A Digital Shoebox of Memories

It was my twin daughters’ birthday, not mine, but as it turns out I also received a gift

By Rob Breeding

I was rummaging through old photos the other day. Actually, I’m not sure rummaging is still the right word as the photos were digital. Instead, I was scrolling through old photos as I pieced together an album to celebrate my twin daughters’ birthday.

The photos are a treasure trove of memory prompts. I see an old image and I connect with that moment. And fortunately with my kids, most of those old photos show us in the outdoors somewhere, doing something fun.

Family treks began even before the girls were walking. Maybe our earliest excursion came in the pre-toddler days when their mother and I loaded the twins up in backpack baby carriers and set off on the Blodgett Canyon Trail in the Bitterroot. It was just an up-and-back day hike, but we covered a lot of ground. All four of us were pooped by the time we made it back to our house in Hamilton.

Once the girls were steady on their feet, afternoon walks became routine. We walked along the Bitterroot River, where we usually ran into white-tailed deer, pheasant and all kinds of waterfowl.

Later, as our family began a pattern of fairly frequent relocations (journalism and the military are similar in this regard, I suppose) we took the outdoor-walk habit with us. In Flagstaff, Arizona, the girls and I took daily walks on the mesa near our home. Deer, mulies in this case, were common. And we occasionally spotted tiny Coues whitetail, a Mexican subspecies that’s not much larger than a big Labrador retriever.

That’s also where I learned that our after-school walks might not have been as safe as I’d assumed. I tended to let the girls run about, while I meditated as I walked, using the time in nature to decompress from a long day in the newsroom. That laissez-faire approach ended the day we spotted a mountain lion on our walk, just a couple hundred yards from our house.

I was never again quite as carefree when we walked. From that day forward, I assumed we were being watched whenever we were out on the mesa.

The girls and I continued our walking tradition until about the time we moved to Kalispell. By then the kids were at an age when wandering about in nature with a parent wasn’t considered cool. The photo record reflects that. Images of afternoon walks on the mesa are replaced by shots from the river, usually with trout. Soon after our family settled in Kalispell, the afternoon walk was replaced by the weekend float on the Middle Fork.

Each time I look at one of those old photos, I remember something about that trip — sometimes it’s something I hadn’t recalled since I was originally in the moment. I’m fortunate to have this digital history, and maybe more importantly, that so much of my life with my kids took place outside, in Montana or in other Western states where we lived. I’m also fortunate that my kids loved the outdoors as much as I do, so I never had to twist an arm or call parental rank to force them to join me in an adventure.

That’s one of the things that makes living in this part of the world so wonderful. Nature is our backyard. When we need to recharge, there’s always a place close by.

It was the twins’ birthday, not mine, but as it turns out I also received a gift: a photo album reminder of how good it is to live in a place as wonderful as Montana.

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