When Deb got her first glimpse of Flathead Lake yesterday, she good-naturedly scolded me for not fully preparing her for how big it is. Maybe I hadn’t. I think she envisioned a small mountain lake.
Flathead is America’s largest natural fresh-water lake west of the Missouri River (outside of Alaska, where all bets are off). I spent a lot of time at Lake George in New York, and I remember marveling at its expanse. Flathead is almost five times that size.
Rugged mountains rising up to the east, their steep and wooded slopes coming right down to the water’s edge, only magnify the perception. Flathead Lake’s sheer grandeur overwhelms.
The shoreline — at the south end of the lake, anyway — is more built-up than it was the last time I was here. It’s interesting to me, though, how easily the scale of the place seems to absorb the human intrusion on a wild space.
We’ll see much wilder lakes soon.
Our home for the next two days features a concrete patio adorned with an impression of a foraging moose. There’s a metal patio table with four chairs, a two-seat glider, a propane grill and a fire pit. (The region’s open-fires ban was just lifted.) A large pot of petunias sits on one corner of the patio. Three trees shade the site perfectly.
The pad is hard-packed gravel, very solid but not quite level, something that often happens when sites are terraced into a hillside. I managed to get Ernie pretty close to our ideal, however — pitch is within 1° of level and yaw is less than 1.5° off. Great hookups and amenities make up for that imperfection.
The staff, many of whom are “workampers,” have been wonderful to us and we’ve had great conversations with our neighbors. All the facilities are top-shelf. The setting doesn’t suck, either.
Sunday we’ll have to do some low-effort packing and relocate to a much more basic site up the hill, the price of our wanting to stay here longer than a single spot was available over a holiday weekend. And that’s fine.
Thanks to Scout and Dipstick I was up this morning in time to see the sun rise over the Mission Mountains. The thermometer read 40°F but the air was still and the sun, once it cleared the ridges, made it pleasant. I sat in the glider with my coffee, pinching myself to make sure that it wasn’t a dream.
A black-billed magpie, its long tail waving, jumped around the crotch of a birch across from our site. I was struck by how big these birds are, bigger than I remembered.
It didn’t take long for a breeze to pick up. Ernie faces a few degrees to the east of north, with the perfect view, and the freshening wind came from that direction, sweeping across the cold lake waters.
The temperature dropped quickly. The bracing breeze felt fantastic on my face.
Polson hosts a farmers market and crafts fair every Friday. As we were driving into town this morning to check it out, Deb talked about how so many people “go someplace just to say they’ve been there” and, by contrast, how we slow our pace and absorb a locale.
“I want to get a feel for a place,” she said. “who the people are and what they’re about. I’m glad we take the time to do that.”
Me, too, of course. That’s why we were headed to town today.
Deb bought earrings. I picked up a pair of alpaca socks from Black Wolf Ranch, which raises the animals 30 miles south near St. Ignatius. We bought a wedge of small-batch Flathead Lake cheese — Galiki Gouda — crafted in the town creamery from milk sourced locally, and we couldn’t resist cinnamon buns made in the bakery on Main Street.
Craving a sweet treat, we split a “walking-around pie” filled with tart Flathead cherries.
We dropped our modest haul in the Jeep and walked down to the town park at the mouth of the lake. The water is remarkably clear, the bottom visible as far out as we could see, to a depth of probably ten feet. Keep in mind this is at the lakeshore right next to town.
Returning to Mercy, we continued driving south to look for a roadside farm stand we’d passed on the way in yesterday, its signage boasting of local produce. We were thrilled today to find that they had both fresh Flathead cherries ($3.75 a pound) and fresh huckleberries ($20 a pound, no kidding).
We brought back two pounds of cherries and a pound of those pricey huckleberries. Yes, I love huckleberries that much.
Oh, and on the way back through town we stopped at the Verizon affiliate and replaced my phone. (The screen cracked weeks ago when I dropped it on a South Dakota sidewalk. It was getting wonkier by the day.) Swapping phones is one of my least favorite things in life — the unmitigated hassle of “moving in” and rebuilding an efficient interface it took three years to create.
On the bright side, the new device is supposed to have a killer camera. Stay tuned to see if that’s true.
We grabbed dinner today a little earlier than usual, taking a suggestion from a merchant we visited yesterday. Richwine’s Burgerville, now in its 60th year of operation on the south end of town, is a Polson institution. It’s a drive-through-only place, with waiting patrons’ cars regularly backed up onto US Route 93 even though Burgerville runs two lines.
This is what a burger joint should be, what burger joints used to be everywhere. It’s quirky, a little greasy and 100% delicious. I ordered the “Royal Burger Cheese Deluxe & Fries” with… wait for it… a huckleberry shake. Deb had a “Bernie Burger” (proceeds benefiting the American Cancer Society in memory of the proprietors’ son) with fries and a huckleberry frozen lemonade.
Once we’d picked up our order from the window, we pulled the Jeep under a canopy and dined in a funky garden with picnic tables. Sitting in a porch swing afterward, gazing out over the foot of Flathead Lake, Deb made an observation.
“Y’know, there are people who wouldn’t be caught dead eating at a place like this. They don’t know what they’re missing.”
She’s right. Burgerville isn’t upscale, not by any measure. It’s not a national chain with fancy corporate offices and a long list of standards. No, this is genuine American grub, served up the way Americans love it.
Sixty years. All with a wink and a smile.
It was one of the best times we’ve had — on one of the best days we’ve had — since we hit the road. Richwine’s Burgerville fit perfectly with the way we roll.
Take care of yourselves, Patriots. Stay calm. Stay sharp. Stay free.