What is a “stranger”?

"God's country"

“God’s country”

Montana has been described to me as “God’s country”; a place where the valleys are wide, mountains are tall, and the forests deep. How fitting it was then that in a place so perfect and grand, I encountered a rare adventure and learned a lesson of life I’ll never forget. Starting as only a walkabout through the woods of Montana, this small action soon grew into an adventure never expected, taking me clear across mountains and valleys alike.

I met Tom for the first time somewhere in the wilderness of Montana while wandering along a few muddy trails. This wasn’t like any other human introduction I had ever had encountered before. A typical encounter (like one of the thousands I’ve had in my life so far) would consist of a swapping of names, a handshake, and a smile to put forth a good face. This introduction was different from the start in that there was one question before all others that begged for an answer: “What are you doing out here?”. For me it was simple, “I’m just checking it out”. For Tom the answer seemed simple as well, “I’m getting myself an elk”. So our reasons for being there differed, yet a shared passion for the enjoyment of the outdoors fueled us to become friends. It was right after I left this part of the mountains that this friendship really began to lead me down an adventure of learning.

Tom was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Ouellette, a wonderful couple who lived all their long lives enjoying the peace and calm that comes from a life in the far Northern reaches of this country. For 80+ years, Mr. and Mrs. Ouellette both spent their days appreciating the place they called home. When life brought changes and times of strife, neither lost their passion for what Mrs. Ouellette called her “God’s country”. I knew this to be true the first time I met them on a cold October night in Hamilton, Montana late in 2014. A simple dinner invitation from two strangers to me in itself was an experience I wouldn’t soon forget; but right from the start, I saw the Ouellette’s unique form of kindness, generosity, and hospitality.

Going into that dinner, I believed to them that I was just some “stranger” their son met deep in the woods; but then I had a night of conversation with them. After a dinner invitation turned into an opportunity to do laundry, take a hot shower, and a warm bed for the night; I realized I couldn’t have been more wrong. Listening to both Mr. and Mrs. Ouellette tell me the story of their lives, I quickly realized they both knew something I did not, and it took a few more months of reflection before I realized exactly why we met. They saw me that night not as a “stranger”, but rather as an untold story. The people all around us and the introductions we encounter are nothing but the beginnings of untold story’s. Everyone has a story to tell and everyone’s life will be a story of some type. The lesson I learned from this wise couple was to treat people exactly like that, and to me it’s quite obvious why I met Mr. and Mrs. Ouellette and their son Tom when I did. Never again will I let an untold story pass me by.

In Memory of Ben Ouellette (1928-December 2, 2014)

At the end of your life and the beginning of mine, you instilled in me a valuable lesson. A lesson that will forever be a part of who I am, thank you for this Ben.

-Warren Hylton

1-1-DSC_0016

Hamilton, Montana

 

Days 21-24: Montana to Washington

Well I’ve finally made it to the Pacific Northwest. I drove from the Bitterroot Valley of Montana into Northeast Washington state yesterday and am really finding the evergreen state to be extremely interesting. The Bitterroot Valley was an incredible place where the word “big” met the word “beauty” and a valley in Montana was created. The last day I spent in the valley began with the clouds finally breaking enough for me to see the valley floor covered in homes, towns, and farms. Unfortunately, the mountain tops continued to remain just out of sight hiding in the low clouds. But the message the valley gave off was the same, peaks or not, beauty. I definitely see myself making a return trip to this special part of the country in the future. The mountains and valleys of the Montana/Idaho border were just begging for more exploration. But due to the ruggedness and remoteness of some of these parts of the mountains, I determined spring and summer were the best time of the year to truly get lost in this wilderness. I can’t wait for the day that I get to come back and spend weeks if not months exploring the hundreds of valleys and creeks in this area. Washington state has been incredibly interesting in that the Bitterroot Valley I fell in love with in Montana was directly responsible for the land I’m staying in now. The Northeast of Washington has always been dominated by the mighty Columbia River and during the last ice age 12,000 years ago, the lake that originally carved out the Bitterroot Valley broke free and flooded down the mountains through the Idaho panhandle and into the Columbia River in NE Washington. Where I’m staying at now is in that ancient flood path. The river has been dammed since then, and now there is Lake Roosevelt in the once deep carved out Columbia River valley. This story of ancient flood waters shaping the modern day landscape of the Northwest has been incredibly interesting to follow along and see firsthand. The Earth is an interesting place with an even more fascinating history. How easy it is to forget that we see mountains, valleys, and rivers today because of events that took places over hundreds of years, thousands of years ago.

-Warren

Pictures from Days 21-24:

Saying goodbye to this special valley for now. Imagine this going on for a hundred miles to get an idea of how massive this place is

Saying goodbye to this special valley for now. Imagine this going on for a hundred miles to get an idea of how massive this place is

Watching ducks swim and fly around Lake Roosevelt

Watching ducks swim and fly around Lake Roosevelt

Where I've been sleeping, with peacocks and apple trees in the middle of a forest of pines. Oh there's a lake too

Where I’ve been sleeping, with peacocks and apple trees in the middle of a forest of pines. Oh there’s a lake too

Cloud watching here could be a full time job

Cloud watching here could be a full time job

Where the forest meets the beach

Where the forest meets the beach

A truly special place

A truly special place

Good morning world

Good morning world

Ducks flying across the lake

Ducks flying across the lake

Flowers growing out of the water

Flowers growing out of the water

Cool underwater patterns in the sand

Cool underwater patterns in the sand

A true thinking chair

A true thinking chair

Days 19-20: Montana Cont.

