But I long to be part of the mountains. Let my wrinkles be ridges, my hair the grasses.
Glacier-carved mountains are still more magical than volcanically created ones, though many have been born of fire, then shaped by ice and water.
I am watching green water edge into the blue, and wondering how the light decides to make the difference. Perhaps the blue reflects the sky and the green reflects the trees, but it is not always so.
I sit on the edge of Lake MacDonald in Glacier National Park. MacDonald is a prosaic name for what the tribes called the sacred dancing water. Salish-Kootenai, Flathead, and Blackfeet used to live at least part of the year in what is now the park. As some wise white writers have begun to realize, it is strange that we assume a park is perfectly natural without the people who first lived here.
I've read about the restoration of wolves to Yellowstone National Park, and had the privilege of seeing some of them. I have seen wolves running across a sagebrush plain. I have seen wolves waiting until grizzlies have eaten their fill of a wolf-killed elk, then moving into claim their share of it after the grizzlies leave. Yes, those are magical sights.
Many people worked hard to make the restoration possible, and to study the wolves, often in temperatures far below zero. They rejoice that the natural ecosystem has been restored. But the native people have not. They live outside the park, in reservations and towns.
Surely anyone who sees this land must love it, especially since most of us see it in relative comfort, walking only when we choose to for pleasure. Even as such a one, I claim a love for nature. I want to learn the names of all the wildflowers in each park I visit and to see as many birds and mammals as possible.
I am overjoyed to dedicate a day to looking for a mountain goat. In the summer, when I visit the parks, their coats look shabby because layers of winter hair are shedding. But the kids' coats are sleek because they have not yet undergone winter.
How beautifully each animal has evolved to fit its ecological niche. The wonder of an animal that can climb stone walls that seem almost sheer. The wonder of an animal that can build dams.
The wonder of birds flying. I am watching barn swallows cross high over the lake on their quest for insects, then return to the roof where they nest.
True, I want only a modified wildness, a safe wildness, though that is an oxymoron and nothing can be entirely safe. I know that Eden is a dream, paradise is a wish. But this is the paradise I wish for. Yes, there are car jams and insect bites. Yes, sometimes rain falls when I wish it wouldn't. Worse, the heat is increasing. This summer has been incredibly hot for Glacier National Park. Its glaciers are melting. This summer, instead of the 60 and 70 degree weather I remember, the sun beats down in the high 80s. How much destruction we are wreaking on this beautiful place. But we can still enjoy the beauty and try to preserve it.
Firs and cedars line the lake. I can see some stands of burned trees from earlier fires. A few days ago, the sky was filled with smoke from fires in eastern Washington State. Firefighters are quelling a fire in Glacier, near St. Mary's Lake.
The green part of the water has turned almost black at shadows creep over the mountains. The swallows are chirping.
Most of the mountains here are too steep for me to climb, but I can watch them and cherish them. Yet walking a trail is special love, a sacred journey in which feet worship the paths, while I delight at pink elephants' head and blue gentian.
Now I look to the glacial cirques – oh, other visitors just pointed out a beaver swimming past and a flock of cedar waxwings hawking for insects. I am grateful that nature can be shared.
The lake is darker now. The water reflects the cliffs. Or did the cliffs always live in the lake, the water showing them only at special times?
In the splash of a beaver's tail, in the flutter of bird wings, there is the world.
How I admire and envy the young woman rangers, who have grown up in a world where it seemed natural to them to find a career in which they can spend their days showing visitors bear-clawed trees and explaining the lives of bighorn sheep. But I too am privileged. While I enjoy a walk in the woods, I remember how many women in the world will never have this pleasure. Indeed, in some countries, women must risk rape and capture when they go to bring water for their families.
I am in the forest, and I am unbelievably lucky.
If I go too long without seeing mountains, I feel like a lynx without snowshoe hares. Lynxes cannot get enough nourishment on a diet of squirrels and voles. They will pad through the spruce trees, and find hares or perhaps die.
I have never seen a lynx, but I am glad that they live in the northern forests. I do not have to see them to appreciate them.
What are the creatures to each other, those that do not see each other as enemies or food? What does a mountain goat think of a bighorn sheep? Does it see the sheep as a clumsy competitor that cannot climb as high? Does it dislike the sheep's smell? Does it think that the rams' horns are garish?
And does the sheep see the goat as pathetic because its horns are small? Does it believe the leaping goats on the highest crags are showing off? Does it envy them?
And what do the sharp-hooved animals think of the marmots? Do they see marmots as clowns? Do they heed the marmots' whistles of danger?
Let me think of marmots and mountain goats. Let me pause from thinking of the Islamic State and of stubborn members of Congress. Let me live in the mountains for at least a few weeks of the year.