Trip Report: Glacier National Park

Here’s the long version.

I recently returned from a few weeks as an artist-in-residence for Glacier National Park. Only three hours from Missoula, it’s one of my favorite places, but I’ve only known it on short weekend trips. We became intimate this time.

Here’s the longer version of my time there:

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The park put me up in this beautiful cabin, on the north end of Lake McDonald.

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My friend Rachel lent me her ducky, and I paddled nearly every day. Despite it being the height of the summer season, the lake itself was quiet most of the day.

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This was where much of the “work” happened. In the last few years, I’ve been surrounded by hoards of beautifully talented writers and I’ve shared many great “writing” moments with them. So it was a little strange to leave everyone—including my man and my dog—behind and fly completely solo. The solitude seemed to coax another level of thought from this brain of mine, and I found it productive and liberating. It was also a kick-in-the-butt to be accountable for being a writer, the writer, here … to say, when people asked, “What is your medium?” that I am a writer.

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Deck time.

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Coffee time.

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Dinner time.

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Outdoor time. The point of the artist-in-residence at GNP is space and time to produce art, but they also want the artist to experience and be influenced by this place. Not too difficult. This is Logan Pass.

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Hiking along the Garden Wall, on the Highline Trail.

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Mountain goats – I had several sightings on this particular day.

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Don came up for a day of hiking mid-way through my residency. Since the pass was socked in clouds all day, we made our way to the east side of the park and hiked into Grinnell Glacier. This is Little Grinnell Lake and the Salamander Glacier.

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Glacier National Park is a place of change, where time is on a sliding scale. Some of these alpine flowers take 20 years to flower. Some of them have a one or two-month growing season. Some are 350 years old. The glaciers that have given them this landscape, this environment, will soon be gone. Some will adapt. Some will not. I’m trying to capture that in poems.

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You can be arrested by the beauty of this place every day, every minute. But sitting still allowed for the smaller things to emerge: pileated woodpeckers, dragonflies, rufous hummingbirds, and just after sunset—the bats would begin to swing about the lake sky. However, some of the most illuminating moments came not from sublime vistas but from reading about the ecology and geology of this place and listening to researchers talk about fish, elk, wolves, fire, core sediments, alpine plants, astronomy, and climate change. Those are the things that make walking through this place truly stunning.

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As part of my residency, I taught an interactive nature journaling session to visitors at the Discovery Cabin. I had about 30 kids drawing, writing, and searching the woods in a scavenger hunt.

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The Inside North Fork Road on a rainy day. This road cuts through a couple of different burns, and it’s a stunning study in fire ecology. This stand of ponderosa pine survived the fire, just like they’re designed to.

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Being in the park in late July/early August means peak visitation. The trails were often crowded. The route to Avalanche Lake was a procession line, and I had to remind myself that I want to live in a world where people still value this as the thing they want to see on vacation. But I must confess, at this point, I really wanted to be hidden in a fire lookout way in the backcountry.

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Nonetheless, a morning downpour meant that I could travel into Hidden Lake (a popular, easy hike) in solitude and have the scene to myself for a while.

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Hidden Lake from above, as it cleared on my hike out.

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And that, in several snapshots, was my time at Glacier National Park. (Above, was my last paddle on my last day there. The sun was at the right angle to get some beautiful milky water shots.) Now, to do the hard work of turning all my material into some worthy prose poems and essays …

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