The Weekend in Kalispell, Montana

… and an important afterword about Conrad and the Space Shuttle

Conrad and Dawn’s place.  We’re way up high.  Heading to the top, way up and toward the right, is just the suggestion of Conrad and Dawn’s home.  After our forty hour train trip, Lin and I finally arrived at their place well after 3:00 a.m., so none of this was clear to me until morning.

Lin made sure I woke up to this view …right from my bedroom window.

They’ve built this wonderful “All Montanan” home.

On a clear day, these spectacular mountains are visible to the north and east in the direction of Glacier National Park.

Conrad and Dawn’s driveway!   A great place for an afternoon walk to the mailbox, two and a half miles down!   With plenty of deer and elk tracks in sight – cougar, bear, and wolves are nearby. How close? Way too close for me: I’ve seen Dawn’s photo of the cougar lurking around the garage.

Conrad’s new requirement for clearing the road; do not let Bill see this machine!

Dawn’s searching for a recipe for gluten-free cinnamon bread. We all pitched in to cook some wonderful meals.  Every day she spoiled us with fresh-out-of-the-oven cinnamon bread.

Conrad’s cooking antelope. (More on that later.) Without question, Conrad’s grilled antelope tenderloin was the absolute best wild game dinner I’ve ever had. And his “man camp” hunting stories were especially flavorful.

The baby blanket is almost done. A good day’s project, Lin helped Dawn set up the baby’s room and get the gift registry stocked with all the “essentials”.  One evening we saw photo albums and videos from Conrad and Dawn’s wilderness adventures on their (how many inch?) new HD LCD (whatever) flat screen TV: fly in rafting in the Bob Marshall Wilderness with grizzly mama and her cubs tagging along, a way-primitive camping trip in Death Valley – where a Unimog guided them back out, and many rafting trips right near home at Glacier.

Remote wireless:  It could have been any of these things:  ordering Conrad’s Baby Bjorn in camo, googling the Mission Mountain Wood Band, adding The Cowboy Junkies’ Trinity Session to my IPod, blogging lesson number one, still searching for a gluten-free cinnamon bread recipe, checking if the Amtrak Empire Builder was back in service, or customizing Conrad’s dream Unimog.

My turn to cook. Hardly hungry, but does anyone want ziti with eggplant & sausage?

Ruthless Montana Settlers. Last night there, deep into the game of Settlers, Conrad and Dawn are shrewdly bargaining for wood, wheat, sheep, and ore, building roads and amassing all kinds of real estate.  Just as Lin and I were getting the hang of the game, dinner was ready, but not before we lost handily to these twenty-first-century Montana settlers. Dawn’s black bean soup and cornbread were delicious.

Does anyone need the bathtub tonight?  We had to leave early the next morning, and Conrad and Dawn were getting back to their January chores. They were set to process the six antelope (from man-camp) to sausage and burger with friends coming in from Eureka.  This image won’t make it past the lifestyle editors of HGTV, but trust me; their bathroom is a Design on a Dime showcase – that is, without an antelope carcass in the claw foot tub!

Cheers to Conrad and Dawn, and thanks for a great visit!   Is that a bowl of your homemade ice cream?   

An Afterword: Conrad and the Space Shuttle

In the month of November in 1984, Conrad was just five years old, and I was twenty-nine (he’s thirty now).  I had just retreated from my three-year venture to Montana, more or less surrendering to my failure, totally broke, and starting over back in New York.  Lin (his mom and my sister) was my anchor, and she provided me a home until I could get back on my feet. So Conrad and I hung out quite a bit back then.  I remember his endless energy, and I can see him how – in constant motion, always up, over, on top of, over the back of, or under any chair or table, never still. 

During that month the Space Shuttle Discovery was launched, completed its mission, returned to the earth’s orbit, and landed safely.  All of this was covered in great detail on TV.  One day, Conrad and I we were “hanging out” on the couch, and Conrad wondered: “Aunt ‘Chele, do you think you’ll ever go to the moon?” 

Even though I was thirteen years old when the first moon walk occurred and its images were broadcast into every home, the thought of traveling in space never ever crossed my mind.  So to Conrad’s question, I simply replied, “I don’t think so”.  But I didn’t want to discourage the limitless sense of possibility in a preschooler’s imagination, so I quickly followed up with a question: “Do you think you will?

Thoughtfully, he said: “I’d like to.” 

Now at age 30, Conrad has never lost that sense of possibility or boundless energy. During my visit with him in Montana, it was a joy to see how this has led him to so many accomplishments, whether it’s guiding and surviving in the wilderness, building a home on top of a mountain, teaching Shakespeare to troubled youth, or – as of today’s post – being a first-time father.    

I heard the stories of how he tackled home building on a mountain. After a day of hard work, he’d check his reference books and read up on the next steps, learning what he needed to know, sometimes – literally – one day at a time. On the last day of our visit, Conrad and Dawn were taking us to the train station at 6:00 a.m.  Just in time to climb into the truck with the rest of us, Dawn – fully seven months pregnant – had just rolled out of bed, dressed quickly, and slipped into her flip-flops. (She’s a Floridian, but, geez, it was January in Montana!)  Along the way, we were poking good-natured fun at her. Conrad mused about their new life, soon with a baby, and he said, “I think I’ll just have to be the logistics coordinator.”

Conrad is so well grounded right here on earth, but I know he’ll keep dreaming. Who knows? Someday, before it’s all over, he may get to drive his new (or used) Unimog on the moon.  

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