December 18-21, 2012
Cris and I made a promise to each other a couple years ago. When we decided to move back to Iowa, we promised not to let a calendar year pass without returning to Whitefish for a visit. That town and our friends there mean a lot, and even though life has carried us away for now we still want to maintain a connection to the community. We upheld that pledge in 2010 and 2011, and our hope had been to take a trip up there this past summer. However, time never allowed. Instead, we opted to postpone things until December, knowing we would be going out to California for Christmas anyway. Sure, it would mean taking the scenic route to an extreme, but when it comes to Whitefish, we’ll take what we can get.
Unfortunately this stay was limited to just three days, but we made the most of it. We spent an afternoon in Glacier National Park, where world famous Going-to-the-Sun road is gated off, left unplowed, and used as a popular cross country ski and snowshoe route. Cris doesn’t ski or snowboard, so snowshoeing in the park used to be one of our favorite shared winter activities, and thus a must-do on this return. It was great to get back out there, but a communication breakdown did provide us a little wakeup call.
After hiking a couple miles along the road, we crossed McDonald Creek, and turned back to return through the woods. We stopped for a snack break, and Cris decided to start hiking again while I lingered taking pictures. Long story short, the trail soon split and she took one fork while I took another. Both segments led back to the road, but some tense moments unfolded when I got there and she was nowhere to be found. I waited for fifteen minutes, but she didn’t appear. It was about an hour before dark, and idiotically I’d carried the lone pack with all of our warm clothes and survival gear.
As the clock ticked, my mind began to race. She’d fallen and gotten hurt… She’d come to another trail junction and was heading the wrong way… She’d encountered a mountain lion, or even a winter bear… Growing more concerned by the minute I finally kicked a message in the snow and rushed back into the woods. I ran all the way to the trail junction, following the path I’d taken, then circled again to the road on the trail I realized she’d followed. Stumbling back to the clearing exhausted after the jaunt, I found my angry wife. She was unaware that I’d already been out of the woods (she hadn’t seen my message) and was fuming that I’d “taken so long.” My only response was to reach out and hug her, happy to find her safe. It was another case of trying to shake off the rust, I suppose, but we both knew better than to put ourselves in such a position.
Our second day was spent Christmas shopping downtown, and on the third I went snowboarding. I must confess, I felt out of place standing in line to purchase a lift ticket. I’ve never had to do that here before. I’ve never been here in the winter without a season pass, or without being a lifty for that matter. It was worth it to get back up on the hill and cruise around, though. I got to see some old friends, though still many others I missed. The snow was awesome and the fog… well it wouldn’t be Big Mountain without the fog. And of course, I couldn’t let the afternoon pass without paying a visit to Jesus.
The Jesus statue on Big Mountain is a favorite of (most) locals and visitors alike, regardless of convictions. It was placed near the top of historic Chair 2 in the 1950’s, inspired by World War II veterans who had witnessed similar shrines while on active duty in Europe. The majority of the ski resort, including Jesus’ haunt, actually sits on national forest land, so the Knights of Columbus council that commissioned the statue got a special use permit from the forest service allowing its placement here overlooking the Flathead Valley. Of course in the 1950’s this wasn’t a problem, but in more recent times an atheist group advocating the separation of church and state has tried to raise a stink.
Here’s a recent New York Times story with more. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/25/us/in-montana-jesus-statue-is-focus-of-legal-battle.html?_r=0
I, like most people, find this whole controversy pretty ridiculous; and my opinion has nothing to do with religion or constitutional rights. The statue is part of the mountain’s culture. It has historical significance that, specific to this situation, outweighs religious symbolism. Like the article says, people make plans to “meet at Jesus.” It’s a landmark, an attraction. When I took a run over to visit, there was a line of people waiting for photo ops. The statue brings a lot of people joy, and it would be a shame to let it become a casualty of some political debate. I don’t think it will if the locals have anything to say about it, but who knows in this day and age.
Other than that, our time in the ‘fish went by too fast. The days were spent getting our Montana fix, cramming in as many of our favorite activities as we could; and nights were spent hanging out with our friend Bill, patronizing select restaurants and bars downtown.
Before we were ready it was time to leave, but we didn’t get ten miles back down Highway 93 before we started strategizing our return for 2013.