Table of Contents
- St. Louis to Salt Lake City.
- Salt Lake City to Kalispell.
- Cabin Outside Glacier, First Day.
- Sunday Night: Blood Moon vs. Milky Way.
- 20 Grams of Protein and a Case of Iron-Water Heartburn.
- Wild Goose Wednesdays.
- Tales from the Crypt Lake Hike.
- Cardston Cattle Drive.
- Trains and Darkness, Looking for a Fix.
- Kalispell to Salt Lake City.
- Salt Lake City to St. Louis.
1. St. Louis to Salt Lake City.
I have jumped seats across the aisle. I paid up for legroom but the package I bought didn’t come with any extra shoulder room. Alas. Alackaday.
It is not a full flight. The last flight I was on, from St. Louis to Los Angeles, wasn’t full either. Behind me, along with me in the cabin are inter alia my wife and three of my so friends. The chicken is in the woods. It is a hen or a rooster. Hen, I think. I have selected from a snack tray the blue bag of mini pretzels. And, on second thought, a banana. The old man with the window seat one seat away scoffed at the pretzels, took the peanuts and a granola bar. They rest on a napkin on the empty seat between us. The laundry cats are in the basket, replete with anonymous fish.
I am sipping coffee; he orange juice, aka a little bit of the ole jugo de naranja. He has a cut over his eye, a wound above his elbow. His cane is in the cabin above my head. He raises slightly the window shield. Just as quickly he lowers it back down. The chicken is in the woods, anon anon.
Something led me to think just now of the band Ratatat and their song, “Montanita.” I realiZe I left it off of the ‘Montana’ playlist Anne-Marie set up and invited us to add to. I was adding themed songs—meta-themes, mother of memes. Montana; passport; glacier; aurora borealis; Alberta. I am otherwise indifferent to music at the moment, whatever you want to listen to. Whiplash, autograph. Neck hurts? Take an aspirin, laugh-in. The breakfast sandwich expands across the federal lands. No one even lives in Utah anymore. “I’m on a plane…. I can’t complain….” I forgot to add that one, too.
After I went through the body scan sedan, a TSA guard asked me to lift my left arm straight out to my side and then he patted my armpit. He’d found my sweat alright, half of it anyway. Flight attendant comes by with coffee. The one was enough. I pass. I demure, for sure, the cure. My skimpy goal for this flight, my picayune imperative, is to refrain from having to use the restroom. My fear is getting trapped in the aisle fore or aft the beverage cart; or having to stand outside the restroom for too long a time, standing there right on the doorstep of the poor folks with the seats next to the restroom, crowded by the sloppy anxious passengers loitering on their doorstep. Shadenfruede, Sigmund Freud. Butter-scented candle, gold-plated handle. My name is—six forty a.m. mountain time on September 26, 2015. Wildcat, spoiled brat, exiled frat. Scaredy-cat welcome mat—come on then, come on in. National park, national party: no need to get arty: the wellhead’s tapped but the rig’s gone idle. Let’s do math, let’s take a bath. That chicken is back on the escalator!
I think the old man is asleep. Except, as I’m stealing glances at him, there’s that cut nascently healing above/around his left eye and there’s just the slightest suggestion that his eye is cracked a glimmer and he is leering back at me as I am leering at him. He looks a little like my grandfather, my dad’s dad, gone…eighteen years now…a bit jowly, pot belly, light blue polo with some kind of animal sewn on where the eponymous polo player would be. What is that animal? A sheep, a fox? A pox, on all the houses of the holy molybdenum.
I have brought two books on this trip, each of which I have read at least twice. One, The Sun Also Rises. It is a copy I bought many years ago—18 years ago?—at the Memorial Hospital Book Bazaar in Belleville, IL. I am fairly certain I took that book to Mexico in college. Now it will also find its way into Canada! Reading a bit of it just now, it is as rich and stark as it ever was; there are parts I do not remember, probably because I did not understand them in the first place. Pernod, for instance. Hemingway calls it imitation absinthe. Certainly this is the first time I have read the book having actually tasted Pernod. It’s not my taste. I recently poured out what was left of a bottle I didn’t want to sit in my cabinet any longer. I suppose Papa would have frowned upon me. Sorry, ye Great Pacer. It struck me too that the girl he picks up early is a prostitute. I am dense about the subtext in great books, kind of like how I am terrible about picking up song lyrics. Plot, meaning, and subtext aside: it is the rhythm and the sparseness of his prose that sets something in motion inside me. All of the unused words. Th’economy.
The second book, Bill Luoma’s Works & Days, is the second of two copies I’ve owned of it. The first I bought nine years ago at Subterranean Books on the Delmar Loop, back when they sold used books. Now it’s all new books and I am still sullen with their decision to stop selling used books; I don’t go there much anymore, once or twice a year to throw them a dime and pick up a gift; nobody ever goes there anymore, it’s too new.
I found my first copy of Works & Days in the poetry section, it was secondhand. It’s not strictly a poetry book but that’s as good a place as any for it. Prose poetry travelogue. Travelounge. I attempted to copy its style pace & rhythm when I wrote a journal about a trip to Jamaica back in 2009. I have not read the book since then. I leant it to a bandmate of my friend Josh. This bandmate seemed interested in writing and poetry and I figured he’d like Luoma. But Josh soured on the relationship. Apparently this guy and his wife liked to swing. That’s what Ray told me. He ended up out at their place one time, to go swimming. I’m not sure how he ended up out there, come to think of it. This bandmate had an apartment with a pool. He invited me out there the last time I talked to him. I guess he got the sense I wasn’t ever going to come out to swim. That’s how I lost that first copy and why I had to get onto AmaZon to buy it used (again) a couple of years ago.
Luoma might have copied Hemingway a bit. I’m going to rip off the both of them best I can. Hemingway, of course, is dead. I cannot find any other work by Luoma; shame. There’s other works listed in Works & Days as being by him but the last time I tried to find any of them all I came up with was a scrap about a guy living in Hawaii, working as a programmer of some sort, possibly utilising computer algorithms to produce a hop-scotch random sort of automatic poetry not different in concept than Burroughs’s cut-ups, which I never cared for and which don’t compare to Burroughs’s beat-diary classics. I digress; I have an abscess in the annex, the narthex, it’s complex, with flecks—of tungsten conducting an experiment of relative thought at a temperature as close to zero as we might reasonably get a haircut, get a real job, get lost and—found my way to… Montana… not quite sure how that happened.
I am in-setting the poem Luoma opens the book with. It is “Douglasses poem.” I’ve inset it in at least one of my previous travelogues. Luoma writes, “It is a sad and beautiful poem about a broken car which makes you feel things. You can interpret it however you like, but it sets the stage for everything to come.” I agree! And now, “Douglasses poem.”
if the car is broken,
& we cannot go to get it,
if the car is broken,
& no one can go to get it,
if the car is old & broken,
wounded like the street,
broken like the broken parts
of these our broken lives,
& we remain?
I was thinking about this poem this past summer when the contractor working for Ameren (who was in turn working for the city) came to put down sod on a patch of the right-of-way that sits between the sidewalk and the street out in front of my house. It all started when the bozo construction crew building a new house on a tear-down lot down the street was dicking around in the ground and snapped—for the second time in as many years—the electric cable that runs between the street light out in front of the tear-down and the street light situated just east of my house.
