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Her Montana Spirit laughs in the breezes of the Bitterroot Range

It never fails. You could almost count on a full blown fiasco when the circus came to town! “Oh for crying out loud!” Mom would often exclaim as we would wheel up in front of her apartment building in our little green sport van. “You know, I sometimes think that I really need to bring along a big red floppy wig, my big floppy clown shoes and a big red clown nose to go places with all of you.”

We sat in stunned silence for a moment, wondering what on earth she could possibly be getting at as we shoved a kid and a dog over on the seat to make a space for her. Just then our three legged dog Sam, jumped out the van door, and took off headlong for a bush. One of the kids jumped out the back door to race after Sam, and I jumped out the front door to race around the van chasing the dog and the kid to catch them and get them back in.

Mom just cracked up as only a quiet, reserved person could, her eyes rolling, and that knowing smile crossing her thin face. “See...., where is my red wig and nose?” she laughed. “Just like being in a Keystone Cops movie, everywhere we go!” she went on.

At that, everyone cracked up, the laughter rolling as those in the van watched me chasing down Sam and Robbie, racing about the yard. “Ohhhhhh too funny,” they laughed as I loaded Sam back in the van. Another delightful spring day, and the little troop, Grandma in tow, were searching for spring birds at Lee Metcalf Wildlife Area.

How precious those times were at the moment we didn’t know, spending almost every weekend with Mom, knowing at any point she could opt out on living. She had faced down the cancer scare a couple years earlier. Her praying - or meditating was fairly continual, seeking for her Diety, God to give her strength, and the Dr. pronounced her in remission.

Small wonder that when we hit the trails with her, she savored every speck of beauty, every scent of pine, the flicker of a bird through the trees. She so focused on them, treasuring their every move, every peep as they busied themselves looking for food. You could see in her eyes that every scene, every wild flower and bird was exquisite. We knew that she was short timing it for this plane of existence, and captured every single fragrance, every chirp, every petal of a wild flower, wanting to take them with her.

Though confounded and often exhausted by us, she enjoyed the circus too! Mom never passed up opportunities with the traveling circus to get way up in the Montana mountains. A favorite was our lookout viewing point around three thousand feet below Little St. Joe Peak, with a cliff drop off right next to it. This perfect parklike picnic spot offers incredible views down into Bass Creek canyon, the cliffs across from us, and a sweeping panoramic view out across the entire Bitterroot Valley. We picnicked there often with Mom when the kids were little, settled in camp chairs perched near the cliff overlook, enjoying the mountain mists playing across the Bitterroot Range peaks.

To get there that bright, sunny, somber day in July, we followed the switchback dirt road #1136 past the Charles Waters Recreation Area and Bass Creek Campground, between Florence and Stevensville, Montana. The road up onto the bench below the peak, hits a fairly well marked trail from the parking towards Little St. Joseph Peak. That beautiful July day we made a pilgrimage trek up to that ridge and hit that trail, Mom’s ashes in a backpack. The big transition to another plane of existence with the Dieties had hit her a couple months before as a heart valve replacement surgery had gone awry.

It could have been fairly straightforward, a quiet, somber occasion full of remembrance and reflection in the high mountain glory. So, in spirit no doubt, Mom took one last jaunt with the little traveling circus as the five of us and two dogs fumbled and stumbled and thrashed about up the trail. The trail leads to an absolutely exquisite mountain ridge spot, high up on a cliff overlooking the splendor of Bass Creek, and the neighboring mountains and ridges of the Bitterroot Range.

But then, the dogs took off racing about, the kids struggled with the raggedy trail that first leads down a steep slope and then heads up the next ridge, so steep the kids literally crawled up the hill. My little lady got ticked at me and the kids for any number of foibles, and general chaos - the chaos of the traveling circus ensued. Finally topping that glorious ridge, children crawling up the last few feet, we stepped out onto the rocks above the cliff. Of course, Buffy, our more senile cockapoo, headed right out onto the cliff, not a clue where she was. We snagged her back just before she would back right off the cliff to her own demise.

By that point, we were overheated, tired, dusty, and perturbed by the less than reflective prevailing attitude. Gathering Mom’s ashes and stepping to the cliffs edge, I called upon our Cosmic Companion’s blessings, uttering those loving, life enduring statements. With everyone finally pausing in their chaos, we somberly opened the container releasing Mom’s ashed remains - to the breezes high above Bass Creek. Unexpectedly, those wonderful mountain breezes were an updraft at the moment. Mom’s ashes took flight, and to our stunned surprise we promptly found ourselves dumped in the fine powder of her remains.

True to the chaos of Mom’s little traveling circus - Mom had the last laugh! We look back to that occasion and laugh, picturing her quietly chuckling, asking why we didn’t bring the clown wigs, floppy shoes and red clown noses. To our amazement the event concluded in laughter, and we then settled in at one of Mom’s favorite motels down in Hamilton. The kids reveled in the pool, and my wife and I settled in lawn chairs treasuring the event and the sunset over the Bitterroot Range. When you get a chance, you really should pin down a room for youself at, and enjoy the treasures and grow your own memories in that wonderful area for yourself!

About the Author: As web designer and owner of the Montana Receration Connection and Western States Wilderness Tours at,
Gordon Hollingshead has provided an online travel directory for the past 10 years for people planning their vacations and travels throughout the western United States. More information contact
Gordon at

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