Thursday, July 23, 2009


Quite spontaneously, our family decided to take a long weekend in Montana. None of us had ever been before, but hubby has a cousin who lives there. Her father planned to come to town, so she invited us for a rather tiny extended family reunion. I am all about going to new places lately. I figured that somehow the small children would muscle through the 10-12 hour drive, and we’d have a swell time. Little did I know the trip would be well worth it before we even arrived at our destination.

The drive through Wyoming was fascinating. It was like Kansas in its nothingness. At times, it seems Wyoming is inhabited wholly by cattle…. even the gas station attendants… were cattle. It did however maintain topographical interest that Kansas lacks. So it was pretty. We stayed overnight in a tiny town called Chugwater, population, 244 (and, between you and me, I think they included their horses and cows in that census data). We had to grab pre-breakfast snacks at a gas station, because there was no place to eat, but the Buffalo Lodge was a fine, clean place to stay, equipped with free wi-fi for the addicts among us (ahem).

As we drove, Todd kept seeing flocks of sheep. Only there weren’t any flocks of sheep. There were, however, scatterings of rocks in fields. There were also baled hay rolls. I think by the third time he saw a flock of sheep, I had to inform him that he needed to look a little closer. It’s become a standing family joke. Whenever we see a field of hay, we admire the flock of sheep…. so nicely spaced, and calmly standing so proper and still.

As we headed towards Northern Wyoming, we entered some foothills, and things became increasingly beautiful. An exit off the highway: Prairie Dog Creek Road….a road, named for a creek, named for a garden pest! Amazing!

We rolled through Montana, and little in the landscape changed through Billings (occasional green, occasional mountains, but mostly brown/grey rocks and little canyons). As we headed west, towards the mountains, seeing, in places, the Yellowstone River… a dream came true.

A grey, leafless skeleton of a tree stood by the river. The sun bleached trunk was thick, and what was left of the three lowest branches reached out, as though the length and lushness of what they once supported might still be remembered if the skeleton just held out a little longer. Near the end of the longest branch was an unseemly mass. Large, and not coherent with the dead tree form. We raced closer at 75mph. That was SO not a piece of dead tree. It had to be a bird, but the size! Maybe a vulture?

“OH MY GOD!!!” wait, who said that? Is that what I think it is??? That was my voice, but I don’t say that. Did I really say that?

“It’s a BALD EAGLE!!!!!! It has a white head! It’s an American Bald Eagle!!!”

I’ve never made a list of things that I want to see or do in my lifetime. It used to be because I was too afraid I’d disappoint myself. I’m not afraid of that anymore, but now I just haven’t had the interest to spend my time putting it down formally. Regardless, in my mind now, there are very few things that I would want to commit myself to seeing or doing. Seeing an American Bald Eagle though? In the WILD? That is without a doubt one of the things I would put on my nonexistent shortlist!

I have seen them in captivity, and when I am not prepared for them, they really cripple me. It might be slightly due to the fact that they are an emblem for our country. It’s more though. There is something about how large they are, how strong they’re built, how regal they look. Alright, maybe it’s dumb. Some people cry at weddings, I cry at birds of prey.

To me, it’s like… walking into Westminster Abbey and stepping over the grave of Geoffrey Chaucer. There is something moving, something breathtaking there, that somehow makes me feel both horribly insignificant and completely a part of something broader than my mind could possibly handle. It moves me.

So this was a fantastic trip even before I tried cousin Amy’s amazing vegetarian pasta dish! Oh, coming to Montana was a GOOD decision!


  1. This brought back memories. We used to drive up to Montana all the time. Going through Wyoming was always so boring but we would spice it up by having competitions on guessing how many miles it would be until the next time Dad had to turn the steering wheel or counting the antelope we saw to see who could see the most.

    Your comments about the hay bale rolls made me laugh. I have a confession to make... I have an illogical fear of those things. The way they line up in formation through-out a field - I swear they're going to take over the world. Scary. I don't know what it is about them, but I'm more scared of them than most creepy crawly things. It might do me some good to start considering them as sheep... =)

    As for the bald eagle, congrats on your first! I can't say I've seen a ton of them, but I've seen at least a dozen in the wild. Some were in Montana, but some were here in Colorado too. I was surprised to hear this was your first. They're so big, aren't they? And so pretty! If it weren't for the fact that they still crap bird poop, I'd love them.

    Hmm... you're going to begin to wonder if I like nature at all, with me starting to complain about the grossness of bird poop. I swear, I'm a fun nature loving soul. I just don't see why they can't poop in turds like everyone else.

  2. Next time we see you guys, we are totally busting on the flock of sheep thing... awesome! Don't tell T. ;)

    Sounds like a great trip! Bald eagles are a magnificent site to behold, aren't they? They're not as common as ospreys over in Maryland but they're definitely making a comeback.

  3. I love Wyoming and Montana!! You need to go back again and go to the Grand Tetons and Glacier NP.

    I guess I shouldn't tell you that bald eagles stop in Elmer each summer? Or that we have seen them in the field near the pool and flying over our back yard? Ok, I won't tell you that then ;-) We always joke that when you are out west you see signs that warn you of the flying eagles (like deer signs) but we rarely seem them there! But Elmer is where we find them! :-)