Friday, September 9, 2011

Living The Big Sky Life: In The Beginning, There Was Light

Right about the time the summer solstice was serving up its annual offering on the longest day of the year 1992, I found myself becoming irrationally upset when the evening skies had the nerve to go dark at 11pm, thereby forcing me to throw down the gardening trowel and call it a night.

No matter that it was a good hour past the town’s nightly curfew alarm. After living in Whitefish for only three weeks, I’d already grown deaf to the screeching 10pm ritual of that firehouse curfew alarm. I’d also grown greedily accustomed to the longer days my new northern latitude made possible.

A definite perk in my opinion. Of all things Montana, I think the long days of summer were my favorite thing. Those extra hours of daylight always had a pleasant way of giving me the illusion that I had more time at my disposal. Frankly, all it took was one winter consisting of seven interminable months of sun deprivation and long freezing nights that began around four o’clock in the afternoon to convince me that the extended summer sunlight was THE highlight of big sky country - Northern Lights notwithstanding.

It was the first of July, and five weeks into my big sky life, when I got a phone call from my mother who was staying in Salmon, Idaho. She had just finished up a white water rafting expedition down the middle fork of the Salmon River, and wanted to pop over to Montana for a visit – her first visit to big sky country. We decided that I’d make the 150 mile drive south from Whitefish to Missoula to pick her up at the entrance of the Missoula Mall where her rafting group would drop her off on their way through town.

Even in those days before every commoner had a cell phone or any efficient way of communicating while en route, it never crossed her mind that I wouldn’t show up, let alone have a problem finding her in a city that I’d never been to before. Her group wasn’t so confident and kindly waited with her until I arrived. They were visibly impressed when I drove right up to her as if by some kind of mother-to-offspring osmosis. And on time I might add. Only to turn right around and make the two and half hour drive back to Whitefish, and we still had eight more hours of daylight left to while away in the middle of a heat wave.

I learned early on that getting to Whitefish was never very easy, even in the best of seasons. Glacier Park International Airport in Kalispell was the only Flathead Valley option when it came to air travel, and there were just two airlines (Delta and Alaska Airlines) offering regularly scheduled flights that primarily included one departure in the early morning and one arrival at midnight. Basically, first out - last in, and a Delta Salt Lake City layover always sandwiched in between. Kalispell’s airport had the bad habit of getting fogged in like a San Francisco wannabe, which created frequent landing challenges for those midnight arrivals. When this occurred, Delta’s preferred resolution was to land its planes in Missoula, transfer all passengers and luggage onto several large tour buses, and bus everyone up to the airport in Kalispell. ETA was usually about 3:30am.

Although this happened to me the very first time I flew up to Whitefish pre-move, my mother got to know the routine pretty well in the four years that followed. Fortunately she was a seasoned traveler who took detours in stride. I recall her especially enjoying the one midnight bus ride she had with John Lithgow sitting across the aisle from her. Lithgow had a home in the area and was often spotted around the valley, so that same trip also saw her running into him again at the movie theater in the Mountain Mall.

The 4th of July fireworks celebration around Whitefish Lake that year seemed to be another one of my mother’s standout moments (she still talks about it), even though the show didn’t start until dusk, nigh 10pm. She seemed to like the way everyone casually meandered up to City Beach with their lawn chairs in hand to socialize and partake in the celebration of our nation's independence with a choreographed fireworks extravaganza launched from a barge anchored out on the lake.

I later realized how lucky she was to have actually witnessed the fireworks display on the day of the 4th since apparently it wasn’t uncommon for the show to be postponed to the 5th whenever nature's lightning storms insisted on blowing the man-made light show out of the water. Violent thunder showers on Independence Day had a way of dampening patriotic spirits with the prospect of getting struck by lightning, hail, and any other 'Henny Penny' deluge that might fall from a tumultuous Rocky Mountain sky in July.

To Be Continued ... “Dragging Out The Dusk

Living The Big Sky LifeTM
© by DK King

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