Part 4: Glacier

Last time, I talked about visiting Yellowstone National Park. That could have been the capstone to our trip. It wasn’t. Our last planned stop on our roadtrip to Seattle was Glacier National Park.

Glacier was the S.O.’s big goal for this trip, but it’s a very hard park to visit. It’s not designed for the capacity of Yellowstone, and entrance is restricted. So we ended up camping at Swan Lake after we left Helena, driving north enough that we had crossed out of the worst of the fire smoke, at least for a while.

Swan Lake and myself first thing in the morning.

We heard a loon call in the night, and in the morning we went across the street from the campground and swam in the very cold lake since there were no showers for us to take advantage of. Lake baths would be the dominant mode of cleanliness until we arrived in Idaho the next night.

Our first hike in Glacier.

We arrived in Glacier that afternoon, set up our campsite at the campground we’d been able to secure for the night, and promptly went on a hike. It was breathtaking.

Same stream from the top.

The water was actually blue! I mean don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen water in lots of different indigos and silvers, but nothing that was legitimately aqua. The water in this stream came from Avalanche Lake, and if you ever do get to go to Glacier I strongly suggest this hike. It’s about medium length, but not super technical. There is a steady climb though so bring lots of water and good footwear at minimum.

Avalanche Lake.

The vistas in Glacier are absolutely stunning, and it took me a while to pick out which photos I wanted to share. By this point in the trip I was honestly overwhelmed. We’d seen so many amazing things, traveled so far. I felt pierced through by everything we saw at every stop, and Glacier was no exception.

Logan Pass.

We hiked Logan Pass the next morning, which was a bit of serendipity since we didn’t think we were going to get a parking place, even having left our campsite by 6 am. We saw mountain goats. We drove the entirety of the Going to the Sun Road, and saw a grizzly bear feeding in the sooty undergrowth of a recently burned forest. And we read about how the glaciers that give the park its name are ending, how this biome will soon change because of warming temperatures. Will the lakes remain without the glaciers to feed them? What will happen to the beaver we saw swimming in Avalanche Lake? How will this process, already irreversible, affect the animals and plants who live in these mountains?

Going to the Sun Road.

I don’t think I can talk about Glacier National Park and not also talk about the definitive tone of the IPCC report released on Monday of this week. It’s impossible for me. The two experiences are inextricably linked in my heart. I felt so blessed to be able to see what remained of the glaciers here, of this beautiful place, yet I was conscious that many of the mountains in this vista should have held far more snow. The heat waves experienced in the northwest this year came home to me irrevocably here.

We left Glacier. We drove west with no known destination for the night. All of our planning had ended here. It didn’t feel anticlimactic. It felt too big, and we both knew we needed rest.

We washed up at a bed and breakfast in Bonner’s Ferry, ID. We ate huckleberry stuffed french toast. We showered and slept. The smoke from the fires was thick, the air dry. It was all so beautiful, even so. The wheat in the fields hung golden in the morning light. People were still living, still trying, all these little lives we’d touched in the brief days we had traveled, the communities we’d seen, the plants and animals living as best they could alongside them. We stayed for two nights, resting, eating things that weren’t freeze dried or packaged, trying to reconnect with ourselves.

From there, we found our way to Seattle.

Three months is a long time to be away from my home. It was a high cost to pay, because I love Virginia, but the trip out here has absolutely shaped me. I can’t imagine trading it for anything. And Seattle, too, has given me a lot to think about, both with its successes and its failures. There is a lot here I’d like to see applied to my own community, programs and policies that feel scaleable. We’ll see. I know we all have a lot of power to really advocate for change in our lives and our communities, both small scale in our homes and larger scale in our schools, businesses, and governments. It may be hard to see that sometimes. But we create this society together. Our towns and cities are just as alive as our parks and forests, just as interdependent. Changes cascade.

Sometimes that’s for the best, and other times it’s not. But change is the only constant. Oceans die, become forests, become deserts. Water both builds and cuts stone. Ice melts, and when it does, something new will take its place.

The only thing we can really know is that something new is growing here. It’s up to us to decide what blooms.

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