September 29, 2008

Sweet Agony

Ok, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but I am in a lot of pain after our big day hike on Saturday. 13 miles isn't a huge hiking day, but it's big enough to cause some serious soreness that lasts for a while. We decided to finally tackle the famous Highline Trail, which starts at Logan Pass and follows the ridge of the Continental Divide for about 7 miles before descending to the Going to the Sun Road. We got an early-ish start, as evidenced by the sunrise photo above, and were able to hit the trail by 9:30am.

The first, oh, seven miles of the hike were great. The trail to this point is very easy, almost a stroll, with little elevation gained or lost. So, as you might imagine, this part of our trip went quite well. And the miles just seemed to fly under our feet.

While we didn't see any grizzlies, there was certainly evidence of their presence.

Long-leaved Arnica
Arnica longifolia

When we hit the seven mile mark, we opted to take a little side trip up to the edge of the Continental Divide, to an overlook of Grinnell Glacier. The sign said it was only 0.6 miles. But I'm here to tell you that it was the longest 0.6 miles I've ever walked. I think the trail gained almost 1,500 feet in that half mile. It was brutal.

Here's the divide, with the Atlantic drainage on the left and over the edge, while the Pacific drainage is on the "gentle" slope down to the right.

Grinnell Glacier can be seen in the center and a bit to the right, at the base of the large cliff in the background. In the foreground, near the bottom of the photo, is Salamander Glacier.

We weren't sure how far we actually wanted to hike, but figured we'd just go until we felt like turning around. Unfortunately (for my knee, at least), we didn't reach that point until we hit the 7 mile mark (and after the brutal hike to the overlook). At this point we faced a choice: hike the 7 miles back to Logan Pass, or cut two miles off and continue along the trail, but then face a descent of nearly 2,500 feet and the need to hitchike back to the pass to get our car. For some reason, the prospect of hiking another seven miles seemed much worse than a mere five.

This is a good shot of the first seven miles of the hike. I highlighted the trail (as best as I could) with red, including the side trail up to the Grinnell Glacier Overlook. You might want to click on the image to see it bigger and get a better idea of what a seven mile hike actually looks like.

The highlight of the second half of our hike was passing the infamous "Granite Park Campground", site of the 1967 grizzly mauling made famous in the book "Night of the Grizzlies".

Overall, it was a tremendously enjoyable, yet exhausting trip. We were able to find a ride up to the pass in less than three minutes, which helped. If you ever want to plan a trip to Glacier National Park, I strongly recommend this hike. Just be prepared for a long day.

And in other news, we found out today that we will, in fact, get to live in park housing! Yay! No more having to beg landlords to allow our pets. You have no idea how much of a relief it is to no longer be in "housing limbo."

September 17, 2008

Notes from a Wildlife Technician

Sonja is now getting into the groove with her wildlife technician job here at Glacier. She's now seen several bears (both black bears), within about 15 feet of her. She got to chase one of them away from the road yesterday. For the most part, her days involve driving up the Going to the Sun Road to Logan Pass, pulling over at specified points to scan the meadows and cliffs for bears, goats, sheep, and any other assorted wildlife that happens to be around.

One of her tasks during these surveys is to photo-document as many close encounters as she can. Here you can see a mountain goat approaching her survey site. Sonja's spotting scope is on the right. She's gotten much better, as she describes it, at "yelling at visitors" for feeding/harassing wildlife, too. It's almost a daily occurance now that she needs to admonish someone for giving a ground squirrel (one that should have been underground getting ready to hibernate for at least a month by now) assorted fritos, cheezy poofs, and raisins.

But I think what Sonja enjoys most are the daily reminders she gets of how lucky we really are to be living and working in one of the world's most beautiful places.

Now I just have to work on getting her to take more pictures like this one.

September 14, 2008

Distractions are Good

I need to stop ignoring all the stupid polling going on right now. It's giving me an ulcer. How can the American public be so bloody blind to the fact that Sarah Palin is NOT who she says she is?!? And how in the hell did the race get so damn close??

I'm beginning to think that McCain isn't as stupid as I thought he was when he picked her as his VP. I'm beginning to think he also realizes just how bloody stupid a large percentage of the voting public really is...that they would not only accept a neo-conservative, speaking-in-tongues-speaking, oil-loving, global warming denying, machine-gun toting creationist, they'd fall all over themselves to see who can adore her the most!

It's revolting to watch. And the worst of it all is the new Republican chant being shouted at all their campaign events, "Drill, baby, drill!"

Can someone please save America from all the fat, greedy, "consume till you croak", bible-thumping, Earth-raping Americans before it's too late? Please, America...WAKE THE F**K UP! This world cannot handle another four years of the Bush Administration!

Big sigh...ok, enough of my "elitist, left-wing liberal ranting." Sonja and I needed something to distract ourselves from the depressing state of American politics. So we hopped in the car with Harvey and Luna and headed for the hills.

