Sept 1 –
In Glacier National Park As a wildfire currently burns. Can't help but think of Bust It Like A Mule, and its hero Cotton Kingfisher, who fought the blaze that threatened Stumptown...yesterday we heard Sperry Chalet burned down, despite their best efforts. Wildfires break my heart, whether man caused or act of God, and to see it in The Land Where The World Began, The BackBone of The World, one of the most beautiful places on earth, is disheartening.
Going to the Sun Road is still open, we can see smoke rolling over jagged gapes scraping the sky. Visibility was ok at Logan Pass, but down into St Mary, the mountains, spitting distance across the lake, are just ragged dark thoughts through the smoke pall. At Logan Pass, I asked a Ranger how the visibility was down at St Mary, he pointed the direction of the lake, where a gray curtain hung. “Well, St Mary is that way,’ he said in way of an explanation. I am sure he is tired of people asking about the fire, but I found his seeming indifference offputting (My irritation with him could have been due in part to the fact that someone stole my spot in the overcrowded Pass parking lot). Near our campground at the foot of the Flathead Range, by West Glacier is a firefighter helibase, the helicopter thrum is everpresent, gunships in Nam echoing through the mountain ranges, strange iron birds dangling orange morning stars from their bellies full of fire retardant. We have prayed to Old Man for the fire to die.
Sept 2nd, Saturday-
Smoke was thick in the morning, awoke to the sound of more choppers coming and going to and from the mouth of hell. Went down into Apgar Village -. I was surprised/dismayed to see a roll of a white billowing over Mt Stanton (?) slow but sure, at the Northern end of Lake McDonald, and I feared for McDonald Lodge, which we know has closed up, workers packing up and getting out just the day before. By my guesstimations, the Sperry area is northwest of here, and to see the smoke directly north our position was alarming. Rented a faded red dented dinged motorboat called 'Gunsight'(after the mountain, I suppose) and zoomed on the East bank at a good clip, 6 year old Waylon terrified the whole time, clinging on in the boat for dear life. Made it about half way across the lake, from here we could see the progress of the smoke, if not fire, and it was enough to inhale. The haze had thickened to blur the mountains and their secrets. With a sense of dread, we turned back, against the wind and a good chop on the surface buck shunting us about. Violet and Tennessee, our eldest 2, dipped their hands in our wake, June Dixie and Jenny Anne in the bow of the boat guiding us like beautiful mermaid mastheads.
Made it to the West bank, Howe Ridge, the remnants of once fires (the big burn and again in the 20's) making that stretch look like a ghost planet, rising bleached widowmaker snags and green scrub (where there is death there is life, where there was fire there will be greenery), scrawny pine.
Made it back to Apgar all in one piece, June, the baby at 4, seemed the most delighted and impressed with the whole experience. Back in the village, it was strange to see the tourist hustle and bustle all in the shadow of the fire. We ate ice cream at Eddie's restaurant/mercantile under a black and white photo of a traditional Blackfeet burial, skulls and body in a tree. They say if the wind changes they could evacuate the Lake McDonald area all together. O Sacred Dancing Waters, jump up and flood the bygod fire devil off his horse.
Sept 3, headed home:
Left Glacier area about 11am, we heard news of an impending evacuation, and the haze near our camp was worse than before, the sun an apocalyptic pink blot. We had thought about staying an extra day, but there was no point. Said goodbye to the park, a white shroud above it like God leading the Israelites bleeding into the valleys and the gullet of the Middle Fork and Flathead. We have heard an evacuation is impending (by the time we got home, West Going to The Sun Road was closed).
Went into Whitefish to tour spots where Cotton Kingfisher once strolled (working on a Bust It Like A Mule photo tour for the blog), the haze was thick but the town was busy. Taking the 93 South along Flathead Lake the smoke is so bad that I turn the headlights on. This obscuration continues along the 28 through bone dry blond Flathead Rez, and only begins to clear along the Clark Fork, nearer to St Regis.
Hit the Interstate (always a begrudging acceptance) and stopped in historic Wallace Idaho for a bite - couldn't help but notice the antique wall mural in the Smoke House restaurant of a tranquil mountain range nature scene, bears and long horn sheep and deer in ranges devoid of smoke.
Finally made it home to Spokane, far less smoke, but a wisp still evident. Unhooked the trailer while the kids played wildly, Jenny Anne read a story to June (A Hole is to Dig) and finally they all bedded down, exhausted from the adventures and happy to be in their own beds. I can’t help but wonder if this fire will be of a magnitude that they pass its memory on to their children and grandchildren, just as my grandpa did to me as we drove through the bones of the Tillamook Burn to the Oregon coast.
Saw that I had been contacted by local news channel to call in about the fire, but it was too late. It was then that I realized I should be a war correspondent, trying to fit poetry into tragedy.
As of now, the Park is still on fire.