By Ramona Flightner/ @ramonaflightner
As anyone who reads my blog knows, I love to be outside in nature, especially in Montana. I love escaping crowds, disappearing into the woods, removed from civilization and my everyday worries. I always thought that people who were afraid of the woods would not venture into them. I was proven wrong this summer on my hike to a beautiful, mountain lake in the Bitterroots.
I sat at the lake, relishing peace and tranquility as I stared at the lake and Trapper Peak. I watched the crystal clear lake waters, seeing the fish zoom around as they searched for food. They would play with my fly, but wouldn’t strike, so I sat, giving thanks for such a moment.
The words “peace” and “tranquility” became distant memories as a family of four and their dog trampled up to the lake. One son screamed, “There’s people here!” and I glanced around to see who else he was referring to. I realized he meant me. Soon, the two young sons began screaming at each other, threatening to push each other into the frigid waters with their dad egging them on. Their voices echoed off the granite walls, drowning out all sounds of nature. I gave my small, impersonal Montana smile- the one that says hello, but doesn’t encourage interaction- inwardly grimacing, and wondered how long they’d stay.
At my smile, they wandered over and began to chat. I learned they were from the East, vacationing in Montana for a week and hoped to hike to the top of Trapper Peak that day. As I tried to gently dissuade them of that notion, (it was already past 2 pm and they didn’t seem the most intrepid of hikers), I noticed the father carrying an automatic rifle. He informed me that he had not been able to buy a handgun due to state regulations, so he had bought the rifle instead to protect his dog against any wild animals that might attack. But not to worry- it wasn’t loaded. I wondered how he thought he would protect his family or dog while he loaded the gun. Then, I gave thanks that it was unloaded as I would hate for them to hear my brother and sister-in-law, who were further up the trail, in the woods and mistake them for wild animals.
Soon, they were peppering me with questions about my safety in the woods. What had I brought to stay safe? Wasn’t I afraid of bears? What would happen if the “bad” wolves attacked? Or a mountain lion?
I barely stifled a laugh as I answered their questions, although nothing I said alleviated their fears. They seemed dumbfounded that I had nothing. When I tried to explain to them that this was not grizzly territory, so I was not inclined to bring bear spray, the wife continued to talk about the “bad wolves.”
Someone had done a good job of terrifying them and they would not feel safe without their rifle and two cans of bear spray. Unfortunately, the mom had mislaid one of the cans and would not relax until she had found it. She and a son went to look for it a ways down the trail, but the son wouldn’t go unless they carried the gun. I again wondered what good it would do since it wasn’t loaded.
In the meantime, the dad stood leaning against a rock slapping his leg every few seconds as the horseflies nibbled on him. I offered him my bug spray, but he declined. “You know, that’s how the Viet Cong smelled the Americans in ‘Nam,” he said. What that had to do with the Bitterroots in 2013, I don’t know, but I just nodded, thankful the horseflies had decided on him for lunch rather than me.
Finally, they packed up to continue their hike. As they were leaving, the mom exclaimed about there being a clothesline hanging from one of the trees. I shook my head at her ignorance, but had given up trying to explain things. It was a rope to hang your food from at night out of reach of the bears, away from a campsite. I wished them a good hike, hopeful they were not foolish enough to attempt the hike to Trapper Peak.
After they circled the lake and disappeared, their voices slowly faded and I could again hear the birds calling, appreciate the gentle wind on my face, and hear the sound as a fish rose. I sighed, marveling at their fortitude to venture into a wilderness that terrified them. Then I frowned as I mentally reprimanded the Montanan who had enjoyed scaring them and making money off of their foolishness. Finally, I laughed, because they were memorable and unexpected visitors as I sat contemplating the beauty of the lake.