We haven't explored much of the area outside of the park, yet, and as a result haven't had a chance to take the dogs for a good hike. To change that I whipped out the map this morning and tried to find a suitable road into the surrounding mountains where we could go exploring. I found a squiggly red line that looked promising, so we loaded up and headed out.

(as you can see, we didn't take Gilbert, our beloved mountain-climbing Subaru. He's been hibernating in the garage for the past month and when we tried to wake him up for the drive he responded with a resoundingly silent, "I ain't goin' nowhere"...Yeah, I guess we should have had that "service engine soon" light checked out when it turned on about a year ago, huh?)

Anyway, once we got to an elevation that seemed to get us above all the locals with chainsaws, we headed up the road to see what we could see.

We did find a pretty little mountain-top lake, but even Harvey found it a little too muddy for his liking, so we continued on.

While it wasn't the most exciting hike we've ever been on, the mountain air was incredibly refreshing, the views were inspiring and the dogs had a great time. And really, that's all we were looking for anyway.

September 08, 2008

Grandma Schweighofer

Emma Schweighofer
November 5th, 1915 - August 27th, 2008

(The following was written by my cousin, Jennifer Gillard. I wanted to post it for a couple reasons. First, Jennifer did a wonderful job capturing the essence of Grandma Schwieghofer. Second, I consider this site to be a journal of sorts for my life and wanted to keep an online record of it. And third, because I felt that the world (or at least my little corner of the blogosphere world) should be able to share in the story of this incredible woman.)
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
When I volunteered to do the eulogy for Grandma I wondered, how would I sum up 92 years of the life of such a kind and graceful woman? I thought about the stories she told all of us and that seems like the best way to go.

Emma Schweighofer was born 92 years ago on November 5, 1915. She was the oldest of 8 kids and grew up in a home in St. Paul where German was spoken.

While Grandma was growing up the Great Depression was going on. Times were tough and Grandma told of having only one dress to wear. She had many collars and cuffs that she could change to make the best she could of her one dress.

On September 30, 1939, Emma Block became Emma Schweighofer when she married Raymond, that handsome, fun-loving man she met at a New Years Eve party five years before.

Together they had four children and created the legacy of family that would grow to include 15 grandchildren and 21 great-grandchildren.

Grandma would often look at the pictures of us lined up on her wall or at all of us gathered in person and she’d say, “Wow, just look at what we started…”

All of us have memories of Grandma and stories to tell. Many of us have come up with the same themes that remind us most of the woman she was.

Emma’s four kids, Jeanette, Maryterese, Mark and Diane remember her strength, her courage and her dignity. They say that with their mom, you always knew where the lines were. There were rules in Emma’s house and you respect those rules no matter what your age.

Rule #1 – Don’t come home late, lest you be met at the door by Emma in her nightgown with a clock in her hand.

Rule #2 – Stay in the yard where I can see you.

Rule #3 – Make your bed. Every day. And she always checked.

Rule #4 – On Saturday, everyone helped clean no matter how clean the house was because it had to be ready for Sunday.

Rule #5 – Never, ever talk back.

The four kids remember German phrases slipping in and out now and then like, “Avut!” which means watch yourself, you’re in trouble. The tone and volume of that word indicated just how much trouble you’d be in.

Growing up, Jeanette, Maryterese, Mark and Diane remember their mother’s strength in the fact that Grandpa was often gone working on the railroad, so she cared for both the children and the home while he was away.

Soon enough, the four kids grew up and the grandkids and great-grandkids started coming. We all were her pride and joy. I’d be willing to bet each one of us here is convinced we were the favorite – right?

Many of us have mentioned Grandma’s ability to focus in on you in any given moment and make you feel like you’re the most important person in the world. Through our childhoods, Grandma was always there – smiling. She would grin from ear to ear when she would watch us open a present or play an instrument or give her some creature or rock we picked up off the ground.

Grandma also took great pride in teaching us what she knew. Many of us pulled taffy or made noodles in her kitchen. She passed on recipes to her kids that they passed on to us and we will pass on to our kids.

We also learned from Grandma and Grandpa a profound love of nature. She encouraged us to go outside and do stuff – look at birds, grow a garden, go camping, and most of all go fishing.

She loved to fish and she loved to eat fish. Late in her life Grandma developed an allergy to fish and nearly every time I saw her she’d ask if I’d been fishing and she would say how much she loved a breaded sunfish on a piece of buttered bread.

In fact, I tried that yesterday with some of the fish we had just caught, and it’s pretty darn good!

Yesterday, Jeremy, Diane’s oldest son mentioned how when his family would go fishing when they got back Grandma would ask, “Who caught the biggest fish?” The winner got $2. Now, I’ve checked with some of my other cousins and none of us ever got $2. I guess Grandma reserved special treatment for the Zellars boys!

