It is official in the Flathead Valley — spring has finally made her grand and highly anticipated appearance. And when I mean spring, I mean the grass is growing and the dead, browned leaves are falling away to new shoots. Spring’s early wildflowers, Arnica, Arrowleaf Balsamroot, and Fairy Slipper Orchids are emerging from the new earth. The days an incredibly longer — last night there was still a glimmer of light in the night sky at 10pm. Months earlier, in the depths of December, the day would end by 4:30 and I’d be asleep at 8pm.
While the forests have thickened with new leaves, their bare branches newly concealed by bright green blossoms, one has to keep in mind that it is spring in the mountains. There is still well over 100 inches of snow covering the peaks. And currently there’s a Winter Weather Advisory in elevations above 4,000 feet. Winter is kinda greedy around these parts and she’s not too keen on letting other seasons have their hold on her valley. The battle, like a tug of war game over a beloved stuffed animal, typically lasts until the 4th of July holiday. While much of America celebrates a collective freedom birthday party, we here in northern Montana toast the official start to summer.
I’m still wearing long underwear most days, but just the tops. Remember, tops count as a key essential piece to any mountain girl’s wardrobe. But I’m also looking at swimsuits –gasp! I don’t fear the Spandex as my winter uniform consists of a giant swath of stretchy fabric coined a Speed Suit, but to me, it feels more like a Sausage Casing Suit. However, my speed suit exposes no pale thigh or giant butt that can not be contained in any bikini bottom. I haven’t purchased a swim suit in six years and sadly, I am due for a new one. But apparently a lot has changed in that time, mostly the cost. With the exception of giant discount box stores, I’m finding swimsuits to cost $80-$100! Hmm…that’s a bit out of my range, so I’ll adopt the Montana bikini: sports bra and Patagonia baggy shorts.
Swimsuits are really not a part of my Spring Resolution. I have a lot of other activities that dominate my thoughts and energy — and when you live so close to Glacier and The Bob and you only have a few short months to hike, swim, paddle, climb, bike, picnic, run and read under a giant Douglas Fir tree on a hot “off” day, one has to make the most of her time.
My Spring Resolutions are activities, tasks, and assignments that will prepare me for the onslaught of summer. At summer’s magical peak in the Valley, daylight breaks around 5:30am and one can squeeze out enough light until 11pm. There is little time for sleep, laundry, or errands. That’s why we have dreary November. You sleep, pay your bills, and fold laundry during that cool and rainy month.
Since I’m kind of a naturalist and aspire to be one, I’m taking this rainy spring to study birds. I just got my first bird guide book, the infamous Sibley’s Guide to Birds and my hopes are to expand my limited knowledge of birds from the basics: Stellar’s Jay, Western Tanager, Red Wing Blackbird, Magpie, Crow, Raven, Bald Eagle and the general: Bird of Prey. I feel fairly confident about my blossoming (awesome pun, I know) identification of wildflowers and trees but it is high time I expanded my field skills to those creatures who flit and flutter about, making a proper I.D. a bit of a challenge.
Spring is a perfect time to become a naturalist as many of the great hiking trails are hidden underneath snow and there’s no rush to wake up a 5 to climb a peak with little time to stop and smell the flowers. No, spring hiking means packing your backpack with an army load of guide books, a heavy camera, and spend a good bit of time wandering around in a small area, not really caring about the trail or the destination or the Yeti who’s been eyeing you as you’ve been eyeing a Downy Woodpecker in the trees.
My other Spring Resolution is to actually make a list, a physical list, of all the things I aim to do over the summer months. There are a few trips already on the July calendar, including a trip into The Bob for a week of trail work and to sway to Lyle Lovett’s dreamy voice in a giant field while looking at the sun set on the Big Belt mountains. There are many peaks to climb, a few rivers to float, and some mountain bike trails to ride. And if I fail to write down my plans, they don’t always pan out. If you’ve haven’t found yourself in northwest Montana during the glowing ethereal summer months, then you might not understand why this is such a fevered rush to float the Middle Fork of the Flathead in the morning, hike in the Park, post-hike beers on the steps of Freda’s, and then end your night pedaling to City Beach in Whitefish to catch the setting sun.
Winter’s are solely devoted to skiing–one activity but summer offers a smattering of adventures, some so magical and rare that you feel as if you’ve stolen some part of the mountain or river from the rest of world. The mountains boast good tidings and it is criminal to not partake.
I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions whatsoever. I don’t like prohibitions, moderations or silly goals. I’m not that disciplined. Yet, summer in the mountains is so stunning, precious and finite that I must seize, each moment, each petal, leaf, and cold beer sipped as my canoe floats down the North Fork to Polebridge for cookies.
So, I’ve got my calendar out for June, July and August and I’m prepping, in advance my aspirations (but know all too well that the weather or wildfires can skew the plans or backcountry campsite closures due to bears) to: ski Logan’s Pass, spend some time with a heavy pack in the Belly River, see what the world looks like above 10,000 feet, repair some trails with a clan of good buddies in The Bob, cram my body into my little red whitewater kayak and ride through Bone Crusher, visit the Chinese Wall without needing a passport or overseas flight, drink huckleberry margaritas on the Many Glacier Hotel fine deck, paddle to Fire Island and spend the day reading a long book while Cole fishes, and hang out with my beekeeping friends and take in the jarring view of Chief Mountain from their yard.
Here are some cherished photos of summers past, helpful inspiration to fulfill my Spring Resolutions: