. A good portion of Highway to the Sun was shutdown due to flooding but we spent so much time soaking in what we had access to that it didn’t feel like we were missing out.
Upon parking to photograph thunderous falls, we took our picnic lunch and our pack of essentials on a hike with us. I put about three hundred more photos into my phone’s memory bank and had Tallulah help guide me down a path with a no-pets-allowed sign. Thank goodness she’s as well trained of a service dog as she is because she had to listen to commands carefully when it came to crossing narrow bridges. One bridge had water that leapt out to kiss our ankles. She almost attempted to turn around, but I told her to stop and move forward instead.
A lesser companion would have knocked themselves off the bridge and down into the frothing rapids out of fear. Not my girl! My heart swelled with pride even though my nerves jittered behind my confidence. A steep and tricky hike brought us to yet another waterfall that rewarded us by spraying a fine mist and cooling us down. Despite the weather at night, during the day it was rather balmy. There were lakes so clear that they reflected the blue sky like a mirror, and it made me wonder if that was how everything use to look before our world was polluted by humanity.
We decided to tuck in for the night a bit early (or so we thought) and that’s when I noticed something unusual. I felt exhausted but the sun was still up. Hours went by and twilight lingered. I couldn’t tell if I was that sleep deprived or if maybe we had gone to bed earlier than we had expected. My phone battery was low, but I had enough charge to see that the sun didn’t fully set here until around eleven at night. I didn’t remember it being that way when I was young, but it made nightly trips to the restroom easier to tackle and less likely to run into grizzlies. The Black bears in North Georgia are typically less confrontational.
Rob (my husband) had a difficult and bitter night when the freezing weather crept in again, whereas Nikolai and I possibly stole his blankets by accident and stayed rather toasty. The next morning, we packed up camp so that we could make the trip around the outskirts of Glacier. We were on a family mission to see my favorite place of all, McDonald Lake.
The odd timing of things working out beautifully continued to carry us throughout our journey. With road closures around the lake made of glass, Rob suggested we stop by a large log cabin hotel. We had driven past it at first, but it looked to be the easiest access point to arriving at the bank of colorful stones. There at the edge of the lake, sat a kiosk advertising guided ferry and motorboat rides. While the ferry was overpriced (and fully booked) … three motorboats sat tied to the pier like an open invitation.
I wasn’t sure how Tallulah would handle this kind of adventure, but I intended on finding out. I tied lifejackets around our midsections and slathered so much sunscreen onto our skin that we looked rather ghostly. Despite being noticeably uncomfortable, Tulla got into the boat and once she settled down… the exploring was underway. The heat was made tolerable by the breeze we created while flying across the water. I took pictures with my cellphone, yet the scenery was so breathtaking that friends of mine thought it wasn’t real.
I was able to photograph everything in a way that was impossible to do when I was younger. To my knowledge, boats weren’t allowed back then in order to avoid pollution. There were also spectacular ice caves to explore when I was last in this magnificent place and in its current state, 80% of the glaciers are long gone now. Even though the water wasn’t as crystal clear as I remembered it being… the views and images that I got from the boat will forever be something I cherish.
I’ll admit that it was hard to pull myself away from the beauty and serenity that we found here. The only thing that made leaving easier was knowing that Yellowstone (and the list I had created in my head of all the animal encounters I hoped we would have), was our second to last stop before going home again. Nikolai was most excided about witnessing living volcanos. I had been forced into creating multiple science experiments with him at home over the years. As we drove onward through the night… I spent time listing facts about what awaited around the bend.