Wrigley Field is a long, long way from Yellowstone Park. And the concrete jungle of Chicago is as about as opposite a pace of life as one can get from West Yellowstone, MT.
But in this unusual summer of 2011, I learned that one is just as good as the other.
In case you were wondering, I’m a big Chicago Cubs fan, and I still consider my pilgrimage to Wrigley Field in the summer of 1988 one of the best experiences of my life. I will never forget eating McDonalds across the street from the field, the one-man bands playing for dollar bills all around the stadium, walking through the dark tunnel of the left field entrance and emerging into the sunlight to see the most immaculate green grass I had ever seen in my then 13 years of life.
My first and only trip to Wrigley Field was spent watching the Cubs, and my budding new favorite player Mark Grace get blasted by the defending world champion New York Mets on a sweltering day in the Windy City. I could have cared less that the Cubs lost and to this day I have no idea what the final score was.
All I know is that I had been to one of the pinnacle places in all of professional sports and it was an experience that has lasted to this day. I even tried to take a piece of the famed Wrigley Ivy on the outfield wall home with me and keep it alive in a jar of water. Needless to say, a green thumb I’m not and I don’t have that piece of ivy anymore, but I still have the memory of that day.
I was supposed to relive that memory last week as my wife and I had a planned trip cross country to see two Cubs games in Chicago. But the facts of life so to speak forced us to call off the trip, and instead we turned to one of the great wonders of the world, Yellowstone National Park.
While it’s been 23 years since my trip to Wrigley, it had already been 10 since my last foray into Yellowstone. In some ways, I think that’s too long for a Montanan who loves the great wilderness as much as I do to stay away from Yellowstone, despite the fact that it felt like we drove all the way to Chicago because West Yellowstone is as far away from Havre as one can get and still actually be in Montana.
But the trip was worth the drive, it was worth the time, and it was certainly worth missing a couple of Cubs games.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a born and bred proud Havreite, and there are many days when I gaze across at the Bear Paw Mountains or into the open prairie and remember why we love this unique part of the country.
But once in a while, trips to places like Yellowstone Park, Glacier National Park, Flathead Lake or the Bighorn Battlefield are necessary to remind us of just how amazing this place we Montanans call home is.
And just about the time I was seeing the score, that the Cubs lost 13-1 to the lowly Florida Marlins on a disgustingly hot and humid heat wave day in Chicago, a game I was supposed to be at, my wife and I were doing a different sort of bear watching.
While my beloved Cubs were losing to one the worst teams in baseball, Cubs excluded of course, we were in awe, watching one of the reasons Montanans are indeed special people. We were watching a large male grizzly bear, estimated at 500 pounds, from about 800 yards away in the Lamar Valley, one of the most beautiful places on earth and prime grizzly habitat. We were watching him do his thing while my Cubs were doing what they do best, lose baseball games.
And while I stood there watching that grizzly, thinking how amazing it is that we live in one of the few places on earth, one of the few states in this country where man and grizzly cohabitate every single day, I had no more regrets about not making the trip to Chicago to see the Cubs play. I realized that there is so much more to life than one or two baseball games, and it made me once again realize how lucky I am to live where I do and have things like grizzly bears be just as big a part of everyday life in Montana as the sports so many of us care so much about.
In that moment in time, when my wife and I traded Cubs for grizzlies, traded Wrigley Field for the cathedral that is Yellowstone Park, I was once again in awe of just how special this part of the country is. And while I didn’t make it to Wrigley for summer vacation, this will still be a summer I’ll never forget.