A Different Kind of Holiday

By Carol Marino, Community Editor, Daily Interlake, new member Montana Women Writers

Even though our kids weren’t able to be here in person to celebrate the holidays in 2020, we were all still able to share most of our family traditions. Both of them and their significant others put up trees and decorations in their own homes — a first, since they’ve always come to our home for Christmas. I’d collected and saved ornaments for them through the years and was happy to send them their way (and also reclaim some basement real estate).

Our daughter asked for some favorite family recipes, from cookies to quiche, which she prepared like a pro.

My husband and I still headed to the woods, (a longstanding family tradition) found the perfect tree and collected cedar boughs, and baked dozens of cookies for family, friends and neighbors.

Throughout the season, we and the kids exchanged pictures of our homes’ decked halls and festive food; and we delivered Christmas dinner to our son’s door.

And although we weren’t physically with each other, we did hang out together Christmas morning to open gifts via Zoom; it was actually a lot of fun.

Most years, the family heads for an overnight stay at a hot springs resort during Christmas week, an ideal way to unwind. But this year, Jim and I were on our own. I had some vacation days I needed to take by year’s end so we planned a few winter’s day staycations.

On a day when the date and the temperature were identical, we headed down to the National Bison Range in Moiese. The 14-mile round-trip Prairie Drive is open in winter and we took our sweet time wandering past the snow and thistle-dusted grasslands, windows rolled down, heater on, binoculars ready. We saw roughly 60 bison — some lounging, others grazing — and a herd of elk numbering about the same as the bison. Along the pretty, meandering Mission Creek (the road passes close enough you can hear the water burbling) we passed ubiquitous mallards, magpies and whitetail, and tracked bald eagles and other raptors soaring in and out of misty clouds that blended into snow-dappled hillsides.

But the most delightful wildlife we came upon was a pair of gray coyotes actively pursuing small prey by first leaping into the air and then pouncing upon it. They casually roamed together before dropping out of sight and, although there were other cars touring the range, I think we may have been the only visitors who got to see the coyotes show that day.

When we returned to the highway we headed a few miles farther south to the St. Ignatius Mission. The impressive brick church was completed in 1893; the original chinked log cabin mission, founded in 1854, is also still on the grounds. The church has nearly completed a painstaking restoration and its 58 beautiful murals, painted by Brother Joseph Carignano, the mission’s cook, have virtually been returned to their original appearance. We were the only people in the chapel at the time. I lit a (battery operated) votive candle and we offered our petitions.

On other day trips that week, we drove down to Bigfork and walked along the Swan River Trail under a light snowfall. We also toured the Creston Fish Hatchery (its sole occupants) following the short nature trail along Mill Creek and checked out at the frisky trout and fry in the ponds.

In a year of many unforeseen trials, these getaways were welcome respites.

No, in 2020, the holidays weren’t the same; but then, nothing was. Instead, my family found workarounds and made our own little sanctuaries.

Life, and love, always find a way.

Community Editor Carol Marino can be reached at cmarino@dailyinterlake.com

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