"It's as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly." Mark Nepo

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


We're home. After almost 4000 miles, 9 National Parks, four states and two provinces in two weeks, we're home.

We traveled on the Going To The Sun Highway, Icefields Parkway, and Meadow In The Sky Parkway. We visited the jade green waters of Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, and Bow Lake. We followed the Madison River, the Missouri River and the Bow River. We hiked around the aptly named Emerald Lake, to the rustic tea house at Lake Agnes above Lake Louise, and on the city trails of Canmore.

We stood at the toe of Athabasca Glacier, its vast ice fields spread out before us, its ancient snow breath rolling down and into our bones, vivid blue lights shimmering here and there beneath the gritty gray surface.

We stood at the Continental Divide, one mile above sea level, a place from which rivers run both east and west.

We stood alone in the chilling mist at the base of 800 foot Takakkaw Falls exploding from the mountainside. We walked around the muddy roar of stubby Athabasca Falls, trying unsuccessfully to find a place free of elbowing, camera-toting, tour-bus tourists. We marveled at the surprise series of nameless falls as we explored the trail around Marble Canyon.

Everything was done in the looming shadows of craggy mountains, glacial giants wrapped in green buffalo robes of lodgepole pines. Grandeur became commonplace. Each bend of the road revealed whole new vistas of breathtaking postcard beauty.

For a while in the vacation I struggled with the fact that none of those things really touched me. Not in the way I anticipated, not in the this-is-the-best-adventure-I've-ever-had way that makes a vacation a success for me. The long miles, even longer days, and hulking mountains left me tired and overwhelmed.

On our second day out of Yellowstone, driving the majestic and world-famous Going To The Sun Highway through Glacier, I found myself turning again and again to the vivid patches of color that lined the sides of the road. While the glaciers and the mountains and the sheer drops into green nothingness more than lived up to the promise of what we'd read, it was the simple, close-up comfort of the wildflowers that made my heart sing.

When we stopped at Logan Pass, the tourist-packed centerpiece of Going To The Sun Highway, I was more absorbed with the ravens and the ground squirrels and new-to-me varieties of flowers than the behemoth glory rising on all sides around us.

And so it went for the rest of the vacation. Those things that planted themselves in my soul and altered my being were the small intimate bits of delight that I wasn't looking for:

Indian paintbrush in every shade from magenta to ruby to lemon.

The just-long-enough glimpse of a Hoary Marmot at the side of a rock-lined road.

Prairie sunflowers lining the highways with bright gold faces saying, "Welcome! Come this way."

Stopping on the shoulder of a four lane highway, along with a dozen other cars, to watch a young grizzly bear forage on the hill at the boundary of the other side of the road.

Marking off new flowers in my field guide, each name a small poem: Rocky Mountain Bee Plant and Wild Bergamot (the wild cousins of flowers growing in my front bed), River Beauty (also known as Dwarf Fireweed), Pipsissewa (whose name sounds as happy and sweet at the blooms look). Some names belonged in a zoo: Elephant's Head, Pink Monkeyflower, Rosy Pussytoes, Beargrass, Dalmation Toadflax.

Tossing grapes to a raven whose drunken-sailor hop and wild-eyed attention made me laugh. I would have had him eating out of my hand except for the interference of a Harley rider's yapping terrier.

Seeing my first ever loons, a pair floating in a nameless pond at the entrance to Waterton. I was driving and pulled over (sort of suddenly and mostly safely) because I couldn't believe my eyes at first.

On the relentlessly steep ascent from Lake Louise to Lake Agnes, leapfrogging with fellow hikers, exchanging encouragement and greetings and celebrations of accomplishment when we met at the top.

Paddling a canoe with Walt across the shifting blue waters of Moraine Lake under a floating cloud sky in the protective embrace of The Valley of Ten Peaks.

Sitting together in the breeze-tempered sunshine on a bench along a Canmore town trail, watching the bright Bow River rush by with an osprey hunting directly above us.

Field after field of hot-pink lipstick fireweed spikes filling in the spaces left by wildfires at Marble Canyon, framed by the skeletons of dead trees.

The baby black bear lolloping across the forest road directly in front of us as we made our way to the next bigger-than-the-last sight.

A random piece of sculpture in a Canmore park with this quote inscribed at the top: "The wind which elates me without moving - which makes the trees dance - and of the silence of the mountains - makes a great noise - He is the Chinook and his arc came as a friend - to warm up the souls numbed by the snow, the rain and the cold - and when he cannot control his power - one should not be upset with him because he is a clumsy giant - with an immense heart."

This was not the vacation I was expecting. It was not the vacation I wanted. Like everything else in my life right now, it didn't quite fit the person I'm becoming. And so I'm especially grateful for the steady, unfailing, God's-voice experience of the small wonders that I'll carry with me as I begin my personal journey into a land of impossibly high peaks and freezing rivers and unseen predators.

Photos by Walt


Carrie Wilson Link said...

And there's bound to be more yapping terriers along the way, but I have some earplugs I'll give you.

Kathryn Magendie said...


Jessica Nelson said...

Oh my goodness! Amazing pics. So lovely. It's funny how different things affect us. Strike our "muse" differently. My hubby adores anything tropical.
But tropical doesn't affect me. I don't think the flowers would either. But those mountains... the plains... wow. Just incredible.

I'm glad you had a good time and came home with a different perspective. :-)

Anonymous said...

I've lived in Alberta for 39 years and you've seen far more of it than I have.

Things seldom seem to turn out the way we imagine. Before Katie moved home, I was going to travel to Waterton Lakes National Park. Maybe next summer. Or the one after:)

Angie Ledbetter said...

Small wonders...yes. May you have more and more of them in your path.

Janna Leadbetter said...

Welcome home! You've got some gorgeous pictures (must have a stellar camera!). And you're so incredibly sweet-looking. Would love to give you a hug. :)

Midlife Roadtripper said...

"Like everything else in my life right now, it didn't quite fit the person I'm becoming."

What an incredible post. Always interesting how things evolve, even when we're looking. Never know quite what will move. Is that called growing up? Or growing out?

Beautiful water in those pics.

The Unbreakable Child said...

Wow! Wow! ...and welcome home!

Jerri said...

I ADORE that last picture.

May your journey reach metaphorical heights that leave Logan Pass in the dust!

Kathryn Magendie said...

Seeing if anything was up round here :)

hooray said...