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Moraine Lake and Life Lessons

It was Friday morning.

Back up.

We’d spent the last week with our family in Waterton National Park.  It was an amazing week and everyone did really well- got along with each other, patiently passed time in the car, hiked and swam and explored with enthusiasm.  But at this point we were seven days and about thirty hours of driving in.  Wednesday and Thursday had been more difficult.  We had driven from Waterton up through Calgary (where we stopped for Vietnamese lunch and I randomly started sobbing into my menu while browsing the Pho options) and then spent an incredibly trying day in Banff (which included our children doing property damage to our condo, the bad moods that came out of said damage, and thick smoke veiling Lake Louise and other long awaited sights).  Halfway through Thursday we all rallied.  We had a lovely walk through Johnston’s Canyon, an amazing Chinese dinner, and a ball at the Banff hot springs.  And, although we planned to drive 10-11 hours to Enterprise, OR the next day, we decided that we couldn’t leave Banff without seeing Moraine Lake.  A few people had told me that it was even more exquisite than the much more famous Lake Louise.  My friend Elise had had an incredible experience there.  I didn’t want to come all that way and miss it.  We knew going early in the morning was the only option for two reasons.  First, we had a whole day of driving ahead.  Second, and, most importantly, the guide I spoke to explained that if you get to Moraine after 7:30 a.m., you can’t even get in the parking lot.  It’s an Early Bird Gets the Word sort of attraction.

OK now we’re back to Friday morning.

Our alarms went off at 5 a.m.  George woke up asking for milk just as we were hitting snooze.  Getting up sounded hideous (it always does at that hour, doesn’t it?).  Taylor and I looked at each other.  Were we really going to drag all of our sleep deprived, over-traveled kids out of bed right now?


Taylor and I have both made running and hiking a priority this summer and the only way to fit it in and still be present with our children has been to get up early.  We take turns so that someone is home with the kids, but several mornings out of each week day this summer have seen one of us out the door with a headlamp.  So Taylor and I have grown to understand this:  IT IS ALWAYS WORTH IT TO WAKE UP EARLY FOR ADVENTURE.  You never regret it.  And the early wake up begins to feel less awful because you trust in the consistently positive outcome.

So we lugged the children out of bed and they (amazingly/surprisingly!!!) got themselves dressed, fed, and packed up cheerfully and efficiently.  We made it out the door by 6 a.m. and to Moraine around 7 a.m., where the parking lot was quickly filling up.

We put George in my backpack, threw some warmer layers on all the kids, and walked up to the lake.  On our left was a large log jam and impressive rock pile, about 150 feet up.  Dozens of people were climbing up.  Taylor and the big boys began to climb, and I walked the three littles around to a bench near where all of the brightly colored canoes were tied up.  It was beautiful there.  There were just a few people around us, and, contrasted with the bustling, Disneyland-like feel at Lake Louise, they all seemed contemplative, almost reverent.  The sun was getting higher.  The sky was blue.  The lake was a still, bold blue.  We took a few pictures and snuggled in blankets and I thought “this was totally worth coming.  What a beautiful place.”

Moraine Lake- Anne with an 'e'

Moraine Lake- Anne with an 'e'

Moraine Lake- Anne with an 'e'

When Taylor and the boys came walking up I said, “Well, let’s get driving.”

“You need to go up there,” Taylor said.

“It’s fine,” I replied.  We had a lovely time here.  We’ve experienced Moraine Lake.”

“No,” he said.  “You need to go up there.”

So I handed the babe over and grabbed Carter’s hand and started across the log jam.

Moraine Lake- Anne with an 'e'

Several people commented on what a great little climber Carter was, and could hardly believe he was in flip flops.  (Couldn’t find his sneakers that morning!)  He and I quickly climbed higher and higher, until we found a nice flat spot away from any people.

Moraine Lake- Anne with an 'e'

What happened next is almost impossible to describe–the type of experience I will never forget but can hardly put into sufficient words.

As I looked out, I felt completely encompassed.  Like nothing existed but blue sky, immense glacial mountains, perfect, glassy, azure water like I had never seen in my life, tall, dark-green evergreens, and the reflection of it all on the still water.  As I took it all in, I began to have a physiological reaction.  What was that?  What was happening?  Suddenly I realized I was crying.  And laughing.  I couldn’t stop.  I just stood there with a silly, giant grin plastered across my face and laughed and cried.  “What’s wrong, Mom?” Carter asked.  “Isn’t this beautiful?!” I replied.

We spent some time up there, breathing it in and taking some photos.  And then we made the descent.

“Are you crying?” Taylor asked, when we got down.

Um, yeah.

It was the most spectacular and riveting moment I have ever experienced in nature.  I felt like those trees and water were a part of me.

So, if I can’t adequately describe my experience with words, and if these photos, though lovely, don’t hold a candle to the real thing, why do I want to write about my morning at Moraine Lake at all?

Life lessons.  Two of them.

1. Get up early.

2. Climb the mountain.

1. No one loves sleeping in more than I do.  I mean it, I love it with my whole heart and I have a double PhD in it.  Ask me what my favorite thing to do with my kids is and I’ll tell you, “snuggle in bed late into the morning, hands down.”

But some of life’s choicest moments, and often the most meaningful, poignant ones come early in the morning.  When my head is clear.  When the day is still pure and fresh and without mistakes.  When there is ample time to get outside and think.  It’s when the magic happens.  I NEVER regret waking up early to run or hike or just be outside.

2. This one is the biggie, the real a-ha.  There is something about summiting.  Getting higher.  Meeting a goal.  Reaching the peak.  There is something about communing with God on a mountain.  I mean, come on.  It’s scriptural.  Moses.  Nephi.  Enoch.  It’s all about the mountain.  It’s different up there.  And I almost missed it.  What I had experienced was beautiful and felt sufficient.  But it was nothing,  NOTHING in comparison.  My experience up on that peak at Moraine Lake was life changing.  Always climb the mountain.  Maybe it’s literally a mountain.  Maybe it’s figurative.  But climb it.  Dare to start, push yourself to the top.  Don’t stop when it hurts or you feel out of breath.  Keep going.  The reward will come, and it might change your life.

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