I learned how to do revitalizing meditations to help me stay calm and cerebral when Michael was sick and needed my help. I have the Calm app on my phone and I use it regularly. I’m pretty zen when I swim. Still, a lot of my time is spent thinking, analyzing and considering, often about multiple topics simultaneously. It’s just how I roll. I think all this began when I was really young because I remember these same feelings and thoughts from my childhood.
And so it was on my long-desired trip to Glacier National Park, which in its essence was everything I dreamed of and more. I’ve been to a good number of national parks, Acadia just last month. Certain ones had more impact than others. I’ll never forget Bryce Canyon, Zion and Arches. I got to experience those with Michael which enhanced their majesty and spiritual power for me. Being on my own in Glacier, it was all about me, with my forever bond with Michael, tucked into my most interior self, like an extra vital organ. But I saw and felt Glacier through the lens I bring to everything, the one when I am simultaneously in my moment while my mind is zipping along, connecting that moment to how I perceive the world.
I went to Glacier by train which is a great way to travel and really see parts of the country that are off the main road and certainly hidden when flying. I spent almost all my waking hours staring out the window. I don’t want to miss anything. I’ve never tired of seeing cattle and horses, not since I was a little kid traveling up and back between Iowa and Chicago. On an overnight rail trip, there is so much more as you travel from state to state. I saw buffaloes and donkeys.
Numerous white tailed deer grazing and springing through the fields right next to the domestic animals. I saw a swift fox. I saw American white pelicans, great blue herons, American kestrels, a ring necked pheasant and lots of red winged blackbirds, mallard ducks and rabbits.
But I also saw small towns that looked economically ravished. Aging buildings and others that have already fallen. There’d be this gorgeous green landscape and suddenly piles of junked cars and garbage would appear.
The Blackfeet reservation is actually a conglomeration of tribes whose general name is Niitsitapi which means “the real people.” I saw buildings with the words “no meth” painter boldly across the walls. The very idea of reservations appalls me. Would you like to live with your people in a designated area? Me neither.
The Blackfeet tribe has rights to parts of Glacier National Park which include their most spiritual locations such as Two Medicine. Ceremonies are still performed there such as sun dances, while sweat lodges are built for the transitions and rituals of native life. I took a boat ride on Two Medicine Lake and went through their valley. You can feel a powerful spiritual presence there. I opened myself up to let it blend in with me and Michael and my own belief system. Certainly not the same as theirs but nonetheless connected if by nothing other than the surrounding natural majesty. The natives call some of the mountains the backbone of the earth. It’s not hard to understand why.
I stayed in East Glacier Lodge which is a beautiful old building with no televisions and sketchy internet. It lends itself well to getting in touch with what this place is supposed to mean to human beings. Their staff all seem to share a common attitude of preserving the nature of the park and its mystical energy. There are tributes to the natives throughout the lodge and the park although for me, it wasn’t enough. Keeping a piece of your ancestral land rings hollow to me. I saw a tall Native American man tending flowers at another lodge. He resembled Will Sampson who played the chief in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. He seemed to enjoy what he was doing and had positive interactions with a few people working with him. Maybe his life is happy. Maybe I’m the one with the problem.
Let me stop and say that I felt everything I hoped to feel at Glacier. As I stood before mountains that are estimated to be between 1600 and 800 million years old, I felt my smallness and the tiny place that I know I occupy, even when things feel huge. I felt the fabric of connection that still binds me to Michael and my love for the earth and its marvels. But then the guide told us that the remaining 20-odd glaciers are expected to be gone by 2030. Unimaginable. Was this destined to happen over a long period of time or isn’t it part of the upheaval we’re seeing all over the world. Climate change. I’ve heard all the arguments from people who say it’s been hot before, we’ve had hurricanes before, we’ve had fires before. Blah-blah-blah. Our planet is threatened. I have no doubt. Blazing hot temperatures in Alaska. Water supplies in India drying up. Europe sweltering. The hottest June on record. Ever. I’m not capable of simply enjoying my good fortune without thinking about all these frightening things. I’ll be dead before the worst stuff happens. But what about all the children and grandchildren? I have hope that brilliant people will find ways to turn some of this around. That we’ll stop burning fossil fuels. That we’ll get rid of plastic in the oceans. That a place like Glacier will still have snowy peaks in the summer. But to ignore it for my own mental well-being? No can do. I had the privilege of seeing so much wildlife in the park. I saw a black bear, a moose, long horned sheep, elk and mountain goats. They’re just doing their thing. But a lot can threaten the ecosystem that supports them and I worry.
Through the train window I saw the amount of flooding that occurred when the Mississippi overflowed its banks, not to mention the smaller rivers nearby. The wooded area and retaining ponds along the tracks are filled with mile after mile of algae bloom. That can’t be a good thing. As I watched animals drinking from this green pea soup I wondered about the chemical runoff from farms into the water table. Not to mention what can happen to people’s drinking water. Still thinking of Flint over here.