David and the girls get a closer look

Little Gem in the Woods

Marlene overlooking the Flathead Valley

After a long winter and a cold spring it was time to put on our hiking boots again and head out into the mountains. The weather was sunny and hot on this late June day. In the midst of mosquito season, the snow shower that had delighted the valley a couple of weeks earlier seemed a distant past. After grabbing our backpacks and double-checking for Deet, we headed out to a popular trail on Columbia Mountain in the Swan Range.


Mosquitoes swarmed us as we trekked through the woods, stopping at an occasional outcropping to rest and enjoy the view of the valley. Hot and being host to mosquitoes, we expressed whether or not the effort of the hike was worth it. “E” asked what makes mosquito bumps, so we made a mental note to look it up.

Hiking in the Swan Range of the Rocky Mountains is truly scenic with expansive views and abundant wildlife, but it is no comparison to the vistas we experience when hiking in Glacier National Park, where the scenery is extraordinary. Our destination on Columbia Mountain was the waterfall. Tackling switchbacks isn’t fun. Would the waterfall be worth it? My mind may have told me otherwise, but my heart told me to keep going. I learned a long time ago not to give up and to look with eyes wide open. I’d be like “Michael”, in the movie of the same name, and enjoy going out of the way to see the largest ball of twine, or like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz and look no farther than my own backyard for my heart’s desire.


Fellow hikers told us that the waterfall wasn’t much farther. On we walked, seemingly for a long while. Surely we had hiked far enough, but where was the elusive waterfall? Upon query to passing hikers, we were told we had gone too far. Told to go off trail by the stream and keep going until we reached the big falls, we backtracked and followed these directions. We followed the stream uphill climbing over boulders and branches. Once again, Mother Nature rewarded us for our efforts. In the middle of the hot, mosquito infested forest was our “Little Gem in the Woods”.


David and the girls get a closer look.


Nippy air, nature’s air conditioner cooled the gorge as we discovered a waterfall that was worth the trip. It looked like milk as it spilled over rock misting its surroundings. It was a welcome respite from the heat.


M and E get up close to the waterfall.


We’ve found lots of little gems along the way that are not on the list of “1000 Places to Visit before You Die”. Where they are is irrelevant. What’s important is that we as individuals can make a choice to enjoy the little treasures as much as the big ones.


On Glacier’s shuttle bus one summer, a man from New York City shared his gem with us. He suggested we visit The Empire State Building. Admittedly, visiting New York isn’t on my list of priorities. But when opportunity knocks, I’ll go to the top of The Empire State Building, at dusk, as was recommended, and watch the lights of the city come on. It will be special!


As typical of my homeschooling style, the following Monday we took to the information super highway to find out how mosquitoes work. We watched scientists in a laboratory hatch mosquito larvae into insects. Mosquitoes are attracted to perspiration, body odor, lactic acid, and carbon dioxide. (They must have smelled us a mile away that day on the trail.) Only the females bite. She lands on your skin and sticks her very sharp, thin proboscis in. A protein (anticoagulant) in her saliva prevents your blood from clotting as she sucks your blood into her abdomen. The protein in her saliva triggers your immune system which makes you itch and get that little red bump, which is called a wheal.


So get out the insect repellent, dream big, and open your heart to the little gems.