It was a Saturday and I was doing this and that in and out of the house while B was out running errands. A flatbed truck arrived carrying nothing at all. It parked right across the foot of our driveway, like it was looking for a driveway to cut it in half. It was part of a convoy of trucks, one of which held the sod. Figuring my wife was going to be back at some point that afternoon I went out to the fellas who were standing around chatting while a couple others did all of the work. “What’s going on?” I said. A sun-bitten, rind-skinned smoker-for-life roofer-type told me, “Sod.” That was it, a one-word answer. Sod. I’m looking at the three or four trucks and this patch of roughed up dirt surrounding the base of the light pole that might have been 25-square yards at the most. All I could do was shrug; look up and down the sidewalk. Quite an operation for this little patch, I wanted to say. Three big trucks, five or six guys.
“How long you gonna be here?” I ask.
“I can move right now if you need me to,” said another guy.
I said that wasn’t necessary, yet. They got the sod down and were gone twenty minutes later, just as quick as they appeared.
This was late July. They came and put the sod down but the sod wasn’t going to take without being watered. It led me to wonder: city lays the sod, but city doesn’t water the sod—who waters the sod? That inquisitive rhythm reminded me of “Douglasses poem.” It is the same sort of question. Again I digress, I recess, I adjournal for lunch, crunch time and again and again & again. Ryan Hanigan again. Jack Clark. Will Clark. Clark Kent, naked on a beach in New Mexico. They don’t have a beach in New Mexico? They do now. Its sand is laced with kryptonite.
The old fella took off his shoes. And then, no surely not—yes—he took his socks off too. I’m stealing a few peeks at his left foot. I was afraid it was going to be all messed up somehow—mad cow—but it’s not. It looks OK and, breathing now through my nose again, I don’t smell anything at all. Relief, Rolaids, trapezoids. Polaroids of the pyramids. Rhombuses of Ramses and a variety of other unclassified shapes. Seatbacks up and tray tables returned to their upright and locked position. Prepare the cabin for landing!
2. Salt Lake City to Kalispell.
I’m up in row seven while the other four are opposite aisle one another, two each side, two rows back. There’s a couple regular old folk in the row between us. Anne-Marie starts giggling and I turn around all serious, “No laughing! I’m trying to read up here.” With a real pissed off look I do this.
“Mind your own!” she snaps back.
The couple in between us, startled out of a toddling nap, is wide-eyes and in the way.
“We’re just joking,” I say. “I know these people. They’ve been following me ever since I left St. Louis.”
“Oh, OK,” they say, awkward chuckles from the both of them.
That last part didn’t actually happen. I just imagined it and thought it would be kind of funny. I am two rows in front of them, though—and I have been hearing Anne-Marie’s occasional giggles. Roxanne and B are back there, too. I heard a snippet of dialogue between them as we lifted toward cruising altitude over the Great Salt Lake. They were talking about th’eponymous lake, I believe. What I noticed about the lake: I saw no boats. Is there no recreation on or involving the lake? I did not see any wildlife but I am rather far away so how could I tell, even if there were wildlife? What is the water source for the lake? We are in the middle of what I would otherwise call a desert. Where does all of that water come from? I thought I saw a river winding its way toward something. Perhaps the lake is fed by this river. Is the river also salty? Are there fish in the lake? Does the lake have a bodyguard? Does the bodyguard go fishing in the lake? Does the bodyguard keep the fish he catches or does he throw them back? If he keeps them, does he clean the fish himself? Or does he, in turn, hire someone that cleans the fish for him? Is the bodyguard so busy catching and cleaning the fish that he cannot do the bodyguard work that he was originally hired to do? Is this why there are not many famous people hanging out by the Great Salt Lake? Is this why there are no boats?
I had also been hearing behind me, amidst the landscape dialogue and the ticklish giggling, a baby. That baby is now right across the aisle from me! His helpless, provocative father brought that baby up here to gain hold of some peace and quiet. I discover now that this baby has no shirt on! How about if I take my shirt off, too? The father is bouncing the shirtless baby on his lap and making goo goo sounds while the facing-forward baby grabs at the worthless Delta paraphernalia in the seat pocket in front of the seat. The baby has quieted down since the father emigrated to this part of the plane. The baby has a piece of paper in his left hand, now his right hand, that he is shaking. The stewardess is going up and down the aisle soliciting trash. Trash, or otherwise referred to using an incredible euphemism which I heard right at the end of the STL to SLC flight, when the flight attendant called out for any remaining “used service items.”
When we got off the plane, B came up to me and said, “How’d you and that little baby get along? It seemed like he got quiet once he went up and sat by you.”
I said, “That’s because when he got up there I went and leaned over to him and said, ‘Listen here, you little punk. You better keep quiet around me or I’ll whip your little baby ass.'”
And everybody laughed at my good-natured faux-curmudgeon humor as we strolled through the effulgent concourse of the expansive and karma-filled Kalispell airport before seamlessly snatching up our already-carouseling bags and practically walking right into our rental car which was parked right on the curb outside with the engine running and the radio turned to whatever channel on Sirius we were all going to agree we wanted to listen to
None of that actually happened either. I’m still on the plane but the father has taken his shirtless kid back to the back of the plane, though I still smell a little bit of baby in the air…. Oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen baby…baby air…baby bubble…bubble boy…the Moops, oops, I—I—I guess I didn’t know that. The nose knows. A rose is a rose is a rose. Hemingway is at his best writing about Paris. The Sun Also Rises is a lot like A Moveable Feast with a stronger fictional bent, stripped down, made minimal. We are over mountains. I am listening to the band Milieu. The temperature in Kalispell is 36 degrees? That’s what the captain said. He must be wrong. Or maybe that’s in Celsius. Celsius Clay, the bizarro version of Casius Clay. European and swinging from the left.
I am writing in a journal made in Spain munching on Biscoff biscuits from Belgium, while reading a Kansas City newspaperman’s account of his time in Paris. The descent into Kalispell has begun. Fun. These tray tables need to be returned to their seat-back position. Adieu for now, mon frer.
3. Cabin Outside Glacier, First Day.
It is Sunday morning. The alarm clock read 3:21 but that wasn’t right. It was 3:56. I put on my glasses and opened my phone, went to Instagram, the photo-tribune obsession of my travels. I strained against the screen in the dark before deciding to get up, go downstairs, turn on a light. I slept alright. The headache I had for most of yesterday is gone. I was hung over. The second flight in a row where too many beers the night before led to a mounting dehydration-fueled head-pounder. I’ve chastised myself enough already.
I posted my photo, of a peak catching a bit of the fading sun somewhere around magic hour yesterday. We were headed north along the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park. We had stopped because of the way the light was hitting those peaks. Patrick was driving. He upgraded the Santa Fe to a Suburban, a burgundy beast of a vehicle straight from Detroit with Bluetooth, USB ports, an excellent rear-view camera, and three rows of seats. When it was holding all of our luggage and then our groceries we were all glad for the space.
I am sitting here in this woody cabin drinking tea and writing and it is quiet. Patrick had been out on the back deck last night looking at the nearly full moon when he realized how quiet it was. No insects, no birds, no airplanes. Occasionally a car will go by; there is a train track not far away, down the road, just past the point where the north fork and the middle fork of the Flathead River come together at the Blankenship Bridge. Where water comes together with other water. Take the north fork. So much water so close to home.
