The chill from yesterday has solidified into a more intense cold today morning. In fact, when we drive out towards Glacier National Park, the whole world seems intimidated by it, crouching down to evade the fog. Suddenly we come upon a slash of green in all the gray: it's the McDonald Falls! We scamper out to look at a fairy-tale pool of the most intense jewel green beneath some foamy cascades. No-one else is there, and this is ours for the moment.
Then we begin the climb up the famed Going to the Sun Road. We have no hope of seeing anything at all though, because even as we begin, the fog has thickened devilishly. The mountain peaks remain mockingly blurred; when we stop at a somewhat-clear overlook to take a picture it rolls up thickly, racing to defeat our view. We still take a few pictures, huddled together while J keeps a tight hold on my arm to prevent me from being blown off altogether: The wind has teeth here. My eyes water, my hair is whipped wildly, and I can see not an inch of the turquoise-blue lake and the sharp majestic peaks. They must be mere rumors.
Some time later the fog relents somewhat and allows us a glimpse of another lake, this one vast and dark; it looks like a twin of Loch Ness a continent away. There is no doubt that there is an ancient Nessie living down there in its depths. Still, all this weather seems just. We are, after all, at the mercy of the mountain gods. I recall legends of their harshness from the highest ranges in the world close to the Indian border; one is known as the Savage Mountain, another named after a harvest goddess; a third is worshiped by the local people. It is difficult to imagine that we ever overcame our fear and awe of the mountain; for instance, we are here today just because we wanted to come. It seems almost callous. I look down into the dark lake and the teeth of the mountain just visible high above, and feel spoiled.
South, however, is where we head. We spend the day driving lazily through Montana. The sky does seem inexplicably large here, thrown over much golden rolling landscape dotted with circular hay bales and many horse farms. Once, we spot a large deer, dithering, one leg raised, by the side of the road as we approach. It stays there; when I look back, it crosses confidently. Postcards are flashing past us on both sides. A single red barn in a field of gold; two chestnut horses standing together, motionless. Bunches of deer with white bottoms. A herd of cows drinking in unison from a stream. We roll through some tiny settlements, abandoned. Even the For Sale signs have gathered rust.
A few hours of this dream-scape and we arrive at our stop for tonight: Livingston, MT. It's a brick and mountain little thing, generously splashed with old-timey charm. I spot one ice-cream and soda place called The Mint, calling to mind my father-in-law's stories from when he grew up in the 1950s. Indeed, people are hanging out here; there is a burger place, a vintage-looking hotel, a general store, all with folks who are clearly used to doing just this with each other. No one drives a car, only trucks. We get some rather frank but friendly appraising looks as we drive by. California license plates are not an everyday sight around here, clearly. J and I realize that Livingston has given us what Missoula, yesterday, didn't: the opposite of self-consciousness, the solid feel of old brick buildings, stores selling only what is required...no polish anywhere, just mountain, sky and town. Are we romanticizing things? Most probably we are. But for now, we are happy. We walk around, parking surreptitiously as we can behind a dark building.
The sun is low in the sky as I sit on a worn wooden bench outside a glass store window that says "Western Americana". I feel as far away from anything as I've ever felt, and wish for a pair of cowboy boots.