06 August 2007
And I was watching you from above long after life there is love…
Headlights on a Texas Road
Hank Williams on the radio
a church wedding, they spent all they had
now the deal is done to become mom and dad
And I was watching you
long after life
there is love
See those little girls dressed like china dolls
all for one, then one by one they fall
high on a hill where the world passes by
you never came back but I know you tried
Cause I was watching you
when it all falls apart
there is love
All these years to prove how much I care
I didn’t know it, but you were always there
until September when you slipped away
in the middle of my life
on the longest day
now I hear you say
I’ll be watching you
cause long after life
there is love…
Baby, I’ll be watching you
‘cause long after life
there is love.
There is nothing I could possibly say about this Rosanne Cash song - “I Was Watching You” from her latest release Black Cadillac - other than that it is one of the most perfect songs I’ve ever heard and it may have saved my life last week. www.rosannecash.com
24 July I hopped on a plane to Calgary where Abby was picking me up after driving to Minneapolis to see a childhood friend. Our trip was somewhat last minute in the grand scheme of things. She called me while I was in Connecticut in June and asked if I’d be up for a Western road and camping trip that would encompass god knows where but I needed to get a flight to somewhere north of Yellowstone National Park. Cool, I said – but if we’re going out that way can we hit Jackson Hole, Wyoming so I can finally see where my parents got married and the place that was the inspiration for a song on NUMB? Yeah, we’ll make it work, she said. Fine. Done – I’ll book a flight as soon as I get back to Los Angeles.
On that fine Tuesday evening two weeks ago Abby, after traveling for a week on her own, picked me up in Calgary and after a brief stopover for dinner in a grocery store parking lot, we headed up to Banff. I was so excited I couldn’t contain myself. Finally, Banff – a childhood dream realized. It did not disappoint as we pulled up to the gate an hour later and then half an hour later or so found our camping site. It was truly amazing and while we set up camp I think we were both pinching ourselves thinking – we’re finally here amongst these very tall trees, this beautiful sky and darkness that doesn’t come until after 10.30p! WOW!!!
The next day we packed up and headed north to Lake Louise (a glacial lake within Banff) – we drove the long way after an amazing breakfast at a Chalet and took in the glacial rivers, tall trees and winding roads with the VW Cabrio’s top down (aptly named Hamish by me and my ‘sister’ Suzanne on a road trip to Santa Barbara when she visited from Scotland last summer). After a hike around the lake and many attempts on my part to keep my feet in the lake for more than 10 seconds we grabbed some ice cream and around 2.30p headed south on Route 2 out of Alberta and into the States.
Our goal was to get to Glacier National Park, which is partly in Alberta and mostly in Montana. We wanted to enter in Montana because Abby has a National Park Pass that we weren’t sure would be accepted at the Canadian entrance (and at $44 a night to camp in Canada we were wanting to save some cash). We arrived shortly after 9p only to be told that the campgrounds were full at this, the eastern side of the park, and that the nearest site within the park was a mere 50 miles west, through the mountains, more glacial runoff and narrow, narrow roads. If we’re lucky, we were told, it should only take about 2 hours. Ok – lets go for it…the sun was beginning to set, and we would want to drive through the park anyway at some point so why not, as a deeply existentialist soul, have a reason to do it? We’ll simply get up and head back east in the morning, see the part of the park we missed in the dark and set up camp closer to the road that would take us to Yellowstone Park (Route 89 if you want to map it) and have the rest of the day to see another part of the park.
At 11p we set up camp for the night – after a shot of Vodka Surprise (a vodka and juice mix started when we went camping on Catalina Island over four years ago that we have never let run out and have added to for every trip we’ve taken) which had been cooled by me standing under glacial runoff holding the cooler while Abby and billy goat laughed, we settled in for the night surrounded by RV’s and more tall trees.
The next morning, Thursday, after the 50 mile ride east we got to another campground by 11a – we were told to get there early to secure a spot - even with some construction traffic to rebuild the main road within the park we arrived early enough to get a site. We set up camp and then got back in the car to go up to Twin Glaciers a part of park that was about 20 miles away, and worth the drive.
We stopped at a little store – did a little shopping and then headed to a lakeside chalet that promised boat rentals by the hour and if we were brave – we could swim anywhere we wanted to dock the boat on the lake that, yes, was fed by glacial runoff - my favourite term of this piece. After 2 ½ days of traveling, some very hot weather, and some lonely stretches of highway we were both ready for a swim. We hopped in a row boat – I paddled my heart out as if I was a kid again escorting my family around Griers Ferry Lake in Arkansas where my grandparents had a lake house, and we found a quiet little spot, took off our clothes to our skivvies and jumped in. EXHILERATING!!!!!!!!
That night we built a fire, had some vittles, and we were joined by some neighbouring campers from Michigan who were traveling around the west with their Vespa’s heading to/from a conference all the while kayaking and seeing some of their favourite National Parks. It was cool talking to other people, getting advice and being reminded of that time in life when car camping felt like more of a community and less of a nod of acknowledgement (I later realized that this was more about camping in California, and not about how ‘times have changed’).