I have been delighted by how many rivers and creeks we have seen. I did not expect them. I am not much impressed by the lakes. Lake McDonald is big and rippling but it is also shapeless. The Flathead at Blankenship Bridge—the sound of a train in the distance—looked like a scene from Normal Maclean. There were fly fishermen in the river on either side of the bridge as we passed. I want to get into that river. Rivers move. Creeks move. The water of McDonald Creek could not have been more clear. That creek tracks the Going-to-the-Sun Road for a pleasant stretch between Lake McDonald and The Loop, a hairpin turn on the road at which point the elevation starts to take hold. From on high we caught sight of numerous creeks below and a few waterfalls here and there sluicing their way down various mountainside escarpments. There isn’t much snowpack to speak of; I don’t know where the water comes from. I am guessing we saw glints of Mineral Creek, Avalanche Creek, Hidden Creek.
Do not misunderestimate the size and augustness of these streams; I call them creeks because they have been dubbed, officially, as creeks. They look like rivers to me. Especially McDonald Creek. It’s got pools deep as most rivers I’ve ever seen. It is wet and gets white and it flows. I believe the terminology is captive to the scientific text in this case. There must be some rule about what counts as a creek versus what can be dubbed a river. These creeks, best as I can tell from the map, all wend down through the Rocky Mountains of Glacier National Park and eventually feed into the various forks of the Flathead. Lincoln Creek, Harrison Creek, Nyack Creek, Pinchot Creek, Coal Creek, Muir Creek, Park Creek, Ole Creek, Bear Creek. When you’ve got so many tributaries in such close proximity, all feeding into the same body of water, I suppose they can’t all be rivers so they must be creeks. And they’re not especially long; they are about as long as their mounts are high.
This is all in the southern part, the southwest corner of the park. Our cabin is just south of the park, north of Kalispell, Columbia Falls, Coram. I did almost zero advance scouting for this trip. Patrick and Anne-Marie have been here before. They got married in Kalispell, ten years ago tomorrow. Ten years gone. Time flies. Where does it go? Going, going, gone. You better watch the road, baby. The chicken is in the woods. Syrah, syrah.
The North Fork of the Flathead River hails from Canada. British Columbia. I am looking at this Waterton-Glacier park map in awe. Part of the park is in Canada, that’s Waterton: Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta. B and I honeymooned in the maritime provinces of Canada but I have not sniffed Alberta.
I’ve got so much to say! The ink is flowing, the tea is strong and I am under a blanket in a recliner in Montana. As John Sterling would say, “How do you like that?” But that’s baseball; that’s a whole ‘nother story.
The cabin has low beams. Some have clearance of less than 6’5″. The wall on the staircase leading upstairs to the landing where our bed is has a nasty slant, requiring me to be very aware as I traverse the stairs. The water has a strong iron content, I do declare. I bent to wash my face yesterday and I could taste something in the water, I thought blood. It was like my nose had started to bleed as I began to wash my face; I have in the past hit my nose just the right way while washing and opened it up, realizing only because the water then ended up in my mouth. This was the same exact taste. I have concluded that this cabin would be perfect for short vampires. Being neither short nor a vampire I plan to spend the bulk of my cabin time in this recliner drinking tea or out on the commodious back deck drinking beer.
The sky cleared sometime in the night. B stirs. It was mostly cloudy when Patrick I and proclaimed our embers burnt and turned in somewhere around ten o’clock. Yet I was underwhelmed by the sky when I looked out and up this cool, clear morning in my bare feet for just a minute on the back deck. It’s the moon. The moon is too bright. It’s not going to be any less bright tonight. Indeed, tonight is a full moon, a Harvest moon, a super moon (the moon being as close to the earth as any full moon will be this year). And that’s not all! If you order now we’ll also send you a full lunar eclipse and a blood moon for no extra charge! See what I’m saying about the vampires liking it here?
We saw a small black bear yesterday but we did not see many birds; a stellar’s jay; a robin (could have been a towhee); a quail (could have been a ptarmigan?). The bear was alongside the Going-to-the-Sun-Road and went back into the woods about ten seconds after we initially saw it. Patrick had predicted we would see a bear on day one, and we did. Roxanne is somewhat concerned about encountering a grizzly on one of our hikes. The possibility is far enough above zero to be classified as legitimate. She bought a bell. I kind of wish I had a cowbell. I’ve always liked the sound. The point of the bell is to make noise; you don’t want to surprise a bear and/or her family. There is a gratis can of bear spray in the cabin (but if you break the seal, you buy it). We should be OK, the five of us. It’s six o’clock, mama bear. Do you know where your cubs are?
4. Sunday Night: Blood Moon vs. Milky Way.
We had originally planned to go up to Logan Pass, the high point in the park along the Continental Divide, to see the Blood Moon. But I had doubts about us commanding The Beast along the Going-to-the-Sun Road in the dark and I said so. I told Patrick it wasn’t a comment upon his driving and I meant it. It is a narrow road; difficult enough in the light. And it would have been well into our cocktail hour.
We did phone research into the moonrise: when and on what horizon. Rise was 19:12 in the southeastern sky. I suggested we go down to the banks of the river, the ole Flathead. The sky was pretty open there. When we went down there in the light to scout it out the brush on the narrow, bumpy turnoff scraped the sides of The Beast something good—seemingly perfunctory warnings from the rental car agent about “No Off-roading” echoed in my worried head.
When the hour arrived Pat drove us down there. As we worked our way toward the bridge the moon jumped out suddenly, big and round and orange and we were headed straight for it. We lost elevation and we lost our view for the moment. Cocktail in hand, Patrick first drove over the bridge, missing the turnoff. There were already a bunch of locals down on the banks and multiple bonfires were burning. We made to join them. It was a pretty sight, people out under the moon on a riverbank having a fire and being outside on a Sunday night. The moon was just about in full eclipse when we parked on the rocks not too far from everyone else.
It was a rusty, orange, large, eclipsed moon. It moved quickly through its arc. Once the eclipse was full, the rest of the night sky came out of hiding. The Milky Way was straight overhead. I realize we won’t have another lunar eclipse until 2033, but I’d be much more unhappy if you were to tell me that I would not get to see the Milky Way again until 2033. That ghostly ribbon is the prize of any sky. The only thing I’d rather see is a comet. The Way ran from the southwest to the northeast, straight above through Cassiopeia. Patrick had his camera trying different exposures to nail it. I don’t think he was satisfied with what he got. I’m afraid he will not have a better chance on this trip. The moon will be just one day off of full when next we see it, plenty bright. Maybe when we are in Canada, once the moon is set, one morning along 3:30 or so. Will I be awake? Will he? It’s 2015 and the climate is changing. Do you know where your glaciers are?
I believe I could write a long, groping passage about glaciers but I don’t want to fail in my responsibility to record for posterity the simpler items on my agenda, e.g. the cornucopia of other action from yesterday, Sunday, September the whatever.
We hiked the Avalanche Lake Trail from the Trail of the Cedars trailhead along the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Taking our time to snap photos and pause at the end of the trail at the head of the lake we were out on the trail for three-and-a-half hours. We could not agree on what distance it was we had hiked. I cannot say for sure that we did more than six miles. The park map was not as helpful as you might think. It was chilly at the head of the lake, a wind dancing off of its surface and cutting right through me. We snacked. I peed. I am driving myself craZy with my small bladder and its itchy-trigger-prostate on these excursions. I think I might have a drinking problem—I’m drinking too much water! Patrick remarked last night that he thought he drank one liter over the course of the whole day. I drank two liters on the Avalanche hike alone and had to race like a pisshorse again by the time I got back to the trailhead. I was militant with the sensation. No one wants to get between a mother bear and her cub; no one wants to get between me and a place to take a leak when my bladder is beating with a pulse in my pelvis. I need to figure something out.