So, yes – Grandma taught us all to love nature and savor and enjoy each moment. On a trip to Colorado when I was 10 or 12, Grandma and Grandpa traveled with us in this giant RV. One day we were crossing the great continental divide, which is a steep stretch of road. The RV gave up the ghost there on the side of a mountain. Since this was before cell phones it was going to take a while before help came. I must have looked distressed or bored because Grandma went into the RV and came out with two lawn chairs for us and there we sat on the Continental Divide relishing the view and enjoying being stranded because we got to take in a scene you would normally race right by.

We are all grateful for that love and appreciation for nature that Grandma nurtured in each of us.

Grandma was also always a prepared Grandma. She always had some little candy treats tucked away in the glove box of the car or in a little dish in her home. My favorites were the Werther’s Originals I would sometimes get when I would ride home in their car after church.

Over the past few days I have heard many people remembering Grandma and the things that made her who she was. They all came up with the same things.

Dignity and Grace – Grandma was always dignified in her dealings with other people, especially as she aged. And she moved through her life with the grace of God.

She was strong, courageous and resilient. Grandma struggled for many years with her health, but she always remained courageous and held onto her quiet inner strength. She never gave up – not once. You may call that stubborn. Grandma was a good German! She called herself a tough old buzzard. When the doctor told Grandma a few months ago that one way to treat the infection in her leg was to cut it off, she told him that “if they’re gonna cut off my leg, I’m gonna eat fish till I croak!” Did I mention she was stubborn?

She also loved people and was so engaging that she drew people in. She smiled a lot and genuinely delighted in the joys of her family and her family of friends. She never complained or judged – she listened and encouraged with the belief that no matter what the trouble that “you can do it.”

Finally is her faith. Grandma’s faith could move mountains. She had a piece and serenity that came from her complete faith in God. She lived in hope that no matter how hard, things will always get better.

So here we are at the end of the story. Let us all remember the lessons Grandma taught us and let them guide and comfort us:

Lesson #1 – Be strong.

Lesson #2 – Have faith and the faith to be courageous.

Lesson #3 – Be dignified.

Lesson #4 – Smile – a lot. Especially when one of your kids, grandkids or great-grandkids show you something cool.

Lesson #5 – Be a good listener. Gather what you’ve heard and tell good stories.

Lesson #6 – Go outside as much as possible.

Lesson #7 – Always make your bed before you leave.

With that I say goodbye, Grandma. We love you so much and will miss you. And now that you have such a good view from heaven, we all promise to stay in the yard, right where you can see us.

September 07, 2008


Change is a funny thing. It happens all the time to all of us. Like the cliche' says, it's one of the only constants in life. Sometimes it's good, sometimes it's not so good. Sometimes, it's difficult to see how there could be any good during a particularly hard change. My family and I experienced a change, recently. It's the reason I haven't posted in a couple weeks.

I actually just got back from Minnesota. I'd like to say that the trip to the land of my birth was just for fun, but no. My grandmother passed away on August 27th, so I went home to be with family and help my mom a bit with all the arrangements.

Changes like this are inevitable, expected even. But it's never easy. What I tried to take away from this sorrowful event was the time I was able to spend with family members I hadn't seen in a long, long time. In fact, I think I got to see almost all of my extended family...I just wish it was under happier circumstances. So, in a way, aspects of this very unhappy change were filled with joy. The joy of coming together as a family to celebrate the life of one of the most amazing women I've ever known. The joy of spending a few short days laughing together, crying together, and strengthening the bonds that hold us together.

I promised some folks that I would post my cousin's eulogy on here, so you can look for that in the next couple of days. I think that it deserves a post of its own.

But for now, I did want to share some news that also relates to change. The kind of change that brings hope to myself and millions of others around the country and around the world. And it all has to do with two men, one of which we got to see today.

Guess who? I'll give you a hint. We weren't the only ones who showed up to see this person.

There were also these people.

And this guy. But he looks too friendly to make that hint useful, so here's another one of a different one of these guys.

Notice the glare he's giving me? Guess he either didn't like getting his picture taken or I just looked suspicious. Still can't figure it out?

One of these was hanging on the wall, too.

No, I didn't get to see the big cheese, himself (although if he ever comes to within a three hour drive of us, you can be darn tootin' that we WILL see him). But we did see the next best thing:

The next Vice President of the United States: Senator Joe Biden!

Yeah, he totally rocked. Said all the right things. Got the crowd jumping and cheering. He really is quite an incredible orator. All off the cuff, too. No teleprompters, no notes. Although he did comment at one point that he felt bad that his staff had prepared such a nice speech for him to give and he'd ignored it for the first 45 minutes.

Both of us were very impressed. Although, I suppose I should admit that there wasn't any doubt we would be. We weren't a very unbiased audience. But neither was anyone else, which made it even funner!