Mostly Mountains Missoula, montana, 24 august 2008

This has been a month of mostly mountain experiences with just a few valleys.

Furry Creek, on Howe Sound, BC, Canada

We left Geneva in July on separate planes, like royalty. That's what happens when you use frequent flyer tickets. We did intersect for half an hour at Heathrow, though, and both successfully negotiated the new Terminal 5 complete with luggage. We were met in Boston by good friends, Alice and Aubrey. Alice and Chris have spent the last year organising an international conference by email (you may remember they visited us in Edinburgh) and now that conference was but days away. We got to try out Alice and Aubrey's brand-new guest room in their lovely Jamaica Pond clapboard (aka weatherboard) house. On Sunday we worshipped at the Church of the Covenant where Alice was once minister and were gobsmacked by the magnificent Tiffany windows and lantern.

Aubrey and Chris on the steps of the Jamaica Pond house

In the interests of public safety and world oil reserves, we decided not to realise Geoff's dream of driving across America in a pink Cadillac convertible. However, we did enjoy being driven to Montréal by Alice in her Honda Accord, through Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Quebec. The trip through mountain scenery (Vermont means green mountain) was punctuated by stops at rest areas featuring ranks of vending machines and a lovely lunch at Leunigs with Alice's Burlington friends.

At last, Montréal (Mount Royal), where the general assembly of the World Student Christian Federation (WSCF) was already underway. Our work began immediately. Geoff found himself at the printers assisting in the production of assembly documents and Chris and Alice prepared to greet the fifty or so WSCF senior friends (like alumni) arriving for their own gathering alongside the students. The next two weeks was a blur of more-or-less organised activity. The end result was a very happy one of cross-generational interchange as the fortieth anniversary of the heady student activism of 1968 was remembered and reflected upon. The oldest participant was a ninety-year-old maths professor who served on the WSCF staff following World War II. Students came from all over the world, visa regulations permitting.

Senior friends join the students at the WSCF General Assembly

There wasn't a lot of time for birdwatching, but, ever-hopeful, Chris bought a field guide to North American birds and spotted sparrows and chickadees on our well-worn path between our hotel at the University of Montréal and the Collège Jean de Brebéuf where the assembly was. This neighbourhood became "our Montreal".

When the meetings were over and the world dispersed again, we flew to Vancouver feeling as if our heads would explode on take off and landing. We had both picked up coughs and colds in Montréal and continued to splutter and wheeze for quite some time (a valley). So to be welcomed into a home away from home in Richmond, Vancouver, was wonderful. This was the first time Chris had seen her friends Joan and Andrew since they were in Sydney together in the early 1980s. She had baby sat their now twenty-four-year-old daughter, Katherine, who now “Aussie sat” us. Joan and Andrew handed us the front-door keys and we had the run of the family home while Katherine was at work and the rest of the family were on their summer holidays. We enjoyed the simple pleasures of haircuts, supermarkets, doctors (Chris got antibiotics for an ear infection) and local walks through blueberry bushes and nature parks.

Recovered and refreshed, we joined Joan, Andrew and their son, David, at their holiday home at Furry Creek on Howe Sound. What a weekend! Courtesy of our friends' generosity, we saw, yes, mountains, glaciers and waterfalls from the windows of a Cessna and gazed over a lake from the windows of our bedroom (see the panoramic view at the head of this letter). We decided that the photographs in that glossy magazine Beautiful British Columbia were real after all. Later, the menfolk buzzed around the lake in a speedboat while Joan and Chris caught up on twenty-three years of news and played Scrabble. We didn't see any bears, although Andrew and David spotted a cub while the rest of us were up in the plane. But we did see seals frolicking in the sound and hummingbirds in the garden.

A glacier up close and personal

Time to hit the road again, in a big way. Over three days, we travelled by Greyhound bus from Vancouver to Seattle, Seattle to Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, and then Coeur d'Alene to Missoula, Montana. Montana is Spanish for mountain. This journey was quite an education. We got the impression that bus travel is what people do if they can't afford the petrol or the airfare. Facilities are quite poor and seat reservations nonexistent. It's all on a first-come, first-served basis. This made us a little nervous as we waited at 6 am on the roadside for the bus to arrive for the last leg of our journey. What if it was full? Thankfully, it wasn't and we enjoyed yet another day travelling through magnificent scenery in the company of all sorts of people with interesting stories and lots of questions about Australia.

The University of Montana

And why were we making this journey to Missoula, we can hear you ask. Well, Chris was inspired in her PhD research by the writings of Albert Borgmann, who then became one of her examiners. This was an opportunity to meet him face to face and this we did. Albert and his wife, Nancy, made us very welcome as we sipped lemonade in their home overlooking the Rattlesnake Creek valley. Albert turned out to be as gentle and wise as Chris imagined and we now know why he chose Missoula. It is a delightful university town with big mountains and skies and a relaxed lifestyle. The farmers' market has huckleberries for sale and the sound of trains reverberate through the night. Sadly, the trains don't bring passengers here any more. We are staying at Blossom's B&B in a historic home ravaged by a forest fire five years and a day before our arrival (echoes of Canberra) and rebuilt to the original design plus mod cons.

Huckleberries at the Missoula farmers' market
Geoff discussing politics in Missoula

Soon we will be packing our bags again and after a few days in Manhattan (that will be a culture shock after the mountains of Montana), we head back to the UK where the car is prince rather than king and where blocks are smaller to walk.

As always, this comes with our love and our thanks for your messages that keep us company on our adventure.

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