Where was I? There are lilies in here. Patrick got them for Anne-Marie, the same arrangement they had ten years ago. I am somewhat allergic to lilies; a shame.
I want to voice briefly my wonder about the lakes and the creeks here. I’ve discussed this with my comrades. Where is all of this water coming from? Snow melt they say. What snow? Glacier melt, then? T’ain’t many glaciers anymore, not enough to fund all of these creeks 24-7, no way. Not unless I am simply underestimating, by magnitudes, how large and how voluminous these remaining, global-warming-holdout glaciers really are. Could the source be a sort of groundwater? Maybe, but then the water table has to be somehow higher within the tallest mountains, rising like a column within them. I am missing something. The simplest explanation, my dear Occam, is: snow up high/snowpack/glacier; melts, reaches lakes via waterfall or sluicing through the body of the rock; lakes themselves also happen to be spots where the water table is high, commingling with the melt-off and/or there are springs somewhere on the undersides of these lakes, turbo-charging the runoff; the lakes then drain, slowly, via the creeks. We saw an example of this process yesterday. There were two waterfalls high above the head of Avalanche Lake. That water reaches into and constantly feeds Avalanche Lake, replenishing the lake at a rate identical to that at which the lake loses water into Avalanche Creek. Meaning: the creek must run in volume and at a rate equal to that of the waterfalls reaching the lake. Avalanche Creek runs into McDonald Creek. McDonald Creek feeds the lengthy Lake McDonald. McDonald Lake spills into the Middle Fork of the Flathead River. The Middle Fork of the Flathead River comes together with the North Fork of the Flathead River at Blankenship Bridge, becoming the “just plain” Flathead River, where I saw a beaver yesterday morning; where we saw the last of the three blood moons; where we were given, for one night only, The Galaxy; where we had a bonfire after the locals tried to drown it; where we ate peperoncini Kettle Chips; where we “crushed the Dickel”; where we walked along the flat, smooth rocks. From which place we left at ten-fifteen last night to have Roxanne make us reuben sandwiches. Which were good.
[Author’s Note: Sometime later in the trip, after we had left the short vampire cabin, we were talking about the water again and Patrick harkened back to the way that, about mid-morning, once the sun got going, water would drip off of the corrugated iron roof of the cabin…drip, drip, drip in the morning sun. This water came from frost, he said. If there is so much water suddenly sliding off of the roof of the cabin every morning, where the night before there was none, why cannot frost-melt be an important piece of the waterfall; lake; creek puzzle?]
5. 20 Grams of Protein and a Case of Iron-Water Heartburn.
It is Tuesday morning. B has been caught in the heartburn vortex. She’s never had it before. I’ve given her some of my generic Pepsid Completes. At dinner at Belton Chalet last night we all talked about what could have caused the heartburn. The cabin’s blood water or the 20-grams-of-protein bar she ate on the hike. Breakfast couldn’t have been the culprit because we hadn’t eaten any. The folks at the Lake McDonald Lodge closed down the buffet to new entrants sometime before ten o’clock; we got there a few minutes ’til ten thinking as long as we got through the door at ten we were good; we weren’t.
Pat suggested the heartburn resulted from a combination of things and he’s probably right. Protein bar: a too-potent combination of protein and vitamins. The iron-laden blood water she drank on the hike (and in her morning coffee). The ibuprofen she took to alleviate the slight hangy she had as a result of our frolicking under the moon and Milky Way. The up-and-down topographic nature of our badass nine-mile hike Monday along the Highline Trail. The nut mix, which also contains chocolate in the form of M & M s. The coffee she had yesterday afternoon. The red wine we were then having at dinner (Hill Family Barrel Blend from Napa, $42). The rich meal, her dish being beef tips in sauce. The caffeine she is about to have this morning, etc., etc. The heartburn vortex spins and spins, and when it will stop nobody knows.
I will go into town this morning, to the Smith’s, and I will get more heartburn pills. I brought enough for myself. I took half-a-one yesterday after our badass nine-plus-mile hike along the Highline Trail, which started out at Logan Pass and proceeded for four or five miles before turning around. It’s a little more than eleven miles one-way from Logan Pass down to The Loop. We could have done it, I now realize. Before we set out I could not have even contemplated doing eleven miles. It would have been grueling; the last couple of miles could have gotten chippy. That’s what happened with me and B down the stretch as we hiked Bear Lake to Fern Lake Shuttle Stop in Rocky Mountain National Park last year. But we could have done it. Of course, the shuttles normally running between Logan Pass and The Loop are shut down for the season so we would have had to hitch our way back, something we probably would not have planned to do. Alas. Alackaday. We will get our chance to do a longer hike when we do Crypt Lake. That will test our endurance.
Roxanne has a fear of heights. I do too, but she’s got it worse than me. She had trouble getting through the initial stretch of the Highline Trail. That stretch consists of a three-foot-wide ledge with not much of an escarpment below you. There was nothing running along the wall to hold onto. There was a series of metal loops drilled into that wall, through which a cable must once have run… but the cable was no longer there.
I was out in front of everyone as we set out. Patrick and Anne-Marie were figuring something out back at Logan Pass, I can’t remember what. B and Roxanne were a ways behind me. I heard some commotion and hiked back toward them as they had paused on the skinny stretch of the ledge. Roxanne was upset with height. I had not looked down much myself. My glass at that moment half-empty, I told her she should turn around. I really didn’t think she was going to make it. This turned out to be a really terrible piece of advice. Oh, hindsight: we seek to use you to show how we were right but too often you reveal the opposite! Patrick and Anne-Marie had caught up and urged her on. Patrick and Anne-Marie, the bulls on one side; me and B, the bears on the other. The bulls won yesterday. It is always better when the bulls win. Being a bear is part of my current nature, and I do not seek to trans myself. With the bear mindset comes vigilance and straight-facedness and awareness of risk. It is a useful mindset but when the bulls win out I am left feeling weighty and dour and curmudgeonly.
I am sipping on some re-heated coffee. There are burgundy-bottomed wine glasses in the sink. I couldn’t stay up. I had a vodka rocks after dinner but it went down into a hole. I know that if I have a drink and it has zero effect on ushering me toward drunkenness that I am done and it is time to retire. It was originally acid reflux, my brand of heartburn, that led me to vodka rocks as a drink option, especially later on in the night. I wrote a random line awhile back, “All alcoholics eventually turn to vodka.” No color, no congeners, no flavor. No dime thrown toward that flaming, churning bum in my throat. Vodka is simply a vodka molecule tossed into my bloodstream to quiet the murmurs of want before my liver takes those whispers out of circulation. Form follows function. The season is the reason. The chicken is in the woods, the bear is on the hill. Qu’elque’une, qu’elque’une, one day beyond the blood moon. I took a shower in blood, I took a shower in blood. Meet me at the Montana Motel Six. Ah-ah-ah, we got plenty of time.
The sound of a train in the distance. Union Pacific has money problems, says Anne-Marie at dinner. The stock is at $85, down from $124.52 earlier this year. The stock market fell a lot yesterday. I had a bevy of limit orders click off. My dad and Elaine were in the office; my crutches. Yesterday was pretty ugly from what I could tell. The biotech stocks were among the biggest losers. I’m glad to say I never swam too deep in that pool. Some of the funds I’ve been buying, though; there’s some floaters in what they’re swimming in. Some warm spots of water. Some yellow snow. One fund I’ve been buying was down over four percent yesterday. Ouch. YowZa. For numerous clients I had moved money into that fund and out of one of its stodgy, laggard siblings. Even if you are making the right move in the long-term, the market will make your decision look wrong in the short-term. That is its nature. There’s nowhere to hide at the moment. Cash. Roxanne said it yesterday, “Cash is king.” No one wants to hear that when the Federal Funds Overnight rate is zero percent. But it’s true. It’s true now, always has been, and always will be. Beauty’s truth, truth beauty. That is all I know, and all you need to know.
