Readers of these intermittent dispatches will by now have become acquainted with a few central figures in my life. And while I’ve perhaps poured more ink waxing lyrical about Mowgli the Bernese Mountain Dog or gushing about my nephews and their superhero mom, my parents remain cardinal among the ranks of the company I keep.
Last week, their annual summer sojourn in western Montana marked their 20th since 2003, a measure of commitment that I don’t take for granted. At least, I try not to; in the early years, I surely did.
Accepting my reluctance to leave the mountains and return to my homeland of Minnesota at the height of summer, my makers began coming west to Montana, immersing themselves in a wilderness experience for one week every July or August. Although the filet of their visit was almost always a backpacking trip, even the so-called civilized environs they endured while visiting me in college were often more feral than those to which they were generally accustomed.
They slept on air mattresses and futons and endured houses crowded with roommates (and lacking even basic household necessities like coffee filters and toilet paper). They folded themselves into truck-tire innertubes and floated sections of river that were never as “lazy” as I promised. They attended barbecues and keg parties and entertained raucous twentysomethings with their stories and parlor tricks.
And when it was time to head into the mountains, they shouldered their backpacks and never complained when the route was longer and steeper than what I’d described. On one of those early trips, Mom caught her first trout on a dry fly, plucking it out of an alpine jewel of a lake on her first cast. On another trip celebrating my father’s 65th birthday, he climbed Daughter-of-the-Sun Mountain.
It’s been a cherished tradition for two decades, and while the geographic destination of their visits hasn’t changed much, the landscapes we traverse have shifted ever so slightly.
The backpacking excursions that once served as the centerpiece of their visits have been set aside in favor of day hikes, and even those were waylaid this year after my father fell and broke his rib as he deboarded the airplane. Again, he never complained, except to upbraid Mom and me for making him laugh while recounting a funny story from their trips of yesteryear.
Their visit was no less ambitious or adventurous, however, as we made our way from Trego to Two Medicine and Somers Beach to Smith Lake, snacking and swimming along the way.
On the first night of my parents’ visit, Flathead Beacon Editor-in-Chief Kellyn Brown hosted a pizza party and insisted they join. As dedicated Beacon readers, Mom and Dad knew every staff member by their beats and bylines, but this was their first opportunity to meet them in real time.
By the time we left the party, it was nearly 11 p.m., and all they could exclaim in their exhausted state was “what kind, intelligent people you work with.”
“You’ve really surrounded yourself with a wonderful group of people,” they said again as I unloaded their bags. “Just a lovely group of individuals.”
I agree. And if a man is known by the company he keeps, then I must be doing alright.
I’m already looking forward to next year’s visit.
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