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Archive for September, 2009

A cedar grove is a wonderful place to awaken from a dream. The details of this particular dream remain a little fuzzy, but I remember lying there on the deck, gazing at a Milky Way streaked sky, hearing the wind chimes tingle in the warm evening breeze, and feeling very much at peace.

The night before I had taken a final walk up the gulch past the cedars and Jennifer’s home in the woods. In 2003, the Blue Mountain Fire roared up this drainage. The wooden “treehouse” that sprouted from a retired blue bus as its foundation should have burned down then, but volunteer firefighters risked their lives to save this home and its surrounding stand of Western red cedar sentinels.

Walking up that gulch with Erik, we started noticing other things in this desolate, yet slowly regenerating forest. We checked out several large stumps, scattered unevenly in shadows cast by remaining dead snags, some revealing nearly 200 annual growth rings. Probably these Montana giants reached 100 feet high, comparable to those still standing and protecting Jennifer’s summer refuge. Probably they once housed families of red squirrels, or concealed pine martens intent on making a meal out of one.

We noted grand fir and Douglas fir and Western red cedar seedlings inching up between stumps, and Oregon grape, disintegrating fireweed, and purple thistle rioting in every direction. It seemed so chaotic out here, but there was a natural order to it, too. A  different environment was emerging, as were different lives. Jennifer was moving to town at the end of September, with new stewards soon arriving to watch over the treehouse home and its forest guardians.

At another friend’s house back in Missoula the following day, upon returning from “The Last Best Big Blue Bus Blast,” I sat in a different place in her newly renovated home, on a white sofa, now facing east, almost immediately startled by a painting I hadn’t noticed before. A picture of a mountain path leading through a regenerating patch of woods catapulted me back to the dream, and to the ghostly gulch beyond the cedar grove.

Both in the dream and in the painting, the early summer image looked so lush and soft as opposed to the stark landscape through which we had walked the evening before. Sunlight filtered toward the forest floor; new growth rose toward the heavens.

What struck me most about the picture, though, was a spirit-like depiction of a person walking down that peaceful path. You could see a faint, halo-like outline of his otherwise transparent body, with no other demarcation between where his life ended, and where that of the forest began.

The forest, perhaps like the transparent man, had been challenged by fire, disease, decay, and other events. Their intertwining lives were regenerating in spite of it all, perhaps both following archetypal patterns of growth and succession and adaptation to change.  Maybe, if it all worked out, both would become towering and fully sentient, inspiring wisdom for those just getting started, and yielding sustenance for those who would follow.  I wasn’t dreaming after all.

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I’m staring at a photo of a stunning mountain lake taken ten Septembers ago;  the sun streams in through a south-facing window here at home, through which I watch Flo-Jo the cat slaying late summer grasshoppers.

The greens, the purples, the high contrast between moisture-laden clouds and cerulean skies, the shadows dancing across the lake and nearby mountains in this image make me want to pack up the car and head north, back to Kintla Lake. Again. Even though we just got back from there two nights ago.

I felt that same powerful pull last week as well-the urge to get outside, now, while the weather is still conducive for warmer weather activities and exploration. The pull grows stronger daily, and more undeniable.

Less than a week after we inner tubed down the Clark Fork River on a hot late summer day, frost coated the tent left out overnight to dry following our somewhat soggy two-day journey to Kintla Lake in Glacier National Park. At the end of that urban float trip, as we waded across a final side channel, golden cottonwood leaves, trapped by underwater branches, shivered and shook, foreshadowing what we would also do once the sun slipped behind the Bitterroot Mountains. An osprey, silhouetted in a towering dead tree, reminded us that he, too, would soon be making  seasonal adjustments, his being to head south for warmer climes.

The weather wasn’t nearly as conducive for taking beautiful landscape photos of Kintla Lake. Rain squalls raced and rumbled across white-capped waters. Snow dusted the mountain tops. Sunlight briefly illuminated shrouded peaks at the head of the lake, and the haunting call of common loons occasionally punctuated the silence.

The companionship and camaraderie were what made this second journey to Kintla especially memorable. I was sharing a special and powerful place in nature with someone most important in my life. Good conversation, comfortable silences, discovering wolf and bear scats, and seeing so many woodpecker species along the 13-mile plus hike made being back in this remote corner of Montana, in the North Fork of the Flathead River Valley, even more magical than on my first journey here in 1999.

“It feels like we’re at the end of the world up here,” I said to Erik, just before we reluctantly turned back toward the trailhead.

“Maybe,” said Erik, “this place is actually the beginning.”

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BACKGROUND NOTES:

Images of “Kintla Lake, Glacier National Park” and “Livingston Range, Montana” can be seen, and also purchased, at http://www.wildharephotos.com

Another one of my favorite Glacier area images is titled “North Fork of Flathead” and can be seen in one of my FaceBook albums. This image is also available for sale as a greeting card or larger print. Be sure to visit The Mercantile when in Polebridge, which is the social and commercial hub of the North Fork, and where my greeting cards can also be purchased.

The North Fork Preservation Association needs supporters from all over the world, especially in regard to ongoing mining and development pressures north of the border in British Columbia, Canada. The association’s mission is “to protect the natural resources that make the North Fork an unparalleled environment for wildlife and people”.

Please learn more and connect with them at http://www.gravel.org

Thank you!

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It’s been over a week since returning from Yellowstone, with much to digest and reflect upon, and a co-mingling of homes and lives, so please check back within the next week for the next blog posting. See you then, and have a great Labor Day weekend, wherever you may be.

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