Enough stock market talk. What is this, a cocktail party out on Long Island in the waning days of summer? Except one thing. I want to point out, for the record, as it related to the case of Randall vs. Randall, that last year when I was in Rocky Mountain National Park, I was all hot and bothered and exasperated because I had been, over the course of the preceding twelve months, too cautious about committing new dollars to the stock market. I was, in practice, moving too slowly for too many customers. According to the scoreboard of the moment, I was dead fucking wrong. I spent so many months cursing the S&P 500 because it would not correct. The shoe is on the other foot now, isn’t it, Jacky Boy? The grass is always greener until you get to the other side and you realize that your mistake was in the going. This is life! I am wrapped in living it and the wrap is a little tight at the moment. If I allow myself to be unhappy about the market being down when I am gone, then what was last year about when I flaked out circa Labor Day and hit the road in search of my soul because the market would not come down? The answer lay somewhere in the middle approach, the “showing up” part of the job, the 90% of life. Just show up. Don’t try to be right all of the goddam time! I will never be right enough, consistently enough to keep myself happy. It was the being right about it that I couldn’t get away with. There has to be a hit in the hair in the wood. Good. But how do you catch that? Said another way, “What shakes in the canebrake, kemosabe?” Attempts at correctness kill what kindles inside me. But I’m supposed to be so smart. Shhh. Shhh to all of that. That is a magazine cover. That is a trending tweet. It is not a way.
We are parked in a day-use area of a National Forest Service Campground. We pulled off to get a better look at Big Creek, a Flathead River tributary. This is one of the spots where the bull trout swim up river to in order to spawn. You aren’t supposed to fish for them. The exhibit sign said they are especially vulnerable to capture. Days ago Pat had read something about a trout that swims upstream. I said, “No, that’s salmon.” He said, “Them too. But I read about trout.” He was right. I was chagrined when he was telling me more about fish than I knew. I read fly fishing books in high school. Books set in Montana! Am I getting stupider or is everyone else just starting to read a whole lot in secret, in the dark, when I am four beers deep and listening to baseball? What in the hell is going on around here? The bull trout swim upstream from Flathead Lake and they spawn in places like Big Creek. Pretty stream, moving smoothly along. Blue, soon to reach the North Fork.
We are proceeding south to Columbia Falls, then west to Whitefish for lunch and shopping. No long hike today. Plenty else to do. We did a short loop hike earlier along the Huckleberry Mountain Nature Trail. Patrick wants to go back into the park later, to the west side of Lake McDonald looking east for a sunrise shot, the light against the mountains.
Corrugated unpaved road. Washboard road. Dust. Car massage. Patrick asked a day or two ago: what process causes this washboard road surface topography? It’s a good question. One I intend to answer with study. We’re seeing aspen today. Honest to god aspen. It was paper birch along the Going-to-the-Sun Road. White bark and yellow leaves, but not aspen.
I am outside Great Northern Brewing Company in Whitefish, MT. Here comes B. I can smell the wort fermenting. We had beer and lunch in there earlier. Generous space, good beer. We sat up top, along the beer tanks. Some guy and his wife went in there and the guy got offended when the bartender asked him if he wanted to try some beer. In a brewery of all places. My pen is trying to run out of ink on me. Anne-Marie and Roxanne are shopping. I had a cold brew nitro with Patrick after lunch. I am sitting and looking at an intersection. A guy gets out of his old white Explorer and does something to the trailer hitch as he’s stopped. Damn this pen. There was some sort of sadness in that act, the guy having to stop at an intersection in his old Ford, on the doorstep of the Farmer’s Market, trying just to hold his trailer in place. He’s got his wares on that trailer. A lot is riding on whether he can sell them. The desperation of that hits me and sinks in me and makes me weak.
B wants the key to get a bottle of water out of The Beast. She’s walking away, down Central. I was not in a mood to talk about much. This is a re-vitalized area. There are strata visible. There are spotty spots our zero-rate economy has decided to bliss. From our table in the brewco I could see a dozen ski runs along the mountainsides in the distance. This is a second-home town. It feels a tad specious. There is construction and heavy trucks on a weekday. No bums but a lot of old cars, some with a gad of bumper stickers. An older lady with gold shoes, pink socks, and a bag from Ace Hardware comes walking along. Her daughter meets her in the intersection near the Farmer’s Market and takes the Ace bag. On Central between here and the BNSF tracks is where the Farmer’s Market will occur. We parked in that space originally but had to move it after being there a couple of hours. Closer to the tracks are swathes of parking reserved for BNSF employees only. I would wager the railroad is the largest employer in town.
Back comes B with a coffee. She is sitting down. It is a damn hard thing finding the time to put a few words down. Can a chap get a pen that works and some silence? I’m being peevish when I want to be random. A woman goes by leaving her potpourri perfume in my nose. Kegs and eggs Sunday October 4th. Another old Explorer comes by, this one sounding like a mining operation. An old Buick with a young driver. Here comes the coal bed Explorer, pumping out exhaust like a diesel VW….
Is this pen working any better now? Not really. It is 11:34 pm mountain daylight time on Tuesday, September 29th. Tomorrow is the end of the month. Tom Arrow. After sitting there on Central in Whitefish we went for a beer at the other brewery in town, Bonsai. The beer wasn’t as good, neither was the setup. From there we went into the park, to the west side of Lake McDonald as planned, for photos circa sunset. The highlight was as were leaving, seeing three black bears, presumably a mother and her two cubs, crossing the road. After that we went and ate, chicken or fish with fry bread, at the Back Room of the Nite Owl. I had an IPA. Back here we struggled to reach consensus as to what hike we would do tomorrow. Tom Arrow. I am ready for sleep. Goodnight.
6. Wild Goose Wednesdays.
It is now Wednesday morning. We will go up to Canada today. It is uncertain whether we will stop to hike between here and there. It seems that most of the trails in the St. Mary’s Lake area remain closed as a result of fires in that vicinity over the last couple of months. That leaves Many Glacier but we are not up for Grinnell Glacier; Grinnell Lake isn’t enticing. Ptarmigan Falls is appealing but is also considered to represent the heart of grizzly country in the park. Factoring that in—considering we would not have bear spray—I put in a word for getting to Canada sooner rather than later and finding a hike up there somewhere. Lineham Falls? We will see. We lack consensus.
It is quiet here in the cabin except for the clicking of a clock, the sporadic whoosh of a car on the road, and the scratching of this pen against this paper. The ink is flowing again, I can’t explain why it was sputtering in Whitefish. I can’t find the other pen I thought I packed. I have always carried a back-up pen but not this time. I’m drinking tea and sitting in the recliner. Getting all of our stuff back out of the cabin and back into the Suburban is going to be a pain. We are going to try to use up all of the food we bought the day we arrived but we will probably end up tossing some of it and leaving some, in hopes that it will find a stomach somewhere down the line. Six beers in glass bottles sans their caddy. Those’ll find a home.
