Showing off Carbon County is one of my favorite things to do and this past week I had a couple opportunities to be a tour guide once again. Visits from my family, except for my sons, is a rarity in our clan and I can count on one hand the number of family members that have ever come to see me. In my family's defense, I have to admit that I have moved quite a bit and I am not sure how many of them even have my current address.
Nonetheless on Friday my aunt and uncle from St. Ignatius, Mont. drove down to spend a few days. It was a wonderful opportunity to share with them my home, office and the beautiful county I live and work in. I took them to the museums, drove through the countryside, showed them Nine Mile Canyon and spent one incredible evening on the Tavaputs Plateau. We watched the sun rise Saturday morning over Desolation Canyon from 10,000 feet above Carbon's desert floor. As we drove through the high country we saw hundreds of colorful flowers that speckle the meadows and valleys. We marveled at the deer, elk and baby sage grouse.
This is the aunt and uncle that helped raise me from age 15 after I left Canada to finish my high school education in Montana. My aunt taught first grade for over 40 years and was always a strong advocate of a good education. When she realized the state of our family in Canada and the school system that I had been attending, she was instrumental in transferring me down to her district so I could continue my education. In many ways I followed her footsteps, attending the same college she did and ultimately graduating with a degree in elementary education like her.
But more than the education I learned so much from living with their family (as well as with my grandparents) who ranched across the road in the beautiful Mission Valley in Western Montana.
It had been the first time in my life, that I had in effect, a father and a mother. Although I did have an incredible biological mother who taught me much about hard work, determination and perserverance, she had to work 15 hours a day keeping us fed and the farm struggling on. If I was wasn't working beside her I didn't see her and there were only a few times I saw my father in the first 15 years of my life.
So in many ways my life in the outside world began at 15 and seeing them this weekend brought back so many memories.
It was with them that I learned how to fish in Lake Mary Ronan, spending hours on their boat and walking up and down Post Creek trying to angle for trout. Having never fished before I remember tangling up the lines many times and my uncle patiently helping me understand what not to do when fly fishing with other anglers.
It was in Western Montana that I learned to appreciate hiking and camping. I learned to love the cool mountain air and the smell of freshly brewed coffee from the campfire.
It was with my aunt and uncle that I learned how to hunt elk and deer in the valleys of the Jocho range and the Bob Marshall wilderness.
I remember the picnics we had at the National Bison Range near Moise. As a young teenager I still remember looking at the famous "white buffalo" in awe. It was year's later that I realized its significance to the native Americans.
Being my first real sense of a family I look back and understand how it impacted me as I headed off to college, marriage and a career.
We joked this weekend about the day my aunt turned 30 and how I thought she was over the hill. I realize now she hadn't even seen the hill at that young age, but to a 15 year old boy 30 is getting up there.
As a first grade teacher I was there to watch my aunt make lesson plans and correct papers. I remember listening to her read to her young son, who was four or five years old. They sat by the hour and read.
My uncle was an incredible story teller and I remember him reminiscing about his boyhood in northern Montana in the early 1920s, ranching, rodeoing and learning the lessons that would help him out the rest of his life.
Even though I am not extremely close to many family members back in Canada I do value my aunt and uncle and feel so fortunate that they have been part of my life for almost 40 years.