What I really want to remember are the wildflowers. There’s such a small window of time, breathlessly short, to catch them—the alpine spring a frenetic blanket of color in that inhale’s worth of space, between the harsh cold of winter and the searing heat of summer. But we caught it, or at the very least, the tail end of it, and more than any of the peaks, or the trails, or the lakes, or the mountain goats, that’s what I want to fix forever in my mind’s eye—the gentle bobbing of Indian Paintbrush as we breeze by, the sturdy puff of bear grass, a field of Glacier Lilies drinking in the sun. We couldn’t have planned it better if we had planned at all, which we didn’t, not really. Our rafting trip was thwarted by a river with no water, the spirit sucked out of it by an early summer and field irrigation, so we had to gently let our dreams of living by the rhythms of water (at least for a few days) die. We were reluctant, to say the least, to entertain anything but fishing until last light as our modus operandi for this family vacation—but time, I have come to realize, is not always kind, and so we must make the most of what we set aside.
The day we drove into Glacier was hot and clear, the big sky state proving itself to us over and over again as we made our way North towards the border. Outside of Browning we tumbled over each other in our eagerness to get out of the car, the first sight of the jagged line that etched the Continental Divide into the sky an invigorating, to the point of fervor, sight for each of us—and pack mentality is tough to beat, especially when it comes to expounding on the virtues of elevation, something we were all quite moved to do.
My Dad said to me, before we left, I am a little scared to have you in Montana, because I’m afraid you may never leave. All the way up on the drive he picks out hollows to build in, places of almost desperate solitude, and I understand. But for me it’s the mountains I want to nestle into, not so much the wide open space, it’s the high alpine that sings the siren song of my heart. The high alpine and her flowers, that’s the thing—our first day was a dizzying array of the creamy white stalks of bear grass against a bed of green grass, the yellow dots of glacier lilly carpeting a meadow at the foot of an enormous, glacier-wrought peak. How appropriate, is what the setting seems to say.
My Mom is particularly fond of a small purple flower, for whom we don’t know the name of. Every time we stop in a store she flips through the flower books to try and find what to call it, an elusive little watercolor smudge amid the tangle of chroma that race across every spare few feet left open to the sky. Indian Paintbrush captures me, the spiky bottle bloom a harkening back to the old cabin, and the Elkhorns, and this too—it comes in my favorite color, red, but apparently also fuschia-pink and an orangey yellow that I’ve never seen before. Every time I see one I squeeze it into my memory, in a desperate attempt to, as always, remember. And for as much exclaiming over this one, or that, for all the flowers we take pictures of, I know too we each spot ones we say nothing about—those are the ones we keep close to our hearts, a treasure for our own, something small and quiet to look at when no one else is around. You know those things, don’t you? When you see a hawk spiraling in the sky and don’t point it out, his show a private one, or when a particular tree calls only your name? You know those things.
A grizzly bear lumbers across a low meadow, near the road, the huge, tawny shoulders humped and menacing even from the relative safety of the car—his lumbering gait belying none of the strength in each paw. What could he be doing down this far, we wonder, a little chilled at the sight of him, as much as we are thrilled. Eating the tubers of wildflowers, the ranger tells us later, they love the roots.
Can I capture them, these sweet things I love so much and work so hard to cultivate in my own surroundings? I think probably not. They are something better experienced than described (as are most things, I think, but it’s still worth trying). Because flowers are exuberance, a pure kind of natural joy, a riot of life and color and scent for the sake of it, and for what? To keep on keeping on, to keep the species alive. I wrote, in my journal, at the end our first day, full of our own laughter and light, our lives lit up by flowers---everything is beautiful and it is so good to be alive.