By Train to Glacier
I am thankful every day to be a part of this department where our
faithful correspondence and friendship adds a precious facet to
living, builds a bridge between centuries that we can cross barefoot,
it sounds tame, but I have become interested in realizing that long
before we were humans, long before we were even animals, we living
creatures were plants; and we have internalized their rhythms and
aspects. We turn to the light, and when we’re at our best,
we turn phototropically, like a sunflower, without thought or strategy.
We may not manufacture sugar from sunlight like our green cousins,
but that is only because we have moved on to manufacture proteins
and enzymes and hormones and poems.
a “stimulating and challenging” spring semester (Atwood
“Happy Endings”), I transitioned into three summer carpentry
jobs: a beautiful kitchen with countertops of quartz, an Andersen
window and door replacement project for a writer’s studio,
and an elegant master bathroom, where natural light pours in to
what once was a dungeon.
completion of these projects, Karen and I boarded a train in downtown
Chicago on July 15 and headed out to Waterton-Glacier International
Peace Park for three weeks to visit her daughter Jamie who is an
interpretive park ranger there. We hiked one hundred and twenty
miles of trails. We saw bears more days than not, brown and black,
as well as moose, marmots, big horned sheep, and mountain goats.
We paddled with a loon and saw eagles, both Golden and Bald.
the initial hours of a forest fire at St. Mary’s which eventually
grew to engulf twenty-eight thousand acres, six smoke jumpers from
Missoula, Montana parachuted into the blaze that had been ignited
by Boy Scouts attempting to roast a Columbian Ground Squirrel, and
one of the chutes was attacked by a pair of Golden Eagles. Know
backpacked fourteen miles to the Granite Park Chalet, where a great
kitchen and comfortable beds are available—you just bring
yourself and your food and your camera. There are a few large wooden
tables in the common area downstairs, a room that is floored with
grey slabs of petrified ripples: the entire region was once an ocean
bed that was thrust upward by the collision of tectonic plates,
forming a high plateau that was subsequently carved into peaks and
cirques by the many glaciers that remain today. Again, a metaphor
of our formative years (and here’s a news flash: do they ever
stop being formative?).
I waited until the trip home to read a book that had been recommended
called The Night of the Grizzlies, and in its pages I learned
that there had never been a fatal attack in the park’s fifty-seven
year history until the night of August twelfth the year when I was
fourteen. On that night, two different bears, separated by twelve
miles, attacked and killed two beautiful nineteen year-old women.
I remembered reading the three - installment story in Sports
Illustrated in my best friend’s bedroom in Mattoon. What
I didn’t remember was that one of the girls died on a table
at the Granite Park Chalet, where there just happened to be staying
that night, among others, two doctors, a registered nurse, a Jesuit
priest, and a Native American Indian who tracked the girl after
she had been dragged away. Chilling.
of which, I read a book on global warming while sitting on the Grinnell
Glacier, not far from the Al Gore Rock. Have you seen An Inconvenient
visited Waterton, Canada three times. After a glorious fourteen
mile hike called the Carthew-Alderson Trail, we swam in the glacial
waters of the big lake and I fell in love—with Kokanee Glacier
Beer. Later, on Canadian TV the same day Fidel handed power to Raul,
there was a long segment on icebreakers trying to establish the
new northern boundary based on a revised map of the continental
shelf. These ships were pushing through soft ice and slush that
have been impassable for many thousands of years.
We will adapt and as scary as change is, it is also a natural and
potentially fun fact of life. People who don’t write think
that evolution and global warming are concepts of such mind boggling
duration that they cannot be observed during a normal human lifetime.
Writers pay attention to our lives. The evidence is everywhere and
obvious. Here at home, I have seven species of Magnolias, two Jasmines,
two banana trees (one of which is in its fifth season), even two
Camellias, a white and a pink. And this is Illinois?
S. I sense an idealism in my students I have not felt for years.
I neglected to mention that my son Huck was married in Austin on
August twelfth, so we got home by train, I mowed the yard, and we
flew to Texas.
for the train ride to Glacier, too beautiful for words.