The pen is sputtering again. It felt like my writing voice crashed yesterday. I’m not getting a whole lot of time to sit and relax on this trip. It’s go, go and I’m trying to go with the flow. Damn this pen. It’s seven o’clock and no one else is up yet. At this rate we will not be at our hotel, with a hike under our belts, until six o’clock at the earliest. It will be two hours until we leave here; it will take four hours to get to Canada; it will take four hours to hike; and there will be one hour of unpredictable miscellany. Alas, alackaday, I’ll get drunk all day, look for that chicken in the woods. Today is the last day of the month, the last day of the quarter. It looks like the stock market will be up today. It will open higher, anyway. It will need to hold those gains throughout the day before I believe tomorrow will not be a lower close yet. It had plumbed the 12% decline level again yesterday, after having hit that level twice briefly in August. Christ, Jack, stop talking about stocks. This isn’t art; this isn’t even travel writing. What is this, a financial blog? A flog? A log in the lake. Log lady down. Crown, of the continent, and us on top of the Motel 6.
Lurch. Anguish in hamstring. Tingle in toes, feet apulse. I cannot move; it will cause the Suburban to move, off of the cliff. Death down there, no coming back. Haystack Falls can descend in that direction, I cannot. Lead. Leaden. One tire, the front right one stick its nose where it doesn’t belong and—into the haze, son. Young son. To the light. Climbing. Bending. Dropping. God is an Indian on Dramamine, going to the Sun.
Goats above the Weeping Wall. Heart is a drum. Stopping. See ’em up in the rocks? Hoppin’ around? Up where the rocks meet the grass?
I still haven’t figured it out, couldn’t explain. What, exactly, is a glacier? Do glaciers have momentum? Do they actually move, sliding along the land and scouring out deep landscapes? Or do they just freeze and thaw and sort of blob-pulse their way along? Do they weep and moan? Smile and cry? Build roads, destroy them? Make mountains, move them?
Set the controls for the heart of the sun, Jack. This road was completed somewhere in the thirties, is that right? When did it begin? Switch back to black-out. I think about jumping whilst the glacier pertains.
Siyeh Creek. A guy with his binoculars out. We stop, look that way, don’t see. On down to the Jackson Glacier overlook. “And runnin’, and runnin’, and runnin’, and runnin’.” We runnin’ rebel, we trippin’ treble, we on the level, we really revel.
Into the burn toward St. Mary’s Lake. Sand bars, burnt trees, glitter, and glimmer. Burned on both sides. Hell of pretty lake, though. Lots of cordon: shiny, bare glossy black trees still standing guard around the lake. Large trees, too. We are stopping for a look at that little island out in the lake, that I have been suggesting, with perhaps no basis at all, is called Wild Goose Island. Damn this pen again. Can a chap get some ink? Boy that sun is warm on my face.
7. Tales from the Crypt Lake Hike.
It is Thursday, the first of October. Canadian dime, do you have the time? It is 18:24. We have endured a full day of hiking in the mountains. Up and up, up a thin ladder chained to a rock, along a sharded ledge as we held fast to a flighty cable before eventually making it to Crypt Lake. It is not so much the lake that I will remember but I will never forget coming back down along that craggly ledge, the vine-like cable to my right, death to my left, with every step so obviously important.
I did not look down so I cannot say how sheer or plain the drop really was. I looked at the cable, the wall that was my friend, and I looked at my boots. Yes, the coming down was the hardest part. On the way up to Crypt Lake, you are ascending. With each step along that precipice you are pulling up, moving yourself upward. And gravity is not such a problem—it is a small thing easily managed with each little step. But coming down your weight and your pack’s weight are investing all of themselves in that only-child foothold you have just elected. If you have picked a bad spot to drop all of yourself into, you could be in very real trouble. I said I did not look down and I didn’t. But the sense of what down meant: all in my field of vision that was not the ledge, or my foot, or my wall—it is impossible to ignore the presence of all that nether. Going up I can look up and away, into the sky. Or up and outward, at the peaks in the distance—objects that don’t shift around, don’t wobble.
I put that Crypt Lake hike, because of the cable-ledge-decline portion of the trail, in the category of “A Supposedly Fun Thing I Will Never Do Again.” I will not forget it; it might have made me a more resilient human; but I will never do it again. The other ten-and-a-half miles were fine. It was mostly uphill getting to the lake, mostly downhill coming back. Props to the balls of my feet, my menisci, all the rest of me too, I suppose. Props to my mind for not going wingbats up there. The elevation gain is approximately 2,200 feet. We did 35-minute miles, inclusive of all stops and breaks, e.g. a quick lunch and group photo at the lake itself. I did not get winded going up. The running I’ve done the last 21 weeks helped with that but it could not prepare my body for the brutality involved in descending those 2,200 feet back down the trailhead/boat dock on Waterton Lake.
We did not see any wildlife of note. There was a shotgun-sounding, echo-creating, touchdown-with-a-splash rockslide while we were at the lake. The initial sound was like a huge metal cable snapping as a result of too much tension. And then it was like sporadic gunfire mixed with the sound—if you have your head under water—of rocks sliding along into one another at the bottom of a riverbed, with tinks and clinks. It was a procession of these sounds, seemingly getting closer via echo, ending with a violent splash right across the lake from us, far enough away that I never wondered about our own safety, but nonetheless playing out right in front of us.
Ultimately, we are all back safe and sound. It is amazing to me that Roxanne made it across the cabled ledge and back. It was trying enough for me. I had a moment, coming back across that ledge, holding onto that cable with all the grip I had in me, when I asked myself, “What the fuck am I doing here?” At that moment—and also while clambering through the five-foot high, 20-foot long scratchy patch of tunnel running between the skinny ladder and the cable-death-ledge when it occurred to me that I might actually be in the midst of a drug trip gone bad. As if the reality of my reality had suddenly revealed itself to me, in some sort of Philip K. Dick gnostic plot-twist: you don’t really live in U City, work in Illinois, have a wife named B, drive a Subaru: in reality you have been scraping back and forth through this tunnel in hell for the last fifteen years. Only because I was stone cold sober did I survive that hike. Or perhaps I would have, eventually, survived otherwise but I can say for sure I would not have made it back to that boat dock by 17:30 to catch the one-and-only boat back to Waterton marina. I’d be out there shuddering and muttering, trying to figure out how to start a fire—bring a lighter next time, Jack: it takes up very little space, doesn’t weigh much, could save your life. I’d be asleep on a mountain with questionable berries thrumming my insides while thinking about what I could use to fend off Alberta’s finest bobcats and grizzlies.
A few more trip stats, for informational purposes. To do this hike you have to take a boat from Waterton marina to the trailhead just east of a nondescript boat dock about ten minutes away from the marina. We bought those tickets in a little shop on the marina. I believe it was C$22 each. The boat left the marina somewhere past ten o’clock, its scheduled departure time. We started the hike at 10:24. We were done with the hike at 17:04. The boat picked us up at 17:35. We were back on land in petered-out Waterton at 17:50.
That’s a day’s hiking. It feels like a great accomplishment. Tomorrow can be a milk day. I need to shower. B has done so. I’ve been drinking not bourbon and Coke; not Jack and Coke; but Canadian whisky and Pepsi! How do you like that, Suzyn? It’s bizarro-bar up here in Waterton. World’s End. Crown of the Continent. Ice Machine entrance, room 12, wi-fi password 20MCL13. Almost. That’s what I typed in, incorrectly. Dinner at Wieners of Waterton. Most of this town has already commenced Operation Shutdown and the rest is soon to follow suit.
