Family Affair

…life is a journey and not a destination.
     Lynn H. Hough

My parents visited northwest Montana back in 2004, about eight months after Pat and I moved here. That visit didn't go as well as I'd hoped; Dad loved it here, Mom didn't. Montana's a big state, fourth largest in area in the U.S. after Alaska, California, and Texas. There's lots of distance between interesting places, and while much in that distance is beautiful and worth seeing, it still takes a long time to get anywhere, even at the completely ridiculous 80 mph (129 kmh) speed limit recently enacted by our legislature. Mom wasn't keen on the journey. To her only the destination mattered. When they left here to return home to Ohio, I knew they'd never return. (I've written here about my parents, first, in “ Fathers Day”, and again in “Moving On”.)

Over the years since, Pat and I have seen so many wonderful places in Montana, met some colorful people, and made the very best friends. I've often wished Dad could experience some of these places and meet some of these people. The artist in him would love spending more time here.

Soon after Mom died in 2015 Dad began talking about coming to Montana again. I thought it was just talk, something to say during my several visits to Ohio during that year. It had been one of difficult changes for him, losing the woman he'd been married to for 66 years, selling off his machine shop equipment, and leaving his home of nearly 50 years for a one-bedroom “senior living” apartment. To make up for all that his own health hadn't been great.

A Plan Takes Shape

Time passed as it insists on doing. Dad continued to talk of visiting. Having made the trip many times and knowing just how unpleasant air travel had become, I continued to be skeptical. Dad's mobility is limited. He moves slowly, and thanks to breathing difficulties has close to zero stamina. A damaged shoulder limits his use of one arm. Ever the optimist, Pat began thinking of ways he might make the trip. The logical option required that I travel to Ohio and then fly back to Montana with Dad. We'd have wheelchairs reserved at each connection to get him quickly from arrival to departure gates, we'd check his bag, and I'd be there to handle whatever carry-on bag he might have and any problems that might arise. At the end of his visit we'd repeat the trip in reverse. Expensive, time consuming, and thanks to TSA, the airlines ridiculous routings, and the enormous population of air travelers today, wholly unpleasant. But it'd get Dad here and back home, and in between we'd have a great time.

We had brief discussions about the best time to come. Brief because it's pretty obvious. Summer is crazy with tourist traffic. The parks are crowded, the town nearest our home becomes a traffic-clogged circus, summer hotel rates are expensive and rooms are impossible to reserve. Fall is lovely, but after the typical dry summer, wildfires are common, making conditions smokey and reducing visibility. Not great conditions for someone with breathing problems. Winter is winter, and while we love it, highway travel is sporadically challenging and park roads are closed. That leaves spring; we opted for late May, and hoped for good weather.

Then someone, I've no idea who, had the idea that my sister, who lives about 20 miles (32 km) from Dad, would accompany him. This seemed like a good idea; she'd never been here and, ready for a vacation, seemed eager to visit. Pat made arrangements for flights, and six months later Dad and sister were on their way.

Bison Range and Yellowstone

Rocks and stormy sky, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, U.S.

One of the very few photos I made during the Yellowstone trip: sunlit rocks and stormy sky.

The “plan” gave them a full day (Sunday) to rest from the trip. Since it rained most of the day, we hung out here at home, talked for hours, and had a great evening meal. The rain continued the next day, washing out a part of Going To The Sun Road in Glacier National Park, and washing out our plans to give a tour there. The following day we visited the National Bison Range and drove the loop road. We had a great day, with decent weather (drizzle had ended in the morning), lots of wildlife sightings, and plenty of photo opportunities. My sister filled the memory of her iPhone snapping pictures on this first outing of the visit! She'd have a lot of culling to do.

On Wednesday morning, which dawned clear and sunny, we left for Yellowstone National Park. We started our tour at West Yellowstone, a town Pat and I have avoided on our many trips to the park. But as a starting point for two-plus days in the park it worked out well enough. We made the obligatory stop to see Old Faithful; it's one of those things you just have to see, but once you have you wonder what all the fuss is about. Yellowstone is large, and while only a small percentage of it can be seen from a car, there are much more interesting things to see than Old Faithful. After a couple of hours there we moved on. We visited Mammoth and drove the Terrace Loop a couple of times. We toured the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. We drove through Hayden Valley, one of my favorite places in the park. My sister took many more photos with her phone, and each evening she'd cull the junk to make room for more pictures the next day. We did a lot of driving, but made many stops to see and photograph wildlife, geology, and scenery. Pat and I enjoyed our time as Yellowstone tour guides.

As we knew it would, the end of the trip came too soon. We left the park Friday afternoon, traveling from Gardner on the park's northern border to Belgrade, MT, the home of Bozeman's airport. We spent the night in Belgrade so my sister could catch a very early flight back to Ohio on Saturday morning. After making sure she got aboard as planned, Dad, Pat and I started the drive home. He'll be with us through the first week of June. Then he and I will fly to Ohio, where I'll spend a couple of days before returning home.


Wide-angle view of storm-damaged balsam

A family affair at Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

This visit so far has seen a few bumps in the road, but overall it's been wonderful. Since my sister left I've taken Dad to visit a couple of crumbling barns, which he's photographed and sketched. He's commented frequently about the beautiful scenery, the green hills and fields our abundant spring rains have brought, the snow-covered mountains, and much more that seems unusual to someone from the eastern U.S. As I write this, we've a few more days together here before Dad's visit ends.

The flights back to Ohio will be difficult for Dad (and for me!), and very long given the insane routing through Atlanta to get to Akron (OH) from northwest Montana. We'll get through that, and have great memories and stories to tell about these past couple of weeks. I made relatively few photos during this time, but I considered it a vacation for me, too; the time spent with Dad and my sister has been great fun. Dad made a number of sketches, some on-site, others from photos made with a point-and-shoot camera. I suspect there will be some new paintings coming based on those sketches. I look forward to seeing them.

We may or may not have had a destination, but this journey has been priceless.

May 2016