I see him before he sees me. I say hey bear and he runs off. I like that. It is reassuring that not all bears here in Montana are bossy and bold like that one from the Highline.
|Doing loon and mountain goat surveys for Glacier's Citizen Science Program.|
At the head of Harrison Lake, one adult loon is swimming and diving. I record the time and location on my survey sheet. Then, I loose sight of him. Where could he have gone?
At the mountain goat survey site, I see no mountain goats.
Still no mountain goats. Oh well. I tried.
Back near the campsite, on the shore of the lake, looking for the loon again. Instead, a moose on the far shore perks its ears, looks around, and walks into the water. It’s swimming! Then, it starts swimming in my direction. Do you know how fast moose swim? Why is the moose swimming towards me?
|That speck is a moose and it's getting closer.|
I dart back to my campsite and hide in my hammock. Maybe it won’t find me.
|Nothing bad has ever gotten through my camo cuben fiber fortress.|
I feel silly being afraid of a moose, so I creep back down to the lake. The moose is still swimming but now down-lake, making a wide circle back to the far shore. It leaps up on the bank and disappears into the brush.
The lake grows calm as the sun goes down. Mating dragonflies buzz by. Everything is beautiful and eerie.
|Smoke hangs low between the mountains.|
Why aren't there other people here? I’ve see no one else all day. Isn’t this suppose to be the height of tourist season in Glacier National Park?
This is only my third solo backpacking trip in Montana. Last year I camped countless nights solo on the PCT solo. Why does it feel so uncomfortable to be solo out here? I wish Arizona were here. I wish anyone were here. I wish I had other hiking friends in Montana. I wish this place weren't so freakin gorgeous and wild. That the views didn't bring me to tears and the climbs didn’t make my heart sing. I wish this place didn't make me FEEL so much passion and longing and heart wrenching fear. I wish I weren't so curious to learn Montana’s secrets: why the moose swims, where to goats are, where the loon disappears to.
I climb into my hammock. Everything smells like dirty hiker. It is the same stuff I had on the PCT. My long underwear has holes from when I got scared going down Glen Pass and slid on my butt. I sigh at how many times I've been scared. Why do I keep putting myself in situations where I'm so uncomfortable?
I awake to breaking branches and rustling too big to be a chipmunk. It’s getting closer so I try not to breathe. Images of the bear and moose swirl in my head. Please don't let claws slice through my tarp. The rustling moves past. My watch says exactly midnight, how horror movie corny.
I remain awake listening to the silence. Trying to convince myself the sounds are a large bunny, plump with huckleberries. Being out here alone makes life vivid and real. I have to quiet the fears, trust my instincts, tune into this place. I count the sounds around me, slow my pulse, pull my quilts around me, and fall asleep again.
|After surviving encounters with bears, moose, dragonflies, and loons, my last feat is to ford the mighty Middle Fork of the Flathead River.|
I realize with the clarity of morning that the battle is "Joan vs Joan's Fears" rather than "Joan vs Beasts". What's scary is the prospect of giving up on Montana, of finding it too exhausting to be in the home of these large (and small) creatures, or of deciding it's not worth pushing beyond the comfort zone.
For more information
Harrison Lake in Glacier National Park: Pick up directions to the ford from the backcountry permit office in Apgar. From the ford, it is a brushy 6.3 miles to the Harrison Lake campground, following the Boundary Trail and then turning off onto the Harrison Creek Trail. Permits are required. Walk-in permits are easy to come by when there are fires everywhere.
Check out Glacier’s Citizen Science Program.