WOW! I believe I’ve said that word out loud at least a thousand times in the past two days all while smiling ear to ear the entire time. I spent a day crossing mountain ranges within Montana, and am now in the Bitterroot Valley for the next few days. This whole valley has really blown me away with the beauty of it’s dense forests and jagged mountains. I just can’t get enough of this place right now. I’ve felt solitude before, but the kind of peace and solitude you feel in a place like this makes everywhere else you’ve been before seem busy and distracting. In the deep forests of this valley, thoughts are your only companion and the beauty of the surrounding nature puts an intoxicating spell on you that makes you just want to sit back and listen. Just like my past campsite, the one I’m staying in now is right up against the border of a National Wilderness and going exploring in there has been an absolute treat. As soon as I cross the border from National Forest to Wilderness, the scenery immediately changes. The trails begin to narrow to the point where sometimes it’s best to traverse them sideways. The landscape of the forests get even more dense with plants, rocks, and everything else natural you could imagine. The forest grounds begin to be completely covered with moss and small plants that I have never seen before anywhere else. There is definitely something special about a place like this and it’s impossible to spend more than 5 minutes here and not realize this. Unfortunately for me and my photos, the weather has been throwing some cloudy days my way. The jagged peaks are always going in and out of hiding in the clouds as the day goes by. But with a place this beautiful and majestic, I don’t mind waiting for some better weather to truly see what’s right in front of me. I can only see bits and parts, here and there as the weather allows; but I know that this place can be so much more with just a little less clouds. So I’ll be spending the next few days staying put right here; all while taking in the fearsome peaks, dense forests, and incredible feelings that a place like this will give you.

-Warren

Pictures from Days 19-20:

I'll be living in the base of this valley for the next few days. What a home

I’ll be living in the base of this valley for the next few days. What a home

Deep in Montana

Deep in Montana

A step back in time in Montana

A step back in time in Montana

These landscapes never get old

These landscapes never get old

Low clouds IN the mountains

Low clouds IN the mountains

Watching beavers swim around this lake was a great way to spend the afternoon

Watching beavers swim around this lake was a great way to spend the afternoon

Now this is a campsite

Now this is a campsite

Shadows of the forest covering the trail

Shadows of the forest covering the trail

Visibility in these woods is probably less than 100 feet

Visibility in these woods is probably less than 100 feet

I see why it's called Boulder creek

I see why it’s called Boulder creek

Little waterfalls in the middle of the wilderness

Little waterfalls in the middle of the wilderness

Days 17-18: Montana

Hello from Montana! I made it into Montana 2 days ago and have been busy exploring these beautiful mountains and forests since. While the state of Wyoming likes to call itself “forever west”, Montana IS the real deal west. The state of Montana is full of a proud people backed up by a fascinating history that most times has only happened within the last 100 years or so. Everything in this state just feels different to me. I feel like as I crossed the state border, I took a step back in time. The scenery I’m seeing and the towns I’m passing through are straight out of a wild west movie. This is my first time to this state, and within the first two days I’ve realized I’ve been missing a whole lot. Montana is a state where the word “big” takes on a new meaning. I’ve been busy busy trying to snap as many pictures as I can to try and capture this huge beauty. I hope you enjoy the pictures!

-Warren

P.S.: Feedback is ALWAYS appreciated! I really enjoy hearing which of my photos capture your attention. This is very valuable feedback for me and for my future shots. Sound off below in the comments! I’m sure one of my photos stood out more than the others to you.

Pictures from Days 17-18:

Welcome to Montana

Welcome to Montana

Big Sky country

Big Sky country

The big dipper high above big sky country

The big dipper high above big sky country

Notice the cluster of stars in the right part of the picture

Notice the cluster of stars in the right part of the picture

The trail follows all the way around the lake edge

The trail follows all the way around the lake edge

 

The view straight up from my campsite

The view straight up from my campsite

Life's not bad when you're sleeping less than 200 feet from this

Life’s not bad when you’re sleeping less than 200 feet from this

I've been having fun playing with the creeks and mountain tops

I’ve been having fun playing with the creeks and mountain tops

The only gaps in the thick woods comes from creeks like this

The only gaps in the thick woods comes from creeks like this

This is bear country

This is bear country

One of the most beautiful campgrounds I've ever been too

One of the most beautiful campgrounds I’ve ever been too

Just when you get lost in the trees of the forest, a rock busts out of the ground to remind you of the mountains

Just when you get lost in the trees of the forest, a rock busts out of the ground to remind you that you’re in the mountains too

Montana pastures

Montana pastures

More of the massive pastures of Montana

More of the massive pastures of Montana

Just another day in Montana

Just another day in Montana

Mountain creeks

Mountain creeks