Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park by Rebecca C
I did not go to Glacier National Park to see the park. This seems strange to me knowing that people travel thousands of miles to witness the parks beauty. I am at the park to spend time with my daughter in a place as far away from the world as I can imagine. Even though it’s Montana, we are still surrounded by Targets and Wal-Mart’s. I only have 2 days with E and I haven’t seen her in more than 12 weeks. The last time I saw her were the 3 days I spent transporting her from her therapeutic wilderness program in North Carolina to the therapeutic boarding school in Montana, where we now find ourselves. During the transport she was quiet and removed. She had just spent 78 days in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains coming to grips with the concept that her life needed to change. During those 78 days we communicated only once a week and only through letters going through the hands of the therapist first. Everything was directed. Afraid to make yet another mistake I allowed the therapist to guide me. How we got here is a long story; and at this point, all I can say is that her life became more than she, or I, was able to cope with.
This was the second and last day I would have her on this visit. She had only a two-day pass and this was day two. I woke up in my rented condo with her in the bed next to me. I stared at her with her eyes closed. She has the most beautiful face. Stoic, yet kind and soft with dreamy movie-star eyes, with a blackness so deep you could lose yourself. In times of anger, she pinches her face and tries to stare you down though squinted eyes. This always makes me smile inside. She can’t look angry by squinting her face in hate but she can stare straight into your heart without even knowing it. When she was a baby strangers would say she looked like an old soul, bald with huge black eyes that seemed to know exactly who you were. Sometimes her stare unnerved me and later it scared me. Her eyes with her beautiful long matching brows reflected my own sadness back to me.
That morning after making her pancakes, on the drive to the park, she was quiet. I pondered the same question I had now been asking myself for the last several months. For most of her childhood, I believed that I saw the depression gene lurking in her dark eyes. She was quiet and internal and I took this as sadness. I tried hard to protect her in a way in which I wish I had been protected. After watching my father suffer, I carried my depression as quietly and gracefully as I could but sometimes it was so huge its weight crushed me. Having children helped bring structure and routine to my life but life itself is unpredictable and constantly changing. Change and unpredictability became the poison to my well-being. I thought that I had married a predictable, loyal and routine man, who fairly early in our marriage turned out not to be those things. He craved change and chaos and had a Jekyll and Hyde like personality after drinking. I had my daughters and sunk even further into darkness. For years the abyss gnawed at my skull, trying to pull me in deeper. I refused to go, if only for my girls, I armed myself with drugs and carved what stability I could into my life. But E still seemed to see the darkness inside of me no matter how hard I tried to hide it from her. Did I cause her sadness? Or was she just wired up that way? I do not know the answer to this question and in many ways now, as we drive through the scenic roads near the park, the answer doesn’t matter. We are here together and neither of us has answers. It is my hope for a few hours we can leave the sadness and all the therapy behind. I’ve enjoyed every second with her thus far, both good and bad. Now at the park, I want the earth to really put us in our place.The park was so much more than I could have hoped. I wasn’t looking for peace or Zen or anything more than some hours to just “be” with my daughter. Away from the material world things look different, priorities clearer. Everything seems more manageable, without all the static in the way.
The day before we had been shopping, had coffee and dinner. We’d managed to be quietly together. We had tasks to accomplish and a list of items she needed for school. I wanted her to eat foods she would enjoy and see things she had been missing in the last 3 months. She spoke with her siblings and grandmother on the phone but even calls were to be limited. I wasn’t to have her out of my sight even for a minute. These were the rules of the school, handed to me on a piece of paper I signed upon picking her up. She was, after all, my child. I had cared for her well for the last 17 years but now I was given a list of rules. I vacillated between wanting to run away with her and knowing in my heart that she was in the right place . Even now, 2 months later, as I write, I miss her more than I thought possible. I want to wave a magic wand and have our lives return to normal. Really our lives were never normal, whatever constitutes normal and I know now that I don’t have the power to fix things for her.
There is a way that being in nature makes you feel both very small and part of something so huge at the same time. I want E to have this feeling today. I want her to feel outside of her self as part of a bigger universe, whatever that means to her. I want her to know that she matters as this tiny little piece of nothingness. It’s a paradox, but it’s what many adults understand about being human and what hardly any 17-year-old does.
