The drive home from the east side of the state takes us, eventually, six to seven hours later, to the home stretch– a two-lane road through the 90 mile long Seeley-Swan Valley. There are twisty sections, as well as long straight lines, which form a tunnel between tall pines lining the road. Drivers are tortured by deer which creep out from between the trees and threaten to dart across. With melting snowbanks in the Spring, you can see all the ones who did just that, as their frozen carcasses become revealed. Many times, particularly in late Fall, on a clear morning when the sun is low in the sky, a strobe light effect is created as beams of sunshine shoot rapid-fire between the straight tightly packed trees, as you zoom along at 70 mph. I have a friend who’s susceptible to migraines and she sits in the passenger seat with a blanket over her head for most of the 90 miles. The geography makes it a snow belt, with little wind, and deep in Winter, the enormous trees are flocked in snow, and the roadway gets narrower and narrower as snow is piled up on the sides. Years ago, there used to be a tall pine along the edge, mysteriously lit with colored lights at Christmas time. We loved coming upon it, in the final stretch of our trip home from those Christmases in Billings, when the grandkids were very young.
I call this Valley “the Lake District” because of the many lakes along the route, and the final one, close to home, is Swan Lake. The approach to Swan Lake is distinctive. For about seven miles, you go down a series of long straight hills, bordered by dense forest, and you keep descending until, at last, you arrive to a broad clearing with Swan Lake spread out before you. I always let out a big sigh…I am nearly home now. The Swan River leaves this lake to be one of the tributaries of our own enormous Flathead Lake. Even though I am fifteen minutes from home, sometimes I pull over to the boat launch park, get out of the car, and just walk about in the stillness that always seems to blanket this lake.
It’s a pause, a transition, from all those miles, those roads that are paved with my memories over twenty years. For most of the route across our state, there is no cell service and the only radio stations which come through are country western and religion channels. I suppose we could listen to music or a podcast, but we never do, whether the drive is together or apart. There’s too much beauty, too much to think about, and, for me, there is always some historical reverie like the time I saw a grizzly bear, or a waterskier on the lake one cold April day, or when Rita was riding with us and described how we would need to escape out of the a car if it slid off the highway into freezing water, or the time I drove alone in the winter’s dark at 4:00 am, and never saw another car. I remember the journeys in which my heart raced with excitement to get to Billings for the birth of a new baby, a grandchild’s birthday party, a holiday celebration. The times I cried the whole way when I first left Colorado, or when I returned for medical care, afraid for my life.
Swan Lake is a quiet space, sometimes a reprieve, where I breathe in, breathe out, grateful for the abundance of my privileged life. The world always feels so generous to me at this point in my journey home…and, in Autumn…there are simply no words, only grace.
BY RICHARD WEHRMAN
The Garden releases its last
radiance, not as something failed,
but as its full reason for being: to give
continually, to its last bit of energetic being
Its giving is its beauty. It is a smile,
it is the heart of love.
So the birdsong that surrounds me
is given, not away, but into the world.
It is given as rain, as sunlight, as snowfall
and autumn leaves. It falls on our ears
as what it is, with no deception,
the complete truth of being.
Even the smell of decay, drifting from
the deer, dead by the side of the road, says:
“This is what I am and no other. I do not
pretend to be. Even in death I speak
without deceit, even unto my flesh,
my very bones.”
Be tolerant of these songs,
my musings on the way these things are
For I cannot give up this Summer except by
giving myself as well, fully and completely,
into the praise of our mutual beauty,
our total loving of the World.