I’m the jacket on the space monkey
in the astronaut ship.
I’m the waterfall, the
silent movie on the mountainside…
8. Cardston Cattle Drive.
Can everybody touch the sky? Can everybody touch the sky? It is Friday morning. The car is packed, B is walking down to the water for one last look at Lake Waterton. Patrick and Anne-Marie are enjoying a waffle breakfast. We will bid adieu to Canada today. First, though, we’ll try to get to Cameron Lake and maybe see some elk along the way. When Roxanne got breakfast at Wieners of Waterton early this morn, the gal working there relayed news of hundreds of elk in a field not far from here. We have not seen any elk on this trip.
Waterton is a strange place right now. So much of it is shut down. I am listening to a trio speaking a language I cannot identify, it is perhaps Slavic in nature. Many businesses are not just closed for the winter but the buildings housing those businesses are boarded up as if the town were in the middle stages of an evacuation before the arrival of a hurricane. B and I had breakfast this morning at the same place as we had dinner last night. There aren’t many options. I used an ATM at the Bayshore Inn to replenish the Canadian cash we’ve used over the last couple of days. I love other forms of currency. The Queen is on the shiny green C$20 notes I got. And there is a clear strip with a hologram embedded in it running the short length of the bill, a feature quite unlike anything on U.S. dollars.
Leavitt, AB. The cattle drive. About 100 cattle crossing Highway 5 as we head east from the park toward Cranston. Yes, those cattle are crossing the highway right in front of us. Patrick jokes that if he had not seen them when he did it would have been ground beef. A couple of cowboys and one collie directing traffic. Us all laughing hysterically.
Bums in Cardston where I got cash from a TD Green Machine. Have they gone bust in the Tar Sands collapse? They had better head south soon, or at least west to Vancouver. My view is to the southwest as we prepare to cross the border back into America. Mountains, rolling fields, a magpie, and the Rockies of Glacier National Park.
9. Trains and Darkness, Looking For a Fix.
It is Saturday morning at the dark and dry Belton Chalet Hotel. There is no power and no water! It is 7:11.
The power had gone out somewhere around 3:00. I found no effect when I tried to turn on the bathroom light. My first thought was that I was somehow not flipping the switch correctly, or that I was flipping the wrong switch. Then I thought, “Maybe it’s just our room.” B then starts telling me that someone is knocking at our door! She says it’s Roxanne. Sometime during our drunken brandy romp on the wrap-around deck in front of the hotel the night before we discussed waking one another up at 3:00 to check and see whether auroras were visible.
I opened the door but there was no one out there. There was a light on in the hall but I soon realized it was an emergency light. That light must have burned through its battery sometime around five or six because when I went out of the room later there was no light on in the hallway at all and I resorted to wearing my headlamp. I had brought the headlamp along on the trip for the purpose of using its red light while reading the star chart under Montana’s big-ass sky. There wasn’t much to do with no light and no water and the sun still down. So I just drank some bottled water and lay in bed in the dark and listened to the trains rumble past on the tracks across the street, sounding like there was a busboy pushing an enormous cart of rattling dishes. I think I could listen to those trains every night for the rest of my life and it would never get old. I cannot say how or why but to hear them rumble along in the night fills me with a serenity I cannot find anywhere else.
The power came back on at 7:45 and along with that power came the immediate blast and wail of the emergency sirens from atop one of the smaller mountains of West Glacier. Nothing was wrong; it was the power coming back on that tripped the sirens, kind of like if a person is brought back to life with a jolt from a defibrillator their first action upon returning back to this side of life is to take one big violent gasp of air. The sirens went on for a couple of minutes and I heard someone ask the flustered clerk at the front desk what the sirens signaled. The answer was: nothing. By this time we had packed our suitcase and I had lugged it down the old Belton staircase and through the dim, fire-lit lobby. I did want a shower and now that the power had come back on, and the water pumps could get back to work, I could have taken one. But I thought it would be best to just keep moving along.
We talked last night about leaving for breakfast at McDonald Lodge at 8:45. It’s only 8:23 now so I’ll sit on this veranda and look northwest over the Belton Chalet restaurant and continue to jot. I am looking at large hills or small mountains. Here comes a train from the east. It’s a BNSF engine toting a series of black, pill-shaped oil cars. Where is it coming from and where is it going? Patrick is here now, camera in hand. Screech of metal wheel on metal track. Cadence of circular motion, a whirring like a chopper’s rotor but blunter. The orange BNSF engine at the end raises the volume level before it too disappears down the track. Anne-Marie arrives with coffee in hand.
It was a scene earlier, in the basement, watching the coffee junkies itch and scratch and agitate the staff looking for their morning fix. There was no customary coffee in the lobby first-thing because of the power outage and the lack of water. I had popped a couple of generic headache pills, in part for the aspirin but they also contain caffeine, so I was not nearly as desperate as the three or four older hotel guests who one after the other popped their heads behind the swinging kitchen door clearly marked with an “EMPLOYEES ONLY” sign, bugging the hell out of the gal who was back there getting the coffee ready, waiting, she said, for the water to get hot. Part of the problem, however, lay with the front desk clerk. She told several guests ten or fifteen minutes prior (including myself) that there was hot coffee ready downstairs. I went down and looked. There was no coffee. Alas. Alackaday. I sat back and watched the others strike out, too.
10. Kalispell to Salt Lake City.
We are just about to take off. We are taking off and I am saying goodbye to the mountains for a while. That’s a quick bank, an airplane u-e. Christ. Bumpy. Not pleasant. I guess the runway had us pointed the wrong way. Climbing and turning simultaneously, subcutaneously. Big lake: Flathead? Bumps in the clouds. River dumping into big lake. Flathead River, Flathead Lake. Banking again. Clouds and mountains and turbulence. Smoothing out now. For awhile I was back on that ledge on the Crypt Lake trail. Don’t let go, pilot. Several strata of clouds and we are still under at least one. I can’t write right now. I am sick about leaving all of that behind. The only thing I would need to stay in Montana for a while is my little friend, Squirt. I believe it would be pretty inexpensive to live in Columbia Falls. Or Kalispell or Helena, Butte, wherever. There is a day I can see down the road, far but not too far, when I will not be a resident of St. Louis, when I will not work in Illinois. B can get a job at the U of Montana. We’ll become grizzlies and scavenge for food from the trash cans at the Motel 6. Look out: here comes the beverage cart!
Fair’s fair, Larry: if you’re looking for me you’d better look outside. I looked outside at 3:00 this morning. It was cool but not cold and there were too many clouds. If there were auroras visible at our latitude I wasn’t going to be able to see them. Next time.
11. Salt Lake City to St. Louis.
I am now on the flight back to St. Louis from Salt Lake City. Our layover in Salt Lake City was around two-and-a-half hours. I walked around mostly, going from terminal to terminal, like electricity in a battery, turning around at the end and going back to where I’d come from. Terminals B, C, and D were all busy. A was quiet. E was down an escalator and had only a few gates but it had a huge smoking den and it did seem like the air down there was a little hazy. I ran into B eventually and we walked around this way and that for awhile. We got smoothies and when we were done with those we got sandwiches to go from the Boar’s Head. I’ve got mine in my bag yet, ham and pork and swiss and pickles with mustard on a ciabatta. Cuban. Cigar, as in close, almost. We saw a movie star in the airport. Not a huge star but I’ve seen her in one or two movies that were popular when they came out and still might catch your attention when they are running on cable and you find yourself watching them with your family around holiday time. OK, I’m just going to say it. Andie MacDowell.
