I had already lived on our planet for 34 years and four months when I first laid eyes on Grinnell Glacier. Tucked into high cliffs beneath the Continental Divide, ribbons of ice and snow hugged the emerald lake, even though I wore shorts and sweat clung to my back after a series of steep switchbacks near the end of our six-mile journey from the trailhead.
We’d just completed the front half of one of Glacier National Park’s most famous hikes. Still, we found ourselves completely alone that July day, without even a bighorn sheep or grizzly bear to keep us company. There, as we rested at the edge of the lake, the loaded day pack on my shoulders felt featherweight. I imagined we’d discovered some secret world, hidden from or even invisible to all other humans.
For what might have been hours or minutes, I listened to the waterfall tumbling down the far wall and the high mountain wind rustling the paper wrappers of the sandwiches we’d carried up the trail. I wondered how I could ever stand, turn my back on that sight and climb down the mountain, back into the real world where tourists wielded selfie sticks at Many Glacier Lake and coaxed rented Hyundais up Going-to-the-Sun Road.
Of course we couldn’t stay forever, chased out by rolls of thunder at our backs and the next day’s checkout time and our expensive plane tickets home and the full-time jobs that bought those tickets. Five months later, I was pregnant. Nine months after that, I was a mom. And 2.5 years later, I haven’t gone back to Grinnell Glacier.
Now, I wonder what moved me to write this post, my first in months. Maybe the freak ankle injury on New Year’s Day, marking a fresh decade with X-rays and crutches. Maybe the toddler napping downstairs, artificial ocean waves filling his room 165 miles from the coast. Maybe the new novel that lives in my head but hasn’t found paper. Maybe the first book that buoyed me in the aftermath of my sister’s death yet can’t bring her back to me. Maybe the inevitable valley that found me these early, short winter days in life’s perpetual pattern of valleys and peaks.
Some people think all of Glacier National Park’s glaciers will be gone by 2030, an impossibly short 10 years from now. But whatever you believe about how the planet’s changing, our days and months and years spent here are far too short, human life unquestionably fleeting.
In quiet moments, though, I can still close my eyes and go back to that world. I can hear the waterfall and the wind on the lake. I can feel the smooth, cool rock and the sun on my face and the wind in my hair (longer that summer).
That’s when wonder finds me.