Some time ago, while perusing old photo albums belonging to my Aunt Pat, I came upon this one. It shows “Patsy” beside a Christmas tree. It is 1937. She is 10 years old. I’ve written about Aunt Pat and her passing elsewhere. I now call your attention to the picture hanging on the wall above her.
The painting evoked childhood memories of visits to Grandma’s house, Christmas Eve family gatherings, chocolate chip cookies and Grandma’s special roly-poly. Every year Grandma Emily would roll out the dough and prepare this strudel-like desert with apple slices, raisins, cinnamon and sugar. She had a secret recipe. On those most special occasions, aromas from the baking roly-poly would waft from the kitchen fill the house with heavenly, enchanting aromas.
I’ve known the painting for as long as I can remember. The painting of the mountain scene was hanging in that very position all the while I was growing up and was only moved in the early 70s when Grandma’s house was remodeled.
The painting had been removed to the basement at that time, where it remained for another three-and-a-half decades, and where I snapped the photo below. Note that the left side of the painting is cut off some in the photograph. The painting sits in its original oak frame.
After Pat’s passing, it occurred to me that the painting may be needing a new home. There was a strong possibility that the house would be sold. I didn’t want this heirloom to be boxed off for the church sale, which I feared could happen. I conveyed my interest to both of my Hutch cousins, Pat’s children, saying I’d appreciate a keepsake. They were very obliging.
In my naivete, I had assumed that the picture was but a print of a painting that some stranger had created. Despite this, I preferred this picture to any of Grandpa Frank’s original oils, they being scenes of deer camps or deers … fondness for a hunting tradition. When I met my cousin Jeff to take possession, he said that Frank had indeed painted this scene and that his signature graced a corner of it somewhere, perhaps under the frame.
Once I brought it into my home I did find his signature: F.J. Zajicek 1931. He would have been 40. So it was a Grandpa Frank original. I had long assumed it to have been a scene from Glacier National Park, but I couldn’t imagine the circumstances under which it had come to be painted. Examining it more closely, I discovered fine subtleties … texture gradations, I’d never before noticed. And I noticed the accumulated grime that is perhaps inevitable if anything hangs for a long enough period of time in a room inhabited by smokers. Pat & Carly wouldn’t have been ones to ever have cleaned it.
The best advised DIY procedure for cleaning is to dab a painting with spit, applied lightly with Q-tips. Subtle enzyme action does the trick, so they say. But it’s a long slow process. I started spitting.
I’d visited the vicinity of Glacier Park recently to visit with friends and partake in the huckleberry harvest. I hoped to get into the park to show a picture of the painting to anyone who might be familiar with those environs. Maybe someone could identify the scene’s location. To no avail. Limitations of time prevailed. Much later upon my return to home and computer I did an internet search for Glacier hiking trails, to see what resources existed that might provide information for future day hikes. The picture was only in the back of my mind.
One website had a list of trails, and largely because of a cognitive association did I clicked on the Grinnell Lake Trail. My wife had attended and graduated from Grinnell College in Iowa. It was all quite serendipitous. I panned down the page and Behold, there it was, a configuration of mountains identical to that of Frank’s painting.
I located the lake in Google Earth, a wonderful program with which I could, in effect, situate myself in a desired position relative to a simulated 3D picture of any place on earth. This first picture is an establishing view of the region. Grinnell Lake is the roundish lake at the center of the picture. Above that is the Grinnell Glacier. Just below Lake Grinnell is a more longish Lake Josephine.
This picture is the viewpoint from just below Lake Grinnell. You can just see it stretched out before you. In the left foreground is the 7,430 foot peak known as Angel Wing. Behind and to the left is 9,553 foot Mount Gould. To the right of the picture is the slope of Mount Grinnell, elevation 8,851 feet. Waterfalls pouring into the lake are from the Grinnell Glacier, just above. The shorter Angel Wing looms larger than Mount Gould. To achieve the correct perspective we need to back off a bit, a mile or so, to the shore of Lake Josephine. Google Earth, you may notice, has a difficult time rendering trees.
Here the pieces are in order. We see Grinnell Glacier. Above that is the Garden Wall, the serrated comb-ridge spine that separates the Many Glacier region from the Lake McDonald valley. It also marks the continental divide.
The glacier, the lake, the falls, the mountains … but not the college, are named after the anthropologist, historian, naturalist and writer, George Bird Grinnell. Grinnell, who first visited the area in 1885, spent two decades working to establish it as a national park. He was also instrumental in saving the wild buffalo from extinction.
In his journal from his final visit to the area in 1926, Grinnell wrote “the glacier is melting very fast and the amount of water coming from it is great. All these glaciers are receding rapidly and after a time will disappear.”
Comparative views of the Grinnell Glacier, 1887, above, and 1952 below.
The impermanence of it all. All things must pass someday. But must we hurry their passing?
As for Grandfather Frank. Ten years after painting the picture that would grace the homestead for decades to come, he succumbed to cancer … a brain tumor, it is said. He would never know his grandchildren. And there’s nobody alive today who could tell us if he traveled to Montana and to Glacier Park and saw this mountain scene with his very eyes, or if he was inspired by a picture postcard.