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Monday, December 28, 2015

Beaumont, Texas and Grandma Jane

Jane Walles, 88 years old.
On the pages of this blog, I present a certain side of myself. My outdoor adventures and travel are a primary focus, but I also try to bring my inner-world into the mix. I've heard the criticism, particularly from people of my generation, that those of us who use social media (facebook, blogs, etc.) present a biased image of ourselves to the world. It's hard to argue against that point-of-view. This blog, for example, is much more of an affirmation of certain aspects of who I am than it is a balanced picture. In my defense, a blog that presented such a balanced picture would be boring at best. That said, if I broaden my definition of adventure to encompass those experiences of life that force me to dig deep and look within, perhaps I can write interestingly about more things. 

In that vein, one of the most challenging responsibilities that I have right now is overseeing (with the help of others) the care of my grandmother, who is 88 and bed-ridden in a nursing home in Beaumont, Texas. It's a difficult situation on a number of fronts. First and foremost, she lives so far away, and to see her requires a long trip: a round-trip flight from MSO to Houston plus a round-trip drive from Houston to Beaumont. Second, my father was her only child, and he is no longer with us, so Kadin and I are her closest remaining relatives. As such, she remains eager to see us both, and so we each have been visiting her twice per year (I just returned from a visit). In fact, it seems that she's merged Kadin, my dad, and I into one person. Which brings me to the last thing: she has dementia and so the visits are unpredictable and sometimes difficult.

A brief biography: Jane was born and raised in Miles City, Montana. Her father, William Leavitt, was a lawyer and Montana State legislator. He hailed from the East, got his law degree at U. Michigan, and drew straws with his best friend in law school to see who would take which of two jobs: one in Montana and one in New Mexico. Amazing to think that I wouldn't be writing this today if those straws were drawn differently! Jane's mother Emily, on the other hand, was born and raised in Miles City. Jane had many fascinating stories of growing up in Miles City in the 30's and 40's, some of which involved (literally) cowboys and Indians. After some years of college, she married my grandfather Barney in her early 20's and soon after had my father Scott. Barney and Jane raised my father in Billings, and then after Dad left for college, they moved to Texas, so that Barney could join in a business partnership with his brother Blythe. Within a few years after they had moved, Barney was murdered. Jane decided to stay in Texas until the shooter was found, which never happened. However she eventually ended up meeting her second husband Homer, a true character and southerner to the bone, and with whom she was with until he died five (or so) years ago. While I was growing up in Butte, Jane would visit Montana once a year, for two weeks. I always greatly looked forward to those visits, as she would bring presents, and we would always go out for at least one fancy steak dinner. However, she was really there to see my father: they would spend most of her visit smoking, talking, drinking cocktails in the evening, and playing cribbage. In an amazingly tragic coincidence, my father was also murdered in 1999, so Jane has seen a lot of tragedy in her life. However, she is also the most resilient person I know. Giving up is not in her make-up: she is a fighter and a survivor, right up to today. 

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Staying Close to Home: Charity Peak and University Mountain

On top of Charity Peak with Pudge closing his eyes into the wind and the Missions as a backdrop.
The end of the fall semester is always a challenging time for me. A frenetic late-summer and fall leads to November's dark, cold, and slow. By the time the end of the semester is at hand, it never fails that I find myself dragging, both physically and mentally. Perhaps it's true that we need these ebbs and flows, but the ebbs are still a challenge. I'm currently reading a biography of Montaigne, who wrote the famous 'Essays' in the 1500's. He would say to strive to stay even and not let the highs or the lows take you with them. This is a Buddhist tenet as well and is sound advice that I strive to follow, but getting out for a few hours on a sunny day sure helps. 

On my birthday, December 5th, I went for a hike and summitted Charity Peak, which is the big mound just to the west of Evaro. To get there, at the top of Evaro Hill, Highway 93 turns slowly left at the Evaro town site and the northbound two-lane turns to a single lane. At this point you'll take a near-immediate left, and the road you'll be on goes pretty high up onto the flanks of Charity Peak. Drive as far as you like and hike the remainder. I started at around 4500 feet. See my GPS route here.
The Charity Peak summit cairn.
The Mission Mountains from Chairty Peak.
Pudge and the Rattlesnake.
Then on the 15th, after a hectic morning of meetings to end what was a hectic semester, and before catching an evening flight to Las Vegas for work, I hiked University Mountain, which is about three hours round trip from the UM campus. I love this hike in winter, as you can get real solitude within a 1.5 hour walk from the edge of town. After two days in Vegas, it's on to Texas to visit my grandmother, who lives in a nursing home in Beaumont. I'll return on the 21st. After the clear cold air I breathed on University Mountain, I feel ready for the trip.
University Mountain, near the summit.

Pudge and the Missoula Valley on the way back down.
Again on the way down, Pudge and Mt. Sentinel.