Sunday, June 24, 2012

In Search of the Last Remaining Patches of Paradise

I came to visit Glacier National Park before the last of its glaciers vanishes, which some scientists seriously predict will happen by or before 2020. (Twenty-five rapidly-shrinking glaciers remain today; there were 150 in 1850.)

 It is a trip well worth the taking, meandering, as we did, through wide open spaces of Wyoming and Montana without touching an inch of Interstate highway. We have been as far out of reach as possible of e-mail, wi-fi, cell, mobile, cable -- even carrier pigeon. Did the Supreme Court never yet decide who won the 2008 presidential election? Or did Bob, proprietor of the only gas station in Hungry Horse, simply forget to take down his "Ron Paul for President" sign? It's still right there beside his "God's Ten Commandments" sign. I forgive him for both because he sells the world's best huckleberry pie, made on premises by Ruth, his wife. Besides, all politics is local, and Bob remains good friends with Digger, whose sign reads, "Don't let the far right wing take over everything!" Digger's fur, Indian art and gift shop shows no sign of firebombing, but it is for sale, since Digger means to move up to Alberta to live with his daughter and her family.

Drive two miles from Bob's gas pumps and Ruth's pies and you're in another world -- the real world, I'd like to hope, but fear otherwise -- where bear, and elk, and moose, and other wild creatures from Robert Service rhymes can still be seen. Such creatures can be seen, too, in Glacier National Park, against a backdrop of incredibly beautiful lakes and waterfalls and mountains, but only rarely, because like its more accessible cousins, this national park is being loved to death. Some critters seem not to mind the slow death they are undergoing. On the way to Logan Pass the other day, a young white tail deer moseyed, oblivious to the gawking motorists and motorcyclists who stopped to photograph, ogle and otherwise subject it to indignities Mother Nature never intended for it. The baker's dozen mountain goats grazing and frolicking at Goat Lick Canyon seemed similarly unmindful of the herd of humans oohing, aahing and shooting cell-phone photos from the bridge over the gorge.

 Even by our chosen route of the backest of roads, signs of the sins of man are too visible for comfort. The melting glaciers, of course. The patches of split-log vacation mansions where, ten years ago, only fir, oak and range grass occupied the piedmont slopes. Garish bait-and-convenience store ghettos on the shores of sylvan lakes. Acres of junk autos sprawled on the outskirts of pretty little cities trying to become Newark. Earth movers, drill rigs and monster trucks pooping pollution on Paradise.

 Enough already. Magnificent vistas remain. Pockets of tranquil silence. Trails less tramped, roads less traveled, glens less trashed. I've lived to share them, left no trace but footprints. It's back to the back roads for us, meandering more or less homeward, experiencing less of the reality of the wilderness and more of the wildness of the real world, such as it is. Sooner or later we'll be on Interstates, inhaling carbon dioxide and eating Dorritos. I believe there's some sort of election coming up, is there not?

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