I liked the Salt Lake City airport. I’d fly through there again. There was some good landscape art in a couple of different places. There were lots of little tables set near the windows in the parts of the concourse bridging the various terminals. Speed ramps ran through those parts of the concourse, too. It looked like rain outside, dark blue and cloudy in the distance, out toward the furrowed red-brown mountains. But it did not rain at the airport and I wonder if I wasn’t looking instead at the effect of a lot of dust being in the air. I did not look at the lake coming in nor on the way back out. I am on the aisle on this flight and my neck is tight as I write.
I wanted to get through the first section of this notebook on this trip. The pages in this section are edged in blue. I’ve got a ways to go, sorry to say. I did not do enough describing of areas. I was reluctant to write in the car and thereby pissed a lot of decent words down the drain. I would have said more about how the plains looked once we were on the eastern side of the park, looking out toward the east. It was what I called Custer’s view. East of the park, on the fat part of the divide, the land begins the process of flattening out and it’s as though you can see for miles and miles and miles. Maybe you can. The colors were a range of maize yellows and sun-bleached wheat whites and dull greens and then of course the blue of the sky—that dumbstruck, blue-lipped blue. The sky was free of clouds as we drove north to Canada on Wednesday but it was accentuated and supported by fairly high altostratus on the way back down. It was mackerel sky in spots, probably my favorite day sky.
There was champagne—well, prosecco—in our room at the Belton yesterday. It sat in a little ice bucket on a tray along with a card of congratulations and two up-ended champagne flutes. B had told them it was our 10-year anniversary trip, which was true. It was the same brand of prosecco as was waiting in the fridge at our cabin (Reclusive Moose), for Patrick and Anne-Marie in recognition of their tenth. This was not coincidence. One of the co-owners of the cabin is the general manager at the Belton. The other co-owner was waiting tables at the restaurant there last night. Small town in a small world, I guess.
The first class passengers are getting their meals delivered. I got snacks with my leg-room seat: a bag of Sun Chips and a bag of lightly salted peanuts. I have a small bottle of vodka in my shirt pocket. I started the trip with five of these bottles. Including the one in my pocket I still have four left. I drank one with the prosecco yesterday evening while the others were out on the restaurant veranda noshing on a Mediterranean plate of hummus, pita, baba ghanoush, olives, cheese, salami, and tabouleh. I had about half of the little vodka in a cocktail combo with the prosecco. Once I finished that I drank the rest of the vodka on rocks from the bucket and then went down and sat with them on the veranda along Highway 2, fifty feet from the train tracks. The Mediterranean plate was quite good, all of it. Even the parsley-containing tabouleh. I drank an india pale ale and we ordered more pita bread and crostinis while finishing off the plate entirely, every last dollop and morsel.
I am so enamored with Jake Barnes’s Paris and Spain that I had it in mind for last night to feel that way. The historic, rustic nature of the hotel provided the right setting. It was part of the reason I wanted red wine with the meal but no one else was with me so I had a couple of Montana-bourbon manhattans in lieu. This was after we had left our spot on the restaurant veranda while it was still light out to walk and get beer at the gas station. We got two six-packs, one wheat and one IPA. Roxanne bought a wheat tall boy, too. We sat on the wraparound veranda of the hotel and drank our beers. Roxanne posted a video of the cow crossing, a particular snippet she had caught right outside her window in which one of the cows lost itself in liquid fashion on the highway.
Looking back on those cows, it strikes me that it was a damned sad sight. They were so haggard looking. It was something we really weren’t supposed to see. That was the look on the elder cowboy as we sped to the crossing and braked, him and his cattle just beginning to make their cross and us in our massive vehicle appearing from out of nowhere for no good reason. On the one hand is all of the wildlife we did see or might have seen on this trip: mountain goats, bighorn sheep, black bears, chipmunks… grizzlies, elk, elusive moose. Then there are the hundred or so cows we came very close to running over on the road in Alberta. Big and small, brown and black, scurvy-patched. Bloated, swinging udders. Foam from the mouth. Drool. And damnit if one of the young ones didn’t have one of its hoofed legs buckle under it on the pavement and go down for a second, gracelessly. Cows’ hooves weren’t adapted for the purpose of crossing roads.
The area outside Waterton seemed a pretty grim place all around. The bums in Cardston. The lack of anything between there and the border. The desperation of the kitschy roadside shops on the highway between the park and Cardston. It was beautiful out there but it was also barren. Montana was that way, too. Maybe not Whitefish—but even there I suggest that underneath the bourgeois patina lay a crust of stagnation and the pulsating question of: What now? Both Columbia Falls and Kalispell smacked hard of economic decline, supposing there ever was a thriving economy there in the first place. There were so many casinos in those two small towns, one every mile it seemed. Other than the railroad and the tourist industry I cannot see where the jobs were at. There was a large Plum Creek Timber plant in Columbia Falls. But it was a town of two faces: the cheer, optimism, and free time of the folks waiting in line at the packed Montana Coffee Traders; and then the alcohol- and wind-burned faces of some of the folks hanging out in the Nite Owl diner. One fella, say 50-years-old in a maroon Montana Grizzlies sweatshirt, stood near the front counter for some time before a manager came out and told him, “No, sorry, we’re not hiring right now.” Turning now toward me, his face looked like a lunar landscape or one of the plain’s hardened, glacier-torn hillsides. The sort of place where flash floods occasionally occur. His wasn’t the only face looking that way in that restaurant. It seemed a place of pensioners and social security recipients rather keen to hear what the next year’s cost-of-living increase was going to be. Then there’s us in there—me with my stock market life—and I don’t know how to square it.
We could not figure out why so much of Waterton was closed down when we got there. Why was McDonald Lodge in Glacier National Park suddenly closed for the season, denying us a breakfast buffet there this morning for the second time in five days!? Perhaps we had gotten there a whisker late on Tuesday but today it was just plain shuttered for the season even though the recorded message on their answering machine indicated they were open and taking reservation through the end of the month.
The Belton Chalet hotel was full as far as I could tell. It was their last weekend of the season before they closed. It was like being on the set of a play that had run for the summer and now it was coming to an end. The cast was the staff there and the other “guests”: older folks mostly, no families. They’ll go and be camp hosts somewhere or work seasonally at Amazon warehouses sending rectangular brown packages out into space. I guess it’s the touring families that these places want to have their door most open for. Once those kids are in school, the season is over. I suppose the weather also starts to turn at the same time although we had great weather, really quite luck-be-a-lady on our trip. Thanks to the Native gods for granting us a little of their summer. The warmth had us shedding layers only a mile in on the Crypt Lake trail. I didn’t need the vest, the flannel, the hat, the scarf, or the gloves.
Oh boy. My pen had a renaissance stretch on this flight. It climbed to the heights of Mt. Ventoux, more impressive than anything I’ve done on this trip. But now it is really going; its time is “near.” Come on, pen. Give a chap a brandy and soda and a few more pages. While I’ve still got ink vapors remaining, I’d like to thank Ernest Hemingway for giving me prose upon which to model my tone in this travelogue. And I’d like to thank Mother Nature for being incredible with her weather and scenery in Montana and Canada. The wealth we enjoyed this last week lay not in money nor in private land but in Time. If you haven’t got time, you haven’t got anything. Old hotel, old book, empty bottle of whisky. It was a wind gust that knocked the power out this morning. We got out of there just in time.