Peaks and Valleys
Posted on February 13, 2018
Glacier Park has always been a family favorite. With its high mountain peaks married with deep valleys named by the ice masses slowly carving the rocky facades down over time. We owned a cabin, built by my Grandpa Fay, tucked into a grassy meadow across from the North Fork River.
In exchange for building the other cabins in Havretown, the name of this crop of homes away from home, the landowners annexed a parcel of land with just enough space for our modest three-room cabin. It was just off the main road, passed the Ranger’s station, after a log gate and paddle lock, where we’d wind our way in our green Toyota wagon on a dirt path until we reached the second cabin in. The first owned by Mr. Walsh. It was two stories with a large propane tank that looked like an overgrown pig. His was the only cabin you could see from ours, and was accessible from the main road. Ours tucked further in with a few rows of ponderosa pine separating the road from the back of the cabin. It was small, but we didn’t need much space.
The front door opened to the grand room with large rustic dining table on the left used for cribbage and meals, in the center, against the back wall, a few double beds for us kids and to the right, an orange vinyl couch and worn brown chair with the springs poking up through the fabric in the seat placed strategically to look out the large windows, and a stump we used for a side table. In the back, the kitchen had a large wood stove, white cabinets with saucer-sizedchrome handles and a window shade with a large claw mark from the only bear to ever force its way in, leaving proof after-the-fact, and the master bedroom with a wrought iron bed for my parents. The kitchen had a screen door that opened onto a large wooden-slated porch that moaned in protest when walked upon.
To the left was a fire pit for roasting marshmallows and hot dogs on a stick, directly in back, a green rusted swing set, the outhouse and to the back right, a garage filled with carpenter tools, logs for the woodstove, and spare junk. We hefted water in pails, pumped from the water well that had to be primed before any would come back up and always tasted faintly of bleach, into the cabin for baths and washing dishes.
We came every summer as we lived only an hour’s drive away. When my Aunt Korrene came, she would take me out to the meadow and teach me the names of the wildflowers. I’d dutifully pick one bloom and press it between the pages of my beloved book-of-the-moment; careful to preserve each petal. I adored this pace as a kid where nature was the teacher and the adults a guide. I was given the freedom to roam and explore. I could feel the magic as I’d relax into the green rusted swing and pump my legs hard and fast hoping I’d sprout wings and fly high into the sapphire sky.
In 1988 we lost our cabin to one of the largest forest fires the park had ever seen. The flames burned so hot the thick-paned windows crumbled into balls and fell exactly where the windows would’ve been. The foundation the only other remnant left.
Glacier Park remained a favorite vacation spot for my family. We would make the trek yearly around the Fourth of July for the parade and festivities. We’d either pitch a tent in one of the campgrounds, or rent a cabin in Polebridge, Montana.
Polebridge has its own mystique with only two commercial buildings: The Northern Lights Saloon and the General Mercantile; a large red building with a hitching post outside and white letters large enough to be read half a mile down the washboard dirt road. Not much changed on the outside as time passed, but the inside went through transformation with each new owner and the varying needs of those stopping by.
As we each went off to college, rounding us all up for a vacation was difficult, but in 2010 we all met-up to enjoy another July 4Th. My parents, me with my husband and little girl, Marlie, my sister Jamie with her live-in sweetie, Justin, and the youngest sister Allie stayed in the four cabins available for rent near the mercantile. It was July 5th and Justin’s birthday.
“Happy Birthday, Justin.” We chorused. He, with the help of Marlie in his lap, blew out the multi-colored candles in the huckleberry pie my mother made. Her pies were delicious, starting with hand-picked plump huckleberries frozen the year prior, as they’re not quite ripe until late in the summer season, ending with a hand-made pie crust dusted with cinnamon and sugar; the juices bubbled up at the sides. It looked rustic but I knew it would taste divine despite being pretty sure Marlie spat on a few candles when blowing them out; in being two, she can get away with it.
“Thank you, guys.” Justin replied. “This looks delicious, Joann!” He grinned, eyeing the pie over Marlie’s head, his height giving him the advantage. And even though we were camping, his looked like a rockstar with his copper hair defying gravity and layers upon layers of black clothing in contrast with his light skin. He’s drummer like my husband and my dad. Freud would have a field day with that one. Marlie squirmed in his lap, her blonde cherub curls bouncing as she licked the huckleberry juice off each candle. I cringed hoping she wouldn’t wipe each little sausage finger, now stained bright purple, on her bright green jacket. I don’t know why, but motherhood was equal parts wonder and frustration with the mess and uncertainty for me.
“I’ll cut the pie,” Jamie said. She pulled out a large chef’s knife from the kitchen tub nearby then sliced the pie into eighths. “Who wants a piece?” She asked.
Allie was in a deep conversation with my husband; the brother she never had she told me after they bonded the first moment they met. My stomach flipped. I felt my throat close a bit from the faint smell of smoke of the extinguished candles caught in my throat. I needed fresh air. Now.
“I’m going to the porch,” I said, grasping the cool metal knob, “I’ll have a piece of pie after my lungs catch a break.” I slipped out and shut the door quickly not wanting anyone to follow.
I needed space. I needed to clear my head. I needed to breathe.
I sat down on the white plastic lawn chair at the edge of the porch and stared out at the inked sky glittering like a geode cracked open. Space, I sighed. I searched the starry sky, looking for the Little Dipper, a habit to anchor myself with the North Star. My guide. My mother appeared, she had a habit of showing up unannounced, always knowing when something was up with one of her kids, and sat down in the plastic adirondak chair next to me.
“I’m going to file for divorce.” I said, surprising myself to hear it out loud. The words had bounced around my head for the past three days of vacation. It wasn’t just the smoke suffocating me. I needed out. I needed space. I didn’t know how I would go about it, I just knew it needed to happen.
“Too controlling?” My mom looked over at me, her eyes shining in the moonlight.
“Yes,” I replied, surprised that she had noticed. I thought I kept up the picture-perfect marriage image.
“I’ve been there.” She said, her hands folded in her lap, her lined face holding so many answers to questions floating around in my mind. But in that moment, I knew we were different too. I had my own set of circumstances and choices.
And I had made mine.
Sometimes what is right, isn’t always the easiest. My cousin shared those words with me later at a Christmas dinner, only I didn’t feel the significance until I looked back at this time; the moment my future unfolded in front of me and I knew I needed to go right where I had previously gone left which ended up feeling so wrong.
How do I find that young girl enamored with nature, open hearted with wonder and pumping her legs on the swing hoping to catch flight into the sapphire sky? I knew she had to be somewhere inside as she is a part of me, even if deeply buried beneath years of disconnect.
I can say now, the path back to connecting with all the parts of you that unfold through time like paper dolls in a chain, it’s riddled with grief and pain and joy and love in finally remembering who you already were before everyone else told you who you needed to be.