Epiphany at Firebrand Pass


Aidan Reid '20

The months of June and July of this year marked a groundbreaking shift within my head space. I had felt the strange sensation of adulthood rearing within me throughout the spring, but it only fully emerged when I felt the burden of advanced math classes and tedious busywork lifted. My lifelong friend Logan and I had agreed to slam down the pedal on our adventures that summer. Our wanderlust was deeply ingrained, and there was no turning back. One of the first stones we set foot on was a local’s favorite trek to the top of Firebrand Pass, on the southeast outskirts of Glacier National Park. Looking back, that hike was only a warm up for the other outrageous trips we took that summer, but something about it truly cemented my new perspective. 

We had a late start. Very late. High noon had rolled by before we saw tires hit pavement, and with some construction delays it was nearly one before we had torn through the gap between Teakettle mountain, and it’s sister Columbia. We sipped coffee and zipped east in Logan’s little electric blue Toyota Corolla. To us, it was known as the Blueberry. Headed into the mountains and the traffic. Glacier is a zoo in the summer. Zigzagging along next to the Middle Fork of the Flathead River, we finally broke into the straights before Essex. Another twenty minutes and we had crested, floating down toward Browning and the rolling prairie. Logan peeled the Blueberry into a pullout next to mile marker 203. We hopped out, buckled in, and double checked bear spray. Large carnivores are always crouching in the back of your mind when you’re in the Montana wild. Our eyes had already locked on the large, sloping curves of Calf Robe Mountain, but its graceful lines were quickly obscured by twisted trunks and quaking leaves as we set off down trail. 

Before that moment I had never truly understood what a tree was. An organism that lives its entire life in the exact same place, feeling, pushing, straining for height and light, but never seeing or roaming the earth. It cannot speak for itself. Cannot stop itself from being cut down. Somehow, I suddenly felt very grateful that I was allowed to enjoy movement and freedom. Feel the blood pulsing in my hands and head. As we left the aspens I felt a new lightness not only in my feet, but my mind.

Miles had passed since the aspen grove and our elevation began to reveal its true character. Short, stubby, stunted alpine fir dotted the fields as crooked mountains appeared around each corner. However, trees of any shape were quickly behind us, and our battered shoes punched scree down an ocean of rock. A short snowfield crossing and we crested the pass, but our journey was not finished. Our true destination lay on the top of Red Crow Mountain. A brief twenty minutes of agonizing quad burning and we collapsed on the summit. 

No matter how much emphasis I had ever put on the power of words, I find it difficult to describe the view. Behemoths of nature, glaciers and erosion, had elegantly built a masterpiece. Peak after peak rose from the western horizon. As magnetic as it was, I felt compelled to turn around. Sitting on the Eastern rim of Glacier Park, I gazed down at Browning, and then to the shockingly flat “East Side.” It was like looking out on the ocean, hundreds of miles are visible before the sky melds to the ground.  From the top of the world, I could see the literal curvature of the earth for the first time. I sat and stared. I had always understood the enormity of our planet. I knew the square mileage was some odd 196 million. But I had never grasped the concept. Truly accepted myself as a microscopic dot on the crust of a whole. 

This may sound strange, but for many years before this trip I was disappointed to be human. I despised the ways of man, cruelty and greed. I felt humanity was a species consumed in thought and intelligence, a burden on the earth and its creatures. I wished to be an animal, free to live purely in sleep, food, and survival. When I stood on top of that mountain however, something changed. I was proud to be human. I finally understood my duty. Humans brought beauty and creativity, literature and art. Humanity had definitely harmed the earth, but mostly through ignorance, we had not known better. We do now, and we are the only creature on this planet who can do anything about it. On top of that mountain, with a view to top any in my life, I finally accepted who I was, a part of humanity whether I liked it or not. The only thing I could do was to help in the battle to mold a sustainable world.