He’s baaaaaaaaack!

Our third and last kid just finished his mission. Alex was first, then Kyra, and now Zaque. Two years and a week after leaving for Oklahoma, he flew into the Salt Lake City airport. Mom always gets the first hug.

Kyra was pretty thrilled to see her little brother, too.

Although it’s been good to have intermittent communication with him throughout his mission, it’s always better to see him in person. He’s still the same fun-loving guy (who takes after his dad) we sent away a couple of years ago.

He’s also a smidge taller, and although it’s close, I may have to admit he has a half-inch on me.

We had a great weekend together. He settled into his new digs: an apartment two blocks from Kyra’s, where he’s rooming with his best friend from high school (also a missionary who returned a few months ago) and four other gents. He bought my Civic, which was our excuse for buying a Tesla a few months ago, and we took care of the fun stuff like title and registration. I took him to Walmart so he could stock up on groceries and other college necessities, and we unloaded a couple bins of stuff he’d been storing at our house since he left.

It wasn’t long before he settled into some old habits, like video games with his brother.

End of the line, Elder! He’s taller, wiser, and maturer than he was when he left. And I’m excited to see what comes next for this fine lad.

Le artiste

While visiting Thom and Katie, I was treated to a whole stack of artwork from Sefton. Apparently at four years old, he’s found his passion in drawing, and he literally goes through page after page (from a ream of paper on his little art desk) with scribbles and drawings and messages. It’s fun to have him describe his works. For example, here’s one he gave me after his dad and I returned from our backpacking trip:

He told me the yellow line with the little yellow dots is a beach with sand, and of course the blue line at the bottom is a lake (Thom and I had told him we were going to be camping beside a lake). The grey circles are rocks along the shoreline, and the yellow man is throwing one of the rocks into the lake– hence the curved lines showing its trajectory, and the splash of blue. There are also two trees, one of which (in the center) has a spider in his web. The red blobs in the sky are clouds, which naturally turn red near sunset, especially from the recent smoke in the area. The little M’s are birds, as every child artist knows. I asked him if he’d sign his work in the lower right corner, so I’d know who drew it, but he just laughed uproariously as he signed his name in the upper left corner. Katie says he’s going through a bit of a contrarian phase, so any time you ask him for something, he’ll sort of give it to you, but not in the way you ask. He thinks it’s hilarious.

So yeah, it’s fun to have a budding artist in the family. I’m not quite sure what Thom and Katie are going to do with the literally hundreds of drawings he’s made for them, but this one is just for me.

Back to the Cascades

Another year, another fall backpacking trip with Thom. This annual tradition stretches back into the mists of history, and it’s always a good time. This year we went to a place called Ice Lake, up in the North Cascades. Since I have commitments to seminary and the high-school debate team that’ll keep me pretty busy in October (the usual time we head out), we pushed up our trip to mid-September. That meant the weather was gorgeous for hiking.

One thing I love about the Cascades– and I’m sure Thom will back me up on this– is how the mountains are everywhere. They tower over you on the trail, they pop up at every turn, and they stretch off into the distance.

Although it was too early for the larch to be turning, the heather was a brilliant fiery red.

Let me say something about the trail. Our campsite was about eight miles into the backcountry, and the first mile of the trail was quite pleasant. We walked along the mostly level path through the forest, chatting about Thom’s new business idea. And then the trail started to angle upward. And that continued for… well, the remaining seven miles. Imagine, if you will, climbing stairs. Now imagine the stairs are either so dusty you literally slide down them while throwing up big clouds, or so rocky you have to pick your way along as the rocks slip beneath your feet. Got it? Now, imagine that for seven miles.

Thom is an accomplished mountaineer, so this was just a walk in the park. And although I’m an accomplished hiker, the trails I frequent are typically pretty flat. This uphill stuff kicked my butt. And then kicked a bunch of clouds of dust in my face, just for good measure.

So, yeah, it was a tough climb to our campsite. The advantage of a crazy trail like this, though, is that you get the whole place to yourself. Once we reached Ice Lake and set up our tent, we saw that no one was around… probably for miles.

The lake was a brilliant blue, with hints of green from glacial meltwater. Up close, the water is crystal clear. Beautiful.

As we did a day hike around the area, I was reminded of why I love the Cascades. What a view!

Since it’s autumn, the weather is always dicey, and sure enough, our hike back out was done in a steady 45-degree cold rain. Despite the crushing hike up, and the cold rain down, it was a grand time. I love this tradition and already look forward to another trip with Thom in a year.

I can’t hear you

One of the big stories of the 2020 (err, 2021) Olympics was Simone Biles’ withdrawal from the gymnastics competition. Widely regarded as one of the greatest gymnasts of all time, everyone was shocked when she bowed out for personal reasons. The vitriol was quick and plentiful. Her response, a few weeks later, is pure gold.

“This Olympics doesn’t erase the past accomplishments I’ve achieved, nor does it define who I am as an athlete. [To my detractors] keep talking, because I can’t hear you over my 7 Olympic medals.”

Well said, Simone. Well said.

Thrice in a week

Today marked the third time we were in Glacier in seven days. We had already done a few of the “classic” hikes, so we figured we’d go to the Many Glacier area for a change of scenery. Well, the weather was pretty cold and grey, and as we arrived at the entrance gate we learned that it was completely packed… the rangers weren’t allowing more cars into that area of the park. They suggested we turn around and park alongside the road and wait for a few hours until they could open it up to traffic again. A few hours? Nah. Glacier is big, so we decided we’d just go back to the “main” park and see some things we hadn’t on our previous visits.

We started with St. Mary Lake, which is always a treat.

The sky remained grey, which doesn’t make for thrilling photos, but at least it was warming up.

Since Pepper and her sister hadn’t seen St. Mary Falls, Virginia Falls, and all the falls in between, we agreed to hike that trail again.

I took some more waterfall shots; although they were the same falls as last week’s hike, I did my best to capture some different angles.

My sweetheart looks great beside a waterfall!

As the day waned, we all agreed it had been great to be in Glacier all these times. It never gets old. Also, we had dinner at my favorite pizza place on our way home all three days. You can’t go wrong with that.

Again with the Glacier thing

It was another gorgeous day, so of course we headed northeast to Glacier. Our first target was Avalanche Lake. The parking area for the trailhead is notorious for overcrowding, so we’d need a miracle to find a spot. Well, miracles happen and we scored a nice spot. We really enjoyed the trail. It’s a great hike: not too short, not too long, not too steep. And the view at the end is amazing.

After some lunch at the lake and a leisurely hike back out, we trucked up to Logan Pass for a jaunt down the Highline Trail. Naturally we had to take a picture along the crazy cliff, hundreds of feet above the highway:

We went a few miles along the Highline before turning around. We weren’t equipped for the full 13 miles, and the ladies were getting hungry. We figured we’d be back in a few days anyway…

Everything is huge

One of the many things that’s striking about Glacier National Park is how huge everything feels. The views of the mountains and the valleys are inspiring because they seem to stretch into the sky and off into the distance. Amazing stuff.

So many waterfalls

Today I spent the day with my brother-in-law Dave hiking around Glacier. We decided to hit some waterfalls, which means I decided to continue practicing my long-exposure photography. It was a lot of fun to capture all the different falls, with all the different lighting, in hopes of getting some nice “flowing” effects. Here’s what I ended up shooting:

So much water! It was surprising to see all of these falls so late in the season. And for good measure, here’s a shot of the crystal-clear glacial water that’s so amazing with the colorful rock bed: