The sky. Our world. Tied by a thousand strings to sandbags disguised as evergreens and boulders, the Clark Fork River, gravel bars and fishermen drilling holes in frozen lakes. We had journeyed six hundred miles from the southern center of Montana to the last town in Idaho before British Columbia starts. What does it take to hold us steady, what keeps our sky from blowing away?
The details differ for each of us—what might happen in our day to threaten what we’ve known to be for sure. In my life, enough had happened in the past month that a trip to Bonners Ferry became the answer to restoring my daughter to whole. And so, we packed our back-up mittens and threw ourselves into a road trip that passed through an old Irish mining town where the best food in town is Italian (with veal raviolis served to the tune of Oh, Danny Boy.)
Ask my daughter the route: There is where Grandpa George worked at the smelter, and that is where Grandma Great lived in the abandoned sawmill camp, and there is where the first redmitten was born. And here is where we turned that one time to follow the Blackfoot where cliffs were made for jumping, and here is where we came that other time to visit my son during his loneliest internship. There—the river with the best skipper stones; the spring with the most welcome taste. And now the mountain and its winding grade and eight-foot high snowbanks. Two does pausing on the road’s shoulder as though to let us pass.
And came the white lime sky, the weathered majesty of Rocky Mountain peaks. We were so lucky to be from this country. No, no. To be of this land, together on clear mountain roads in the middle of February with the Clark Fork crossing out path fourteen times. One way.
On the return trip, a flash of yellow caught my eye: A raft bobbing in the shallows and a fisherman casting upstream. With snow banking the river easily four feet deep, you wouldn’t want to be swept away. But no worries, as we drove past him, I turned to watch as long as I could, squinting to see he was anchored to a stand of drift on a gravel bar leading to a trail through a barren aspen grove. Leading, no doubt, to a sort of sandbag tied to a corner of big sky.
Photo taken with my camera phone, through Ernest’s side window.