Sunday, October 19, 2008

Cultural Exchange along the Continental Divide

A few summers ago, I found myself traveling through Glacier National Park in Montana. Spectacular.
To experience the beauty of the place more intimately, I stopped at the summit for a hike out to
'Hidden Lake'. The park being a big tourist draw, there were a wide range of people in
various degrees of readiness for hiking on a slippery trail covered in snow under unpredictable skies. On this trip I was travelling by motorcycle so cargo space was at a premium. Still, I had planned in advance on a hike in Glacier so I made the space to take along hiking boots, a weather jacket and a good pole.
The beauty of the place was overwhelming and for some, so was the terrain.
As the trail became more demanding, the less prepared/motivated turned back leaving only
the true believers seeking the Hidden Lake promise. At the lake, we, the self-chosen few,
were treated to the sight of a baby mountain goat that chose to linger.
Cameras clicked (mine included !) The kid eventually got bored of stardom and
deftly descended the steep mountain face below us.. Ah, the kid functioning in its
natural environment ! During the hike back, a cloud moved in and showered upon us, the chosen few.
To my mind, this added a dimension of 'roughing it'. Overcome adversity with resolve we would.
In front of me is an Indian family. Father, mother, daughters, son, all decked out in city gear.
No boots, shells or poles here. We're all gingerly picking our way along the snowed in hillside
together. A slip here, a slip there and steep drop off inches to our right.
The Father looks at me and I confirm the mutual fear we both share of losing our footing
and falling down the side of the mountain. We steel ourselves and press on.
I have it easier actually. I have only myself to worry about.
He has the added personal concern for his family on his shoulders.
Some time passes and we hear loud yelling behind us. 'Oh Gawd', I think,
'Someone's gone over the side' ! The father turns around and I see the bewilderment on his face,
mouth agape..
expression frozen.

I turn around to face the situation. A family behind us
is having the time of their lives sliding down the steep snowy mountain side on their butts,
shrieking with delight at the sensation.
The Indian father smiles, shakes his head and says to me:
'You know, I was afraid for my life back there.
Just look at them jumping off the side of the mountain like that !
This is *their* environment and we're foreigners here !'

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