Sunday, September 5, 2010

Thunderstorms, Mosquitoes and Grizzly Bears

            I finally took my family on a canoe trip.
            This has been one of my big goals, ever since we first decided to move to Montana. Canoeing was one of the top things on my mental To-Do list of important things to do when we finally would make our home in Montana. Get a mini-van. Get a roof rack. Get some life jackets. Get a canoe. Take the family canoeing.
            It took me well over a month, but yesterday I’m happy to say I finally made the dream a reality.
            The preparations were lengthy. I checked the weather. I psyched up my daughter and wife. I reserved a canoe at the rental place. And yesterday morning bright and early I drove the family to the canoe location to pick up the beautiful seventeen-footer so we could strap it to the as-yet unused roof rack of our new mini-van.
            Getting out of the house took us most of the morning. The kids were itching to do more than wait for us to get ready, and crying seemed to erupt randomly, which of course slowed the whole process down. Finally, we made it out the door, and as we were driving down the highway toward Seeley Lake I said to Michelle, “Something about this feels so right.”
            She nodded her head. But an hour later, when we arrived at the lake, the sky was full of dark, rich rain clouds, and Celia was restless. We stopped at a beach for lunch, put on a few extra layers to protect against the sporadic chilly winds, and wondered if we should turn back. North of us, where we were headed, it looked like a raging storm was in progress. We saw some lightning flash.
            I looked at the canoe on the roof of my mini-van and thought, “Turn back? No way! We came all this way, we’re going to use this thing.”
            “Look,” I said to Michelle, pointing South. “There are clear skies down there. Maybe we can find somewhere to put in down that way.”
            Michelle nodded happily. We piled into the van and headed back the way we’d come. “Let’s find a visitor’s center so we can ask where good spots are.”
            At the visitor’s center the nice woman there said to me, “Go back North. The weather changes here every fifteen minutes. Look.” She pointed out the window to sunny skies. “It’s already sunny again.”
            I shook my head in disbelief. “Alright, let’s go back!”
            “Don’t forget mosquito repellant and a rain shell for the kids,” she called out as we left.
            “Thanks!” I said, and made sure to stop by a small store on the way to pick up her recommended items.
            We found the turn-off easily, and drove down the dirt road toward the canoe put-in location with more and more anticipation growing. The sun was out, and I was determined.
            When we arrived there were a few other vehicles parked, included a ranger’s vehicle with two rangers. One came up to me.
            “You’d better stay off that path,” she pointed at the very path I was going to take to get back to our van after we’d gone down a ways. “There are seven grizzly bears on it right now. Three adults and four cubs.”
            I looked at her with open mouth, “What?”
            “Yep. Grizzlies. You’ll be safe on the river, but don’t come back on the path. Do you have another way to get back?”
            I scratched my head. “Well, I suppose we could just paddle back upstream.”
            “Sure, it’s pretty calm today.” The ranger nodded her head.
            I looked at Michelle. She gave me a look that said, “We can turn back if you want.”
            I shook my head and said, “Let’s get this canoe off the roof.”
            We had barely put the canoe on the ground when the mosquitoes discovered us all. Michelle covered our kids in repellant as I scratched my back. How did they get through my shirt, I wondered.
            When we’d finally wrestled both our kids into the canoe and onto Clear Water River, the sounds of our busyness were eaten up by marshy silence. We drifted lazily in silence, then Michelle said, “This is the best day we’ve had in Montana so far.”
            I smiled. “It’s nice out here, isn’t it.”
            Michelle craned her head back to see me, “It’s wonderful.”
            We didn’t end up staying out very long, just long enough to get tired from paddling upstream, but it was a splendid outing. We never did see any bears, and Celia was surprisingly safe the entire time. The only disturbance was Joshua crying from determined mosquitoes finding his infant flesh through his pants.
            “We need to do this again. And soon,” Michelle told me as we lifted the canoe back onto the roof of the van.
            “That’s for sure.”
            It did seem like an awful lot of work for just over an hour of boat time, but even so, something in my spirit tells me it was utterly and profoundly worth it. It took over nine hours of travel and planning time for that short excursion but it most certainly connected us all in a way that isn’t possible in the comfort of our home.
            And even with the thunderstorms, mosquitoes, and grizzly bears, I’d have to say it was well worth the trip.

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