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To See a Glacier

“Climb up on that rock,” Tizi will say, in the most offhand way.

We’re on the trail, any trail, and the viewing is spectacular. She would like me to take a picture, an enhanced picture, improved by my higher elevation, by my closer proximity to the subject. The subject: waterfall, rushing stream, ravine, ridge, meadow, forest, canyon, lake, mountain face, whatever. Yes, we can see it from the trail. But from up there, so much better. It will be a better picture.

I will accommodate her, but not always. It can be argued standing on a rock is the same as standing on the trail. I do not fall off the trail. Why would I fall off a rock? 

Then again, being up there simply messes with your sense of safety. Up there, irrational alarm can set in. 

We’re walking the Avalanche Lake trail today in Glacier. It’s one of the nicest trails yet. It has everything: waterfall, rushing stream, ravine, ridge, meadow, forest, canyon, lake, mountain face. Look at that moss! If I wanted to, I could lie down in a bed of moss and rest. I could cool myself in the shade of an uprooted tree (but then, there is no great demand for shade in this amazing treeful space). Hikers stream past us, many of whom have acquired walking sticks at the edge of the trail. They are beautiful sticks that nature made just for them, in various lengths, though staff-length sticks seem to be preferred, and men seem most interested in acquiring a stick or staff from the side of the trail. 

“Nice stick,” I say to each as we cross paths. 

They nod appreciatively, some holding the stick or staff toward me so I can get a better view, the better to admire it.

Individuals, couples, groups of four, six, ten. I complement every stick I see.

“Nice stick,” I say.  “Where’d you get that?”

“Right by the side of the trail!”

“It’s a beauty,” I say. “I’d take that one home and put it in a glass case.” 

As is her wont, Tizi makes comments over her shoulder. And makes requests. Climb up that hill and take a picture.


It’s a conflict. We get through it.

Climb down there next to the rapids and take a picture. 

Okay, but not too close.

“Gimme the phone,” she says. “I’m going.” She goes. But when the going gets dangerous, she wants me to come with her. 


Everyone on the trail is happy. We greet each other. Good morning. Hi. Nice day. Amazing place. Okay if we slip past you? How much farther to the lake? Worth the walk?

And everyone lugs water. It’s a two-mile trail, out and back, four total, it’s 60 degrees, but they want to stay hydrated. There’s the tube-on-the-backpack hydration option. There’s the light metal liter-size water bottle option; many hikers slip them into slots on the side of their packs; those without packs hold them in their hands, like Starbucks cups they carry with them wherever they go back home. A guy holding a transparent plastic gallon jug of water cruises by. Really, Tizi says in Italian. Is he going to need that much water? 

The lake is beautiful. It’s a smoky day. But it is beautiful.

Later we’ll drive up The Road to the Sun, to Logan’s Pass. We go up. Way up. We’re going to see a glacier. It’s a two-lane road, with lots of scenic turnouts. Driving from West Glacier to East Glacier, we have the cliff side of the road. And I mean cliff. There it is, your death, right there by the side of the road, a few feet away. I know I can keep our car in its lane. Driving to Logan’s Pass, it can be argued, is no different than driving to Kroger. But that irrational alarm bell starts ringing. It’s like the cliff and the deep yawning space is sucking you in its direction. 

“Pull over,” Tizi says. “Let’s get a picture.”

I want to. I don’t want to.  I want to.

We’ve just completed a five mile hike, which I insisted we walk a little faster than usual. My legs are kind of seizing up on me. I can still walk, sort of. I park, limp to the edge of the cliff (it’s a two-foot hike), and take the damn picture. I feel the cliff, it’s pulling me closer. I wish I had a staff. 

Today, yesterday, and the day before, there’s wildfire smoke in the park. Today a lot of it. I think Idaho is burning.  I photograph the valley. You can’t get a really good photo, no matter how close you get.  When I turn back toward the car, Tizi is pointing. Get the mountain, I have to get the mountain. She points a few more times, I take a few more pictures, then gingerly walk back to the car.

“Your walk,” she says. “You look like you’re 80 years old.”

“I’m pretty stiff.” And I was bracing myself to keep from being sucked over the cliff.

“Can you drive okay?”

I tell her I can sit down just fine, it’s walking that’s giving me trouble. I start the engine, We pull out into traffic and keep going. I stay as close to the yellow center line as I can. 

“Don’t look,” she says. “Just watch the road.”

“We’re okay,” I say. I’m driving 12 mph. All of us are.

“Oh my gosh, you should see this.” 

I take her word for it. I wish I could look. I don’t want to look.

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