As you may know, I am spending a few months in the dormancy of winter, working on a book. And, like last year at this time, I am offering my blog to you. Last year we looked into our Breaking Points and found community and grace in grief and vulnerability. This year we are looking into our past, and finding the weaving of community that stitches us to our present. I will be posting these pieces at These Here Hills. Their authors will be happy to receive and respond to your comments. Here is the blog post I wrote about this subject.
Contest submissions closed. Winner will receive a scholarship to one of my upcoming Haven writing retreats in Montana, announced mid-February…
Now I am further stepping into the wilderness of Montana and the wilderness of writing. If you’d like to create haven for your creativity…come to a Haven Writing Retreat here in Montana. June, August, and September retreats are now booking and filling fast. Email me for more info: Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com
Loving the mountains as I do, and being a transplant as well, this piece spoke majesty to me. Thank you, Elsbeth Chambers and fellow Montanan! yrs. Laura
The Mountains, by Elspeth Chambers
“The mountains! The mountains! We greet them with a song!” So goes an old college song, the college that my husband attended in fact. But it wasn’t until I wrote my first attempt at this essay that I came to realize how mountains run through my life like the proverbial silken thread.
In the summer of 1930, shortly before his 17th birthday, my father arrived in Alberta and began a love affair with the Rocky Mountains. He had been born in a country vicarage in England, the fifth of six children, and arrived in Canada with a group of boys all eager to experience the openness and opportunity of life on the Canadian prairie. Maybe an older brother’s departure less than a year earlier to work on a rubber plantation in Malaya had inspired him to travel west, I do not know. My father wanted to farm – in one of his early diaries he had written “I think I shall be a farmer when I grow up” – and went to work for a farmer in southern Alberta. But life took one of those unexpected turns, and after realizing that the life of a farmer was, after all, not for him, he crossed the Rockies to attend university in Vancouver, and later became ordained, like his father, grandfather, and many great grandfathers before him. For the next decade he crisscrossed the Rockies as he ministered to parishioners in Alberta and British Columbia during the difficult times of the Depression and World War II.
After the War my father traveled back to England to visit his family, who had miraculously all survived, including the brother in Malaya who had spent the war incarcerated by the Japanese. In those post-war days of shortages and rationing my father had to wait several months for a passage back to Canada, and took the offer of temporary assistant to a clergyman friend in southwest London. On one of his first Sundays there a beautiful young woman caught his eye, and once again life took one of those unexpected turns. Within a year they were married, and my grandparents begged them to stay in England a while longer. This was before the days of mass air travel, when crossing the Atlantic was done by sea, and the thought of their daughter living and raising their grandchildren half way round the world was more than they could bear.
So my father took a parish in England, and I too was born in a country vicarage. A quarter of a century would elapse before my father took my mother to see his beloved Rocky Mountains, but he returned to them often in his dreams, and my brother and I were raised on romantic stories of his life there. His stories, visits from my uncle, now coffee farming in Kenya, and pen-pal correspondence with a cousin whose mother had followed my father to Canada, inspired in me a wanderlust, and I knew that when I grew up I wanted to travel and see the world. I found a career that would take me to far-away places, and I can still remember, as I traveled to my first post, flying by the Himalayas at dawn, and looking carefully at all the rosy peaks so I knew I would have seen Mt Everest, even if I wasn’t sure which peak it was! A year or two later I found myself based in the foothills of the Himalayas. Each summer groups of climbers would appear and set off to conquer some of the world’s tallest mountains. I met and got to know men who had climbed Mt. Everest, and listened to their tales.
Eventually my career brought me to the United States, and here life began to repeat itself, for a few months after I started attending a church in Washington, D.C., a good-looking man caught my eye. A few months later he took me to his college town, and, standing on a New England mountaintop, asked me to marry him. (My brother also proposed to his wife on top of a mountain, though that was in Switzerland.) Unlike my grandparents so many years before, my parents were accustomed to transatlantic air travel and were more than happy to take advantage of having a reason to fly across the “pond”. Visits to Washington D.C. were invariably combined with tours of the western United States and, of course, the Canadian Rockies.
With the new millennium came our family’s decision to leave Washington D.C. We considered several places in different parts of the country, but Montana tugged at us. My husband had spent summers at a summer camp in the Bitterroots, a Rocky Mountain range in southwest Montana. Like so many before us, we liked the idea of the openness and opportunity provided by Big Sky country; we sold our house, bundled the children into that modern day version of the covered wagon, the minivan, and headed west. We made a ceremonial visit to the Gateway Arch in St Louis, and followed routes taken by the early pioneers. We built a house in a valley in northwestern Montana, 300 feet above the valley floor. From our deck, on a clear day, we can see mountains for a hundred miles.
Sadly, by the time we moved here, my father was too frail to travel to visit us (my mother had died a few years earlier) although he still returned to the Rockies in his dreams. But he was happy to know that his daughter was living and raising his grandchildren in his beloved Rocky Mountains, and he loved to see my photographs and hear me describe the mountains to him in our Sunday telephone conversations. I think we both felt that in some way I had completed the circle and, half a century after he left Canada, I had come home for him.
“The mountains! The mountains! We greet them with a song”