Going to the Sun

“…those soft green leaves of the maple and the dogwood, are small, precious hints of the wild tapestry that once circled the earth, the patterns and paradigms that first breathed meaning into human existence. For many people those hints are what help transcend the tumult of daily living, they are the slim measure of miracle that brings wholeness to a severed world.” Gary Ferguson

Glacier’s ninth day of rain is our first in the park. My sense of irony does not overpower the serenity I feel as we wind our way up Going to the Sun Road. Named for features left by retreating ice, the park is an emotional favorite. The weather does not discourage, rapidly changing moods and limited views are part of this park’s experience. She often holds back, but when she gives the reward overwhelms.

Visibility plummets as the road winds upward taking us from rain to thick fog, the yellow centerline protecting us from the now unseen sheer drop to our right. The veil varies in intensity, offering glimpses, memories from previous visits; we are near the continental divide, near Logan Pass. We will stop, we will not hike.

Walking towards the closed visitors center, our car, then the parking lot, are lost in wind blown vapor, the moist air chilling exposed skin. Surrounded by unseen beauty, we stand near the trailhead imagining the meadow and bordering mountains, wondering aloud if the park’s dominant resident, the grizzly, is hidden by the mist.

Glacier teases, the fog intermittently breaking giving momentary views of the meadow and peaks, the glimpse quickly fading as gray mist again envelops the pass. A brief break reveals movement against a tree line, a grizzly foraging seven seconds away.

As quickly as it was revealed it is gone. The unknown has become a known, the threat is still slight, but it is more real. The agile omnivore can smell carrion through twenty feet of snow; unlike humans, they are not limited by eyesight. We are in his element, his territory, robbed of our one slim advantage over his power.

Grizzlies still rule this small pocket of wilderness. They make it wild. They give us a glimpse of our heritage, a glimpse of the west as it was before Lewis and Clark crossed the Bitterroots. I have been close to the great bear, grateful he chose to ignore my presence, grateful he allowed me to share his home. I feel comfort in my apprehension, comfort in my heightened awareness, comfort in knowing grizzlies still wander.

Mike Bennett

2 thoughts on “Going to the Sun

  1. I, too, find comfort in knowing that grizzlies still roam. Aldo Leopold said: ‘There are some who can live without wildness, and some who cannot.’ I am one who cannot…. as are you.

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