by Judi Suni Hall
This is a semi-true story, an amalgam of clear fragments of memory from various adventures of my youth in Waterton National Park in the Canadian Rocky Mountains and across the border in the American Glacier National Park. - Judi
The sun is unexpectedly hot, the way it can be when the weather can't decide if it is spring or early summer. I have my windbreaker tied around my waist and my T-shirt sleeves are pushed up to my elbows. Perhaps twenty white cabbage moths are circling around, disturbed by our taking the barely visible path through this low alpine meadow. I don't know the names of the flowers, most are shades of blue, but some are the yellow flowers my mother calls buttercups. Across the small meadow are white spires against dark evergreens that I do recognize ... beargrass.
I frown. It seems late for beargrass. Or maybe it isn't. The seasons are always later here in the mountains than on the prairies. I remember seeing remnants of snow in the shade as we drove up. They were not small remnants, but hip high mounds where the snow had been pushed by snowplows. I inspected some when I got out of the car. It had the crystalline texture of a snow cone made of shaved ice.
I look harder at the beargrass, leave the trail and cross the meadow to touch a spire. They are in full bloom, not spent and late season. Beargrass and bears go together. It is one of the foods they feed on awakening from hibernation. I am nervous returning to the trail. Hungry bears, and bears with cubs, can be bad tempered. Still, when we got our maps at the park visitor site, no one said that the bears are a problem right now. And there was no warning posted at the beginning of the trail. Maybe we should have bought bear bells to tie to our waists, but it is a little late now. We can just talk, and sing hiking songs.
two log bridge
over a snowmelt torrent
a chipmunk hides
There aren't just remnants of snow here. Patches are frequent. We have been climbing for over an hour and are nearing the edge of the snowpack. The sun is hotter now, but the breeze is chill and I am wearing my windbreaker.
ancient pines silence
A stream perhaps a meter wide splashes across a stretch of scree. I don't even try to assess the safety of the stepping stones. I wade in, grateful of the icy water seeping into my walking shoes. I would take them off and soak my feet if I thought there was a remote chance of getting them back on again. We are at the summit, an equal downhill walk whether we turn back or go on. So we may as well go on.
The view is spectacular in every direction, but I'm saturated with spectacular. The stream of pure icy snow melt is the attraction. I splash my face and wrists, then cup my hand and drink. This is in the days before beaver fever, or pollution concerns, and the water is delicious. Then we find a tumble of boulders and sit and have a lunch of squashed sandwiches and chocolate bars, carefully returning waste to our packs.
I'm ready to soak in spectacular now. To our right, the way we came, is fold after fold of snow capped peaks. The lake we started at is reduced to a pebble of brilliant blue. To our left is our destination, a larger lake, almost puddle sized. Beyond it are mounds of foothills, and flat prairie stretching to a haze-obscured horizon.
violet haze prairies
Downhill is not easier. We are in a deep pine forest, any view ahead hidden either by the trees or the frequent switchback curves. We are singing every last camping song we know. This is partly for the bears, but mostly to distract ourselves from aching calves. The downhill has been consistently steep, but there is no time to rest. The peaks above are already catching the ruddy glow of the setting sun. We raise our voices and walk faster.
a six year old
a lot more steps
Oh my. I honestly can't walk on flat ground. I stagger a few steps and stop. At least it isn't far to the car across the empty parking lot. I turn to encourage the stragglers, but my eye is caught by a folding sign. "Trail closed. Grizzly bears."
sunburned hikers eating
Simulated images of the Rocky Mountains by Judi using Artmatic Voyager post processed in Photoshop.