Tag Archives: Montana

2005, the way home: day 9

Original post: 2005-06-01: Return from Mojave, Day 9

Photos: Mojave to Illinois, May 2005

I've been trying to make sense out of days 8 to 10. I remember staying in Missoula for one night, but I know it was two nights—and apparently it was three nights. Time has a way of mashing itself together—what was once a a number of distinct layers  of time events compresses into a dense blob of time spans as more time events are heaped onto the pile, or maybe it is that each subsequent time event just represents a smaller and smaller percentage of your life as you get further down the road so that the relief becomes smaller and smaller and smaller. [1]

The memories I wish that got captured and held are conversations and small things and perhaps-meaningless details about where Aunt Sandy and I went out to eat, for example, or if we just ate lunch at her house, or if we ate dinner together at all. Those kinds of things blur—maybe after a week of traveling, see new things, seeing just so many things passing by, that given an opportunity to relax into the comfortable banal there is also an opportunity to turn off the internal recording device that captures and holds. Maybe mindfulness is the mechanism [2] that lets you keep running the tape, but that explanation seems off, and I've been searching for some reason to justify being always-on but none has been forthcoming, so I think I can comfortably relax back into my baseline thought, however padded with anxiety that it is, that you can just miss some of the details.

Minor detail that did stick for whatever reason: I remember buying two books on this day. One would have been a hiking guide to the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness area, which I've since purged. The other was a paperback copy of Henry David Thoreau's Walden, bundled up nicely and neatly with Civil Disobedience. That copy I gave away in summer 2006 to Natalie R. while in Strasbourg.

Another detail is talking to someone on the phone on the road back into Missoula later that afternoon. A hillside cutout for the highway remains stamped in my memory at the point of picking up the call—again, for whatever reason—although I can feel the dimensions of the highway and the road stretching themselves like soft plastic in my memory.

The main part of the day was a hike to—or at least toward St. Mary Peak. [3] I didn't make it to the top of this one. As a native cornlander, again, the idea of snow in June is roughly equivalent to the idea of pigs with wings. Pigs exist, wings exist—but together? Seems unlikely. But the main trailhead is up over 2000m, and it wasn't too far in before the trail started to accumulate wet packed snow, and then snow, and then as I entered the clouds the snow came down from above as well. There is no concept of this in the flatlands. You might get some variation of it where there are some limestone formations underground, and the air passing through the hollows [4] is much colder than the air in the rest of the environment. Otherwise, that old saw about "if you don't like the weather just wait 15 minutes" aligns the change in weather along the time axis as compared to the vertical axis which, of course, we don't even have a vertical axis at home. So I've found it easy to get caught off guard by an obvious but unexpected change—which isn't even proper to call it a change because the environment was already there, I just walked into it.

Suffice it to say that postholing through snow is no bueno and I made it as far as the wilderness boundary before calling it Good Enough and turning around. The clouds had already packed the scenery away and I didn't have any bearings about how far I had gone. Looking at the map recently while geotagging pictures, I was not that far away from the top—but "not that far away" is relative, an exercise in useless stubbornness to keep going but a pinprick in the ego balloon to quit.

One other memory: Montana is bear country—the western half up in the mountains, at least. I do remember tying something (a spoon? a pen?) to a metal cup and hanging it on my daypack for the hike to make a little noise for the bears. Bears and humans agree: surprises are nice, but not all surprises.

edge of the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness area

[1] For another time (unintentional pun, etc.): Bejan, Adrian. "Why the Days Seem Shorter as We Get Older." European Review 27.2 (2019): 187-194. (pdf) And a summary of the same: Ephrat Livni. "Physics explains why time passes faster as you age." Quartz (2019-01-08).

[2] "Mindfulness is a slick word, full of snake oil imagery, but awareness I can tolerate." Forget the brake (2020-05-09)

[3] Peakbagger: https://peakbagger.com/peak.aspx?pid=17193

[4] [sic] hollers

2005, the way home: day 8

Original post: 2005-05-31: Return from Mojave, Day 8

Photos: Mojave to Illinois, May 2005

When I landed in Idaho on 30 May, I stayed at my grad school thesis advisor's house in Lake Fork, Idaho. Oof. I was a horrible grad student—no focus. Every time I think of it, I get a little embarrassed. Some people get into grad school with a plan to go and do something with it (e.g., be a professor), some of us get into it because it's an available next step. To compress the whole thing down to one sentence before floating on, that job in the COIL lab in grad school taught me more about practical things like using a lathe, soldering, solid modeling, etc., than any other thing I've done. Anyway, we're halfway home here, and I'm going to hide behind that to not think about my utilization of grad school as a parking lot instead of a runway. Selah.

What's in Idaho?


It's wonderful.

I don't remember as many specific things about this day as the previous day, but for a few things.

The first is stopping off at the White Bird Battlesite on US-12 on the way from Idaho to Missoula. I didn't seek it out, it was just at the right place at the right time when I needed to stop driving. This was where a bit of the Nez Perce nation turned back the US Army  I had never really heard of the Nez Perce nation, but I vaguely remember knowing vaguely about Chief Joseph, if only for the coda, "from where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever". But that's all. The rest of indigenous America is Dances with Wolves and Chief Illiniwek and Custer and it's all grating on my nerves a little bit here in the long shadow of George Floyd.

Obviously on 31 May 2005 George Floyd was just some dude wherever, and now he's dead and everything feels like it's running amok, like a game of nuclear dominos.

None of that was obvious in 2005. But I do remember the feeling of standing in that memorial field. Some open spaces are like that—ostensibly just a bunch of grass, but heavy with memories. You can feel Pickett's Charge if you stand there long enough. I suspect the beaches of Normandy are like that as well. At White Bird, the historical sign says something to the effect of "here the Nez Perce turned back the US Army and then whipped them back up the canyon". And what is that feeling where you can root for the underdog when they're whipping your team? 

I remember visiting Custer Last Stand when we went on a family vacation to Montana in 1988—I really still remember that. (I don't think I'm misremembering that it was called ungramatically "Custer Last Stand" instead of "Custer's Last Stand".) Every fallen US soldier had his own grave marker, wherever it was in that open field where they fell. And there was something about the openness of that grassland and the sheer number of the grave markers that leaves a question on your heart: why? Who really remembers anything directly from when they were younger, I don't know, but I don't feel like I walked away from that place feeling like my team had done the right thing. There's a nasty dose of dissonance in store for anyone who tries to square their everyday lives in the Midwest with the everyday lives of someone else out on some prairie being squared up at the end of the barrel of a gun. Maybe your mind can't give words to it, at whatever age, but something is off.

So is it a heavy feeling or a light feeling as you walk the battlefield—so much smaller than the battlefields that you think of in your mind, some Civil War or World War II slaughterhouse mayhem—but the small size and the isolation get to you if you take a quiet moment to think about it.

Really, that's all you're going to give it, at most—a quiet moment. Then you're going to get back into your car and drive somewhere else far far away. And if you get hot you'll turn on the air conditioner. And if you get bored you'll turn on the radio. And if the cavalry rides into your backyard to oust you from your home you'll do what needs to be done. These are the rules. We don't write them. We got here after thousands and thousands of years of accidents and hard work and we might not know everything, but we know what needs to be done to survive, even if it kills us.

Later I ended up in Missoula and stayed with my Aunt Sandy. It was nice. Really. I'm just lacking, for the moment, the will to think about it.