|Handsome goat grazing by the chalet.|
That first evening at Sperry Chalet, I was introduced to the rituals: the dining room closed between four thirty and six for the staff to prepare our meal. At six o'clock the door opened and the guests began to seat themselves at the places marked with their names. There were eight tables, some seating large parties of ten to twelve, other tables for smaller parties of four to six, and one small table for two. I looked for my name and found myself at the far end of the first table, among ten others, near me two were couples, the rest were a family group.
The main course rotated every three days: roast beef, chicken and turkey with the trimmings (I'd been warned that the food could get a bit monotonous). The staff joked that they lost track of the days of the week during the eleven-week season, since the work schedule was pretty much the same every day except for some afternoon time off every nine days, but they marked the days by whether it was chicken, turkey or roast beef day.
A good hot meal with home-baked bread and dessert is such a luxury after the long hard hike uphill, it was welcomed enthusiastically by all, and the company was congenial. Strangers introduced themselves and shared their experiences of the day easily, seeing this or that animal, memories of previous visits to Sperry, or similar environments, all interesting and amusing.
After dessert had been served, the staff would introduce themselves, each giving a helpful hint or tip about Sperry Chalet--the thin walls of the chalet therefore the necessity for quiet hours at night; prohibitions about flames near the buildings and what to do in case of a fire alarm; warnings not to leave our possessions within reach of the goats and marmots who could make off with them and chew them up for the salt they craved; they had flashlights available for those who hadn't brought any (there is no electricity at Sperry Chalet), and coffee hour between 8 and ten, when the gas lamps in the dining room were lit for reading and games.
Each evening Renee read a paragraph or two from "Avalanche," the memoirs of Dr. Lyman's Sperry's nephew Albert about the expeditions exploring this area in the 1890's in search for a route to the glacier that bears Sperry's name.
After the staff intros, the guests were asked to introduce themselves, one person from each party. I had been asked to introduce myself as Sperry Chalet's Resident Artist for the season, and I mentioned that I was from the east coast and this was my first time in Montana.
That first evening I turned in early. The next morning I saw a family of mountain goats grazing just below the wooden railings when I came down to use the communal bathroom building down the hill. The goats moved out of the way to allow passage but they were not afraid--this was their turf and they appeared to be used to humans.
|Communal bathroom at Sperry.|
After a hearty breakfast I walked around to explore the immediate surroundings. There were a few flowering spikes of Bear grass near the Chalet. I went up to my room and brought my working kit down to work on the first study of this unfamiliar plant.
|Bear grass pencil drawing.|
A simple a pencil sketch is the way I usually learn about a plant: how the leaves and flower stalk are put together, the individual flower, the stigma and ovary, the anther. Xerophyllum tenax is the botanical name. Multiples of three indicate this is a member of the lily family. This particular spike was in the early stages of flowering. As I had observed in other locations of the park, the stalk would gradually elongate as the flowers continued to open until it formed an oval shape.
|Xerophyllum tenax, early stage|
My sketch filled the rest of the morning. I'd look for other flowering stalks later on when I was ready to do a color rendering; for now this one was just right.
The staff usually prepared bag lunches for all the guests, since they assumed everyone would be hiking during the day. On my first day I was too tired to wander very far so I stayed around to try one of Sperry's famous grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch--it was just wonderful on the homemade bread with a bit of soup on the side.
During lunch I had the opportunity to chat with the horse wrangler who had brought up a party of riders to Sperry Chalet. Stephen turned out to be a young man from Georgia, a college grad, who had started working as a manager for a construction company. He loved the outdoors and after a trip to Montana decided to move here to work at the stables of the Lake MacDonald Hotel during the season. He confided that he'd seen the documentary "Unbranded" five times! I could definitely empathize... wondered if he'd stick to his decision for a lifetime or if at some point he'll have had enough of this precarious outdoor life and go back to what his parents I'm sure had hoped for him.
In the afternoon I ventured back down the hill to sketch the Glacier Lilies under the subalpine firs. These were growing on a steep bank along the trail. One of the guests walking by offered and took the photos here--the lighting is a little weird in the first one.
|Sketching the Glacier Lilies|
|Glacier Lily sketch (Erythronium grandiflora)|
It was providential to have chosen to sketch the Glacier Lily on my first day--their blooming season is so short that a week later all of the flowers had disappeared! I learned that the starchy bulbs of the lilies are a favorite food of grizzlies and they will dig up entire patches of them to feed. Fortunately, the bears miss enough of the tubers that the patches can regrow.
A few days later I met a lady who stayed overnight with a good-sized group, and asked to buy my Glacier lily sketch. Peggy worked as a guide for Glacier Guides, and I agreed to sell her my sketch when I got back home. I never did take a photo of my finished color pencil sketch before shipping it to her, what a pity!
The insects were already very annoying (even with repellent spray), and even so more after dinner, when I tried to to do a small sketch of the view from Sperry in the setting sun. This is as far as I got before I had to run for cover.
|Evening View from Sperry Chalet, watercolor, 5" x 8."|