Where the Mountains Meet the Prairie
2014 Spirit of Summer Photo Contest Grand Prize Winner
I spent my summer farming in Ireland, climbing and surfing along the way. Locke spent his summer exploring the west coast of the US by pedal, from Sequim to Arcata. It had been over two and a half months since we'd seen one another when we both returned home to Missoula, Montana. Our smile lines were deeper, our bodies refreshed and our minds full of even more questions than before. We drove north to Glacier National Park only a few days after returning home, longing for the rugged comfort of familiar peaks and trails and for a break from the bustle and smoke of Missoula in late July. We woke up early the first morning and shared stories over coffee and oatmeal while the sun rose over the prairie to the east. Water, food and rain jackets packed, we set out on the Chief Mountain Highway in search of a small, rutted dirt road that would lead us to the trail head. After 45 minutes of navigating potholes and exposed rocks, we found ourselves at the edge of a meadow below Chief Mountain. I had been here as a child with my mother and her family, to ceremonies held by the Blackfoot Tribe. Chief Mountain, named Nínaiistáko by the Blackfoot, has been a sacred place for Native peoples for hundreds of years. The mountain sits on the eastern border of the park and for me, it represents a connection between my mothers Blackfoot ancestry and my fathers family, three generations of which have lived and worked in the park. We hiked through wind-beaten pine forests and over seemingly endless boulder fields where the trail was lost and the rhythm of jumping from one rock to another consumed us. The last quarter mile of the trail was a steep scramble up a south-facing scree slope, by which time any semblance of a trail had dissipated into the ever moving sea of rocks. A short technical climb over wind-sharpened stone was required to reach the geological marker at the very top, which was no more than 8' x 8'. To the east, the prairie stretched as far as the eye could see, haze from far away fires rendering it impossible to determine the boundary between earth and sky. To the west, sharp peaks rose to the sky, staggered and each a lighter shade of blue as they disappeared into the atmosphere, hiding countless lakes, rivers and valleys. We sat on the edge of where the mountains meet the prairie and where storm clouds break after a long journey across the Rockies. We sat for an undetermined amount of time, listening to the cacophony of sounds that make up what many call 'silence'. Locke looked down at some point, laughed and said, "From Missoula to Sequim, down the coast and back up again, home and now here... these shoes have a few stories to tell."
Finally, we were home.