Friday morning it was time to pack up and head to Yellowstone Park where we had reservations for 2 nights at Bridge Bay Campground. We knew it would be a long day anywhere from five to seven hours in the car down route 89. Having never been to Montana I was excited to take this drive. Yes – we avoided the fires that have now set that part of the world ablaze. We were lucky, that’s for sure.
Around 5p we got to the main gate of Yellowstone. WOW! I was so excited and despite the 100 degree heat jumped out and took a ton of pictures of the gate and the surrounding town. We had a ways to go before getting to the campground but it was so cool driving through the park, encountering bison, and generally just being in Yellowstone.
All in all we spent two days there, we saw Old Faithful, walked within feet of a bison that was near our camp site and Saturday evening took a swim in Yellowstone Lake – the highest altitude lake in the world. That was amazing, I have to say, and while everyone advised us it would be too cold (we’re from New England - have you ever swam off the coast of Maine? I replied) after four and half days without a shower and only one swim we needed a bath. It was a little chilly – but it was also one of the most incredibly beautiful swims I’ve ever taken. I highly recommend that if you ever get to Yellowstone you take a dip in the lake.
That night we sat under that stars, built a fire, cooked some food and drank some local beer. It was our mission on this trip to taste as many different kinds of local brews as can be consumed by two small girls who aren’t capable of drinking more than a couple in a night. YUM!! Everything we tasted was well worth the time we spent seeking it out and buying ice for the very small cooler we had packed. Word of advice : anything you buy that comes from Montana, or Wyoming will be tasty; there’s something in that glacial water that makes a fine brew.
Sunday the 29th it was time to pack up and continue down Route 89 and essentially start the drive home, but not without driving through the Grand Tetons and stopping in Jackson Hole. As we drove into town we pulled around a corner and found a parking spot in front of The Wort Hotel. I turned to Abby and said “wouldn’t it be cool if this was the building my parents got married in? But I’m sure it isn’t because I think there were married at Town Hall”.
We got out – basically ran to the famous antlers where my dad proposed to my mother, and I called him. Without saying a word he knew where we were despite not having spoken to him in days because of non existent cell phone coverage. I think I started to cry while we were on the phone and he told me how he proposed and how three days later they were married at The Wort Hotel. Yes - the very same place that we pulled up in front of to park. I had no idea. I’m guessing someone was guiding my way to that street and that place and was glad I was there.
After walking around town and debating about whether to camp in the heat for another night or treat ourselves to a hotel, we found a great little place called The Sundance Inn, around the corner from The Wort (they were booked or we would have stayed there). After grabbing our stuff and carrying it up this old, narrow spiral staircase we settled into a nice little suite with a patio that overlooked the mountain that my parents woke up seeing every day that summer of 1963.
We had ourselves a great night, I cried more tears and pictured my mother – the woman my dad said was the most beautiful woman in all of Wyoming - she looked like Natalie Wood so I’m guessing he was right – walking around and beginning her life with my father. Another life long dream fulfilled. Though I never found the cabin they lived in at the base of the mountain (most likely replaced by a bigger house) I did walk those streets, and I did feel my mother’s presence. Thankfully much of the town is how they left it as was evidenced by the clearly older buildings and houses that still stand.
Monday around Noon it was time to head out and start the sojourn back to Los Angeles. By this time we were both ready to get back and I think for both of us, the trip was ‘over’ when we left Jackson Hole. The rest of the trip would be utilitarian driving and occasional stopping to fill our bellies and stretch our legs. One more night and we’d be home in time for dinner.
After Monday night in ‘Deliverence, Nevada’ we got up early and hit the road. Great! We’ll be back by around 4.30 at this pace and we’ll have the evening to chill out before life goes back to normal reality.
Hmmm….not so fast. It was around 12.30p – we had just driven through Idaho, more miles of mountainous deserted highway where the ‘nearest gas’ is 140 miles away – and we had to stop for construction a mere 4 or 5 miles from the California border. Ok – not so bad, a minor delay and even though it’s over 100 degrees out here in god’s country we’re still closer to home – only 280 miles to go. Just after we stopped, Rosanne Cash’s song “I Was Watching You” came on my ipod on random play. The song has always made me think of my mother, of course, so I naturally weeped a tear or two than had a sinking feeling. Oh my god, something’s going to go wrong, I thought, I panicked, I imagined the worst and on this our last day of travel we might not make it home. After a few moments I calmed down and started to breathe again. Whatever happens, the song says, I’ll be watching you. I knew then we would be ok.
Half an hour later we were allowed to pass behind a convoy truck that led us through the construction site. We were on a hill, I went to step on the brakes to slow down and they weren’t entirely there. Holy shit! What now? We’re 70 miles from the nearest town, we don’t have any brake fluid, if that’s even the problem, and how the hell are we going to make it that far? We did. In fact, after a 2 hour layover in Bishop, California and a diagnosis from a local mechanic (Hamish’s rear brake disc was cracked and was leaking fluid – they didn’t have the part) Abby took the wheel and guided us safely, if not gingerly, back home. We were OK. We were back in one piece and yes, clearly someone was watching over us.
Despite the headache of that last day it was an amazing trip. One day I want to get back to Jackson Hole for more than 24 hours, and I would love to spend more time in Banff and Glacier National Park. Every moment was priceless and worth the hours on the road with Hamish – the toughest little car on the highway.
Thanks for tuning in…Until next Monday….CHEERS!!