By Sammi Johnson

The warmth of flat rocks, baked by midsummer sun, on my feet is interrupted by the shock of glacier water, electrifying my very existence and letting me know I’m alive. Yet, it’s a somewhat subtle feeling compared to the setting, which is anything but subtle. Pillars of rocks arc into intricate cathedrals, cutting through a dramatic landscape of plants and animals. There’s wind, always wind, but that’s the deal. All of it, including the gusts, qualifies my place, my roots, my reasons for being here. I’m a guest, merely watching and breathing and taking it all in from the sidelines.

For me, the east side of Glacier National Park is unlike anywhere in the world, for very good reason. It’s almost unbelievable.

Spring merging into summer, with the monsoon of June, signals literal chaos for our family. This is when my dear husband spends most of his time on the east side working for the Glacier Park Boat Company. The wheels are off. He’s the operations manager and that title requires many hats, as we all tend to wear, but his work is very far away and mine is very much here, on the west side. So he is gone, hence the dinners of yogurt eaten over the sink with chardonnay at 10:30 p.m., which occur all too often.

But his job gives him an early-bird showcase of the east side that the rest of the family also gets to enjoy when we visit him. Opening up the housing and prepping sleepy wooden boats after an arctic freeze requires plenty of grit and a little magic. The park is absolutely alive with weather, wildlife, surprises, misses and homeruns. We feel special being there early, leaving late and relishing in that opportunity. My children are comfortable with us there – it’s big and full of adventure.

It’s important to share this with them, because for us it’s the reason we’re in Northwest Montana. Having started out with this same company right after high school, it wasn’t me who stayed, but Ty. His photos, experiences and stories run deep, as with many seasoned parkies, and that magic and appreciation is crucial for us as parents. It’s our story, our place, and that’s our gift to our kids.

Know the dirt, feel it under your fingernails, get your breath taken away by adrenaline and let the wind fill your lungs back up with mountain air. We preach those messages to them, hoping the messages become their own.

But we find amazement in the backyard, too, not just Glacier. It doesn’t take dramatic drives, hectic hikes or cold water to discover our sense of place and root deeply in it. Worms on the sidewalk after a storm, a simple garden, a calling male pheasant and eagles flying above us on the west side are pure magic for our kids right now. And it’s still amazing for us, too. We’re so lucky to call this place home – west side, east side, all sides. The air, animals and our village are what make this place. Our “sense” of place is where the blood runs, the adrenaline lives and the gratitude grows. Appreciate it, take care of your health, look after others, and the rest follows.

Thank you summertime, Glacier National Park, and all of the wild places, near and far and yet to be discovered. We’re ready for the late nights, early mornings, chaotic scramblings; the beauty, the busy and the rest. It doesn’t last long, but those minutes are the reasons we never leave.