Walk in the Woods

Gym closure due to Covid inspires USFS retiree to take up hiking

In March of 2020, the PEAK Health & Wellness club temporarily shut its doors due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which was where Crit and I worked out three days a week. Without the facility, we decided we would hike in and around Missoula instead. Crit and I met at the PEAK and have worked out for many years, and we have another common interest: photography.

We have completed 100 weekly hikes over two years and photographed flowers, scenes, birds, wildlife, and anything that interests us. I send out a report of each hike with four to six pictures titled “Walk in the Woods” to 30 or more people throughout the states and three foreign countries. One recipient writes, “I love how you take pictures of the ordinary and they look so extraordinary. It’s a good reminder to me that beauty is everywhere, all the time. And your narratives just make the photos even more special. Thanks for sharing.”

Missoulians are lucky to have so many varied trails to suit any hiker. Crit and I have hiked trails in the Rattlesnake, on Mount Jumbo, on Blue Mountain, north and south of Pattee Canyon Road, along the Bitterroot River, up Waterworks Hill, and around the Fort in all kinds of weather.  In the spring, the nodding onion and butterflies show up all over the woods.  The Pasque flowers and the Prairie Smoke flowers are found in the high meadow above Sawmill Gulch and are spectacular. The Prairie Smoke is an interesting plant as it nods in flower and then the stem lifts and the seeds burst forth in an upright position, thus the smoke name. The Indian Paintbrush is in full bloom everywhere. The Great White Trillium brighten the forest floor. If you hike Waterworks Hill this time of year, look for the Bitterroot flowers—Montana’s state flower and a complete showstopper. Take time and look low on the forest floor. You might find Lady Slippers hiding there.

When we stop for a water break, a brief rest, or when we turn around to head home, we find hidden flowers and other things like sap drips that we would’ve missed if we were too hurried. The woods and the meadows are alive and enjoyable in the spring, so get out and enjoy the many trails around Missoula as we will continue to do.

Ron Russell is a United States Forest Service retiree who’s been a lifetime photographer since the early age of high school. He is 85 years old.

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