In the high country
I genuinely love the Black Hills and the area we call home, but I have to admit that there are times when a bit of the biases from my growing up appear. When I was growing up, we were careful to refer to the Black Hills as “hills.” They aren’t mountains in our way of thinking because they do not reach up above the tree line. As wonderful as the Black Hills are, there is a big difference between our home and the place where we are this morning.
We are in Troy, Montana, after having driven around the southern end of Glacier National Park yesterday. Troy has the slogan, “Where Montana begins,” but for us it is where Montana ends. We entered Montana at Alzada, in the southeastern corner and are almost to the Idaho line and not far from the Canada line. We’ve driven diagonally across the fourth biggest state in the nation. So for this trip, Troy is where Montana ends for us. Today we’ll head across the top of Idaho panhandle and will be in Washington before long. We’re driving near the Canadian border this trip because wee want to stay in the mountains as much as we are able.
We are camped in a cedar and Douglas fir forest. The trees are 100’ or more tall and a little rain shower has made the cedars smell so wonderful. We took a little walk down to the Kootenai River and watched the mighty stream on its journey through the mountains. We are surrounded by granite peaks that truly are the spine of the continent. One can feel small among all of the grandeur of our surroundings, but it is also a bit nostalgic for us as we journey.
Susan lived in Libby, about 15 miles from where we are camped for three years when she was a child. She can remember the forests and some of the streets and houses. And she can remember living in the mountains. I had and aunt, uncle and cousins in Libby and we visited them several times and there are many sights and sounds of the mountains that make me feel at home. It is one of the places that I would love to take our grandchildren one day.
As often as we remind ourselves that we are a people of the story and the keepers of history and not of place, we are reminded that place is important.
This trip is one of complex emotions for us. We are aware that we are coming to the end of an important phase of our lives. Our life in Rapid City has been rich and meaningful and filled with important relationships. There is a wonderful community of carling and loving people there and the thought of leaving gives us pause.
At the same time, we have been longing to be closer to our grandchildren for as long as we have had grandchildren. We look with envy at those who are able to attend their grandchildren’s school events and games. We long for more time with our children and the opportunity to witness the growth of our grandchildren. Family really is more important than geography to us. But even as we consider moving to another place, we are reminded of the role of geography in our lives. Even though we’ve lived in South Dakota longer than either of us ever lived any other place, we have a sense that Montana is home. Whenever we visit, we feel like we are coming home. Yet there is not much for us in Montana. I have one sister and one brother who live in the state, but our folks are gone, our home places have been sold and many of our relatives have passed on as well. The places of our childhood and youth are now the places of other people and whenever we visit we are deeply aware of the gentrification of the rural places and the large number of new people who have moved to the state in the years that we have been living elsewhere. It is not the way it was when we were growing up. It is not the way it was when we left.
The high country has become a place for us to visit, not a place to call home. As we age, we will travel less and our opportunities to visit the high country will be limited. This makes each trip even more precious to us.
We don’t have time on this trip to linger in the high country. We are passing through. We are lucky that this trip afforded us the opportunity to take the “long cut” and go to some of the places where we have experiences such great beauty and majesty. We need to keep moving on this trip. We are eager to get to the grandchildren who are at the end of the road.
For this morning, however, there are a few minutes to smell the fresh aroma of cedar, to walk among the giant trees and sense the darkness and intimacy of the forest floor, to sit by the river and watch its ceaseless motion and to remember. This is the land of those who went before us. The indigenous tribes of this area were here for generations before settlers arrived. Then there were generations of people, some of whom are our family members. In the course of time we appeared and were touched by the mountains and nourished by the rivers. We come back to the high country whenever we are able for the renewal and refreshment that they have to offer.
Yesterday the mountains didn’t have the purple hue that is described in America the Beautiful. Instead they were nearly blue as we looked at them from the distance. We could see the line where the trees no longer grow and the patches of snow that have not yet melted. We could hear the river rushing by. Our spirits are being nourished and it is good to be in this place.