I have arranged for us to take a tour on a jammer. At Glacier National Park they offer tours of parts of the park in old-fashioned red jammers. The jammers were manufactured as the Model 706 by the White Motor Company from 1936-1939. The bus has a roll-back canvas convertible top, which the driver has opened today. Cool and sunny, it could not have been more perfect. Glacier National Park runs 33 of the original buses on the Going-to-the-Sun Road which is the road our bus will take for the next 4 hours all the way to the continental divide at Logan’s Pass and back. I have decided on this tour as a way we can both see the park without either of us having to be the driver.
As soon as we pull into the parking lot, I know I have made the right choice. The Jammer is quaint and the driver is charming and engaging without being intrusive. With the top rolled back, the view as we head up the mountains is breathtaking. E is quiet but content or contemplative, I’m not sure which, but I’m determined not to spend my time with her trying to read her emotions every second. I’m practically giddy with how beautiful it is.
My children, all of them, are incredibly tolerant of me. I take pictures with my phone everywhere and all of the time. Nothing is sacred and no one is immune to its prying eye. I’ve shot them playing and joyful at their very best and also tearful or failing at their very worst. I do not fully understand this need to both record and make art from all of my witnessed moments but its been what I have done since I’ve carried an iphone. Today was not any different. I wanted to capture the amazing pristine perfection of the park but I also needed to remember this day. Although at this moment in our lives, I am into some pretty heavy and serious stuff with my kid, I know this will not always be the case. In a few months she will be 18. She is beginning to bridge from childhood to young adulthood and I want to remember how hard she worked and how capable she is. Like a letter from an old lover, I want to have the record to remember how much I loved these days with her.
Mostly, we didn’t talk along the ride. We ate salt and vinegar chips and drank diet cokes. I held her hand and she leaned into me. As we climbed the mountain, I smiled at her whenever she caught my eye. The driver filled our head with interesting facts about the park and the bus and everyone on the jammer got to know each other a little bit. We made a couple of stops along the way to get great views and to stretch our legs. We arrived at Logan’s Pass, located along the Continental Divide. At an elevation of 6,646 ft., it provides and excellent vantage point to view wildlife. It was upon arrival that the driver located a large group of rams. Perched precariously along the edge of the mountain, they clash horns for dominance in the group. I think maybe we learn something about ourselves and our way of being in the world from these animals, from this space.
On the way back down the mountain I start to feel the sadness overcoming me. I forced myself to stay in the moments I have left with her but it’s so hard. I know that I will not see her again for 6 weeks. The park has invigorated me but it’s also helping me to feel lost. I’m at once peaceful and at the same time dreading what comes next. I know tomorrow I will go home to my mostly empty nest. For 18 years I have lived almost everyday as a satellite around my children. I know that I will have to learn to navigate my own new space. This is becoming a story of separation and growth for both E and me.
The following morning I wake up in my condo knowing that I have to go home and what waits for me there is just as terrifying as not going back. My empty house, my new relationship, my unknown future and my uncertainty about my daughter. My immediate instinct is to go back to the park. I have time and also I don’t, but I know the solace of nature will quiet my anxiety about what lies ahead. For the second time in 2 days, I find myself inside the arms of Glacier National Park. This time I’m alone and I can go and do whatever I choose. This is a totally new concept for me at 45 years of age. I head to a trail that was suggested as a beautiful hike by the driver yesterday. Passing hikers, families, everyone acknowledges each other. Even the children seem to know this is a magical place. I’m walking, trying to find the peace in my head. I look around and begin to weep. The trees are enormous. They have been here for hundreds of years. I’m insignificant. I will come and go and the boulders and trees will remain. I cannot change the past. I know that E is beautiful and smart and kind. She is politely rebellious and amazingly strong. She doesn’t yet know these things about herself but I hope that in the months and years ahead she will learn them. I look towards my future and breathe deeply.
Last July I visited my daughter in Montana, where she now attends a therapeutic boarding school. This is a brief segment of our continuing story. I used the Hipstmatic app only to document our journey though Glacier National Park. I would like to thank WeAreJuxt for giving me the opportunity to continue to tell this story…to be continued.
Thank you, Rebecca