So here I am in Red Lodge, MT getting ready to climb into husband’s new pickup with him and my built-in-best friend and take the trek with a camper up Beartooth Pass and on into Yellowstone Park for our family reunion last week.
I was excited to set my eyes on the magnificent views of this intensely steep, stunning, rustic and dangerous highway, so although I may come across as graceful while captured in the air, I will tell you I stayed true to form and landed awkwardly on the ground only to limp my way across the parking lot as husband shook his head and told me to get in the pickup already, geesh.
So we got on with it, happy we finally made it this far after spending fourteen hours on what was scheduled to be a six hour route.
But before we go much further I have to say that the open road, big sky, crisp air, home in my rearview mirror, family next to me and more waiting ahead made me more grateful than ever to be alive.
That and the fact that sometimes in the middle of your grand plans interrupted by flat tires and small deer that fly out of the ditch to dent your new ride, life hands you a deep breath, a close call, a reality check to make you say a silent prayer to whatever you believe in for perfect timing, that damn flat tire and another day to live in this magnificent world.
Because as we climbed up the pass that day, our eyes focused on the snow capped mountains and the cold blue lakes pooled at their feet…
as we stopped to pick up an ambitious young man who was attempting to roller-ski up the pass and talked to him about his life full of adventure and challenge, as we counted yellow wildflowers and inched closer to the peak, our thoughts were with the man we found laying on the interstate the night before.
The man who, just moments before we found him, was celebrating a beautiful summer evening on the back of his motorcycle. A man who appeared before us a pile of broken flesh, bone and steel alongside the road as the sun sunk down over the horizon– a perfectly uneventful, every day drive, stopped short by an unexpected twist of fate and timing.
We could have been miles ahead of him, long gone and safe in our campsite by the time the man’s motorcycle made contact with the deer in his path, violently sending his body hurling toward the cool, rough pavement on the shoulder of the interstate.
We could have missed the entire thing and not thought twice as we made our way through winding highways, forest, flowers and mountain streams calling to us quietly.
Or we could have been a moment too soon, laughing as we told stories of good times spent together. We could have glanced over at one another just long enough to miss the headlight blinking in the middle of the interstate, to miss husband’s chance to slow his pickup down enough to maneuver through the lifeless deer, the dented bike and the broken man.
We could have been telling a different story entirely.
But no. We are telling this one. The one of our pickup parked safely along the road, the 911 call, the run to the nearest mile-marker, a cloth held to the man’s wounded head while he sucked in the Montana air and recounted his birthday. The one where kind-hearted and capable travelers stopping to help work through it, to direct traffic, to talk to him and tell him everything was going to be ok.
The one where the man was broken but alive.
The one where we were shaken but alright.
The one where we moved on to stand at the brink of a waterfall,
to sing around a campfire and climb a mountain,
to feel the steam of a geyser on our hot faces, the cool-down of the star-lit night and a prayer for a stranger on our lips.
We awoke the next morning to a stream bubbling by our campsite, little man laughing next to us and the mountains reaching toward a crisp, clear sky.
I couldn’t help but notice my senses were heightened, my heart more present, my body positioned closer to the family beside me.
And so we went into the mountains this way, all of us feeling more alive and grateful.
We laughed louder.
Saw more clearly
Took more time
Held our breath and found more patience to exist in an another day…
because we were reminded it is nothing but a gift.
Thank you family for bringing us all together here, for letting me hold your babies, for climbing that mountain with me, for cooking me a s’more and some chicken, for making sure we were all together as Old Faithful was erupting…
and holding on tight as I held on tight too.
Thank you for existing, in this masterpiece with me.