Confession In Glacier National Park
Any time you’re dining with a stranger who suddenly clears his throat, lowers his voice and whispers, “I have a confession,” you sit up and pay attention.
Is this a serial killer? A pervert? An assassin sent by political enemies back in Virginia Beach?
Wait. I’m getting ahead of myself.
This story actually began last week when my sister-in-law and I finished a hike of Glacier National Park’s Highline Trail. It’s the only route in that 1 million-acre park that I swore I would never attempt.
A chunk of that trail runs along a steep, narrow ledge covered in loose rock. Worse, it’s hundreds of feet off the ground. Sure, there’s a plastic rope strung along the limestone wall, but photos of that high-wire act have always made me a little queasy.
Fact is, I’m clumsy. And I have size 10 feet. I looked at pictures of that cliff and figured I’d trip over my Sasquatch-sized hiking boots and plummet to my death, leaving the national park clean-up crew to wonder what someone my age was doing up there.
JoAnne, my sister-in-law, is fearless and nimble. She’d seen the same images I had and was itching to try it.
“I’ll do it,” I said, finally. “But I may turn back.”
Well, I didn’t quit and I never looked down. When it was over, the chilly weather and a massive adrenalin rush left me wanting just one thing:
Next thing I knew we were ensconced in a bar sipping huckleberry margaritas. And Moscow mules. And wine.
This saloon featured a cozy fireplace and on that evening a musician from Washington DC was playing the fiddle for tired hikers while his girlfriend accompanied him on the concertina.
JoAnne and I lingered by the hearth for several hours where we met folks from all over the country. Including one nice guy from Portland - a dead ringer for John Lithgow, I thought - who was waiting for his 30-something son to return from a hike.
We engaged in tipsy small talk and waved to his ruggedly handsome offspring when he finally arrived.
I wasn’t thinking about our barroom acquaintances the next morning when JoAnne and I headed by boat to hike up to the Grinnell Glacier. And I wasn’t thinking about them seven hours later when we collapsed onto the wooden vessel for the return trip and noticed that fellow from Portland on board.
We chatted with him briefly as we gathered up our hiking gear. JoAnne and I were famished and headed for dinner in an adjacent hotel. As we started to walk away, I had a thought.
“You can join us if you like,” I said impulsively.
And he did.
He said his name was Mark. He was a retired house painter from Portland. He’d driven to the park with his son earlier in the week and they planned to head home the next day.
As JoAnne and I methodically worked our way through a bowl of dinner rolls, we told him about ourselves and our close encounter with a grizzly that afternoon.
Appetizers arrived and suddenly Mark put down his fork.
“I have a confession,” he began.
We both stopped in mid-bite.
“I’m a right-wing columnist.”
“So am I!” I exclaimed, delighted to meet a like-minded person and relieved he wasn’t going to kill us.
“I’m a liberal,” JoAnne said with a grin.
Turns out we were dining with Mark Ellis, a columnist with PJ Media, the popular conservative news and commentary site. Just before Donald Trump’s inauguration, Rush Limbaugh spent an entire hour on Mark’s timely column, “How to Talk Trump With Your Terrified Progressive Adult Children."
Mark’s a talented writer who’s penned scores of thoughtful pieces.
But, like many conservatives these days, he’s careful to keep his political leanings to himself when he meets people. Folks often flee when they learn that they’re in the company of a conservative, he said.
I admitted I’m similarly careful around new people.
Over a shared slab of carrot cake the three of us reminisced about the days when liberals and conservatives respected each other. And when right-leaning opinion writers didn’t have to pretend to be harmless retirees to make new friends.