It’s been a tough few days. Another school shooting with 17 dead and revelation that a foreign power has interfered in our democracy and created chaos in our elections. Depressing and awful news. The kind of thing that gets me obsessing and second guessing my life choices. Is this really the country that I devoted 35 years in defense of? It’s also the kind of thing that makes me grateful that I have chosen to spend this winter in Montana, just outside the north gate of Yellowstone.

Today, I got the opportunity to step away from the news and the TV and immerse myself in the environment I am living in. I got invited to join a small group, led by an expert, to go looking for wolves. Wolves were once native to Yellowstone, but were hunted to near extinction in the early decades of the 20th century. They were re-established in the park in the mid-90s and now there are several packs that are doing their job of contributing to the health of the Yellowstone eco-system.

It was a very cold morning and there were several inches of fresh snow overnight with winds and drifting. The most popular areas in the park for sighting wolves are the Lamar and Hayden Valleys. The original plan was to go to Lamar. Because of the weather, driving conditions were pretty sporting. The roads between Mammoth Hot Springs and Tower Junction and out to Cooke City were closed today, so we did not get to the Lamar Valley.

Instead, we took an old highway along the west side of the Yellowstone River. We got perhaps two miles, maybe three, down the road when our guide (Emil McCain of Yellowstone Wild) pulled over and said, “I’m going to get some glass out and take a look.” Within minutes, he’d spotted a big gray settled down in the snow on the top of a hill about a mile out (towards the west). We all got a chance to look, and it did not appear any others of his pack were around, but Emil was sure they weren’t far off.

Toes and faces hurting from the cold, (it was -4º and -15º with the wind chill), we got back in the van and went a little further on, passing some bison, and then Emil pulled over again.  Now he was excited. “Hurry! They won’t be here long!” The rest of the pack, 15 wolves (including the white alpha female and a very large black male wolf who stuck to her like Velcro) were crossing the field about 1/2 mile to the northwest of us. We could see them with our naked eyes. Not well enough to describe them, but well enough to know they were canine and they were moving together. He got the scopes set up and we watched and counted. At one point, they were in a lovely line, with no more than 15 or 20 feet between any of them.

In three summers in Yellowstone, I’ve seen perhaps five wolves. One on the road between Norris and Mammoth and a den of pups at Specimen Creek (through a scope and a looong ways away). I never imagined I would get such a treat as this. Emil acknowledged that we had been very, very lucky (“blessed”) with this sighting. It was the Wapiti Lake pack and they were trespassing on the Eight-Mile pack territory.

We saw other things today, and I have photos of bison and big horn sheep that will make for very nice prints. My friend got some photos of the wolves, as well as some nice shots of prong horn on the river, but my day was complete with the incredible treat of seeing the Wapiti pack and watching them move together across the hills and fields, just inside the Yellowstone park boundary. We were sworn to silence, not to talk about it in town, because there are still wolf haters in these parts and they haven’t yet caught the assassin that shot the white alpha female in the early spring of 2017, the mother of the beauty we saw leading the pack today.

What a day!

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There’s a pretty sounding word 



And it’s a pretty time of day.

The colors 

and the way the light is dispersed across the top of the lake

I can see the lake for the longest time

After all the pink of the sunset has turned to gray

And the trees begin to lose their shapes

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They Don’t Call Them Grand for Nothing

I drove down to Jackson WY, today. It was my first day out of the park since late May. I picked a beautiful day to do it. A still and cloudless day that showed off the best features of the south end of Yellowstone and the Tetons over the lakes. I wrote about wildflowers yesterday, but today was a wildflower bonanza! It makes me wish I was a real photographer with a legitimate camera. I’ve never seen the wildflowers like this! So many varieties and such abundance. Even in last year’s burn area (the forest on either side of 89 south of Flagg Ranch is gone — nothing but black poles), the flowers are magnificent. And then there are the Tetons…

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Following the Wildflowers

It was a little frosty this morning. That’s a good thing. That means I can take that first walk with the dogs without breaking out the DEET. The mosquitos have been ferocious, especially in the evening when I want to be outside watching another magnificent sunset behind the West Thumb Geyser Basin.

This morning, we were the first ones out. The sun wasn’t yet over the Absorakas, but the sky was getting pink and light and the littlest songbirds were already out, dipping on the air like tiny winged porpoises. The lake, calm and blue against the dark green forested shores. 

The lupine is finally blooming here at 8000 feet. So are the yarrow, goatsbeard, spiny phlox, wild strawberry, and heart leaf arnica. All of this in the meadow above the lake. It’s so odd to be seeing these blooms after enjoying some of them (i.e., lupine) since the 1st of April. Of course they grow lupine bigger in Texas, and they call them Bluebonnets. It was April when I left San Antonio to begin the journey north for the summer, and they were bountiful through the hill country. I enjoyed them again in early May in the Grand Canyon, and again in late May in Missoula during my Avalon retreat,* when they were just beginning to bloom, along with the Camas. 

It’s not a bad life, following the wildflowers. 

* I have friends who have nicknamed their Montana home Avalon. This in recollection of the sanctuary and healing provided by King Arthur’s home in The Idylls of the King. My visits there, over the past few years have been healing and restorative. Their home is well-named.  

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It’s been nearly a month, since I last wrote. It’s been a busy month. In between, I met my crew for 2017; we trained; we cleaned; we set up shop; and we opened for the summer, amid frequent power outages and systems failures and personnel shortages. It’s been wild. Some of it has been brutal. This is my first day off since before we opened on June 9, and more than a couple of those days in between were close to 16 hours. 

These summers never fail to be a wake up call for my physical condition. There’s always a point when I wonder if I’m physically up to it. I reached that point last night. But, here I am again, on the right side of the grass. I guess I’m going to make it.
So I’m sitting at my window, watching the lake and the trees and the mountains and the sky, and taking a breath. 

There are things to be done, for sure. I’m running out of underwear and I’ve run out of socks. I haven’t had a chance to do laundry since the first week of June. My Hovel is starting to look like one, as I have barely kept it clean and straight — ok, mostly not at all — as I’ve come and gone these past three weeks. The holding tanks on the Hovel need to be drained, an act that makes me very aware of my impact on the environment, both in what I use and the waste I leave behind.

But I’m sitting at my window, watching the lake and the trees and the mountains and the sky, and now a bird going by, and taking another breath.

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Home Again

Wondrous morning is an apt description. I awoke the first time a little before five and the sky over the Absorakas showed a deep orange band at the horizon. As the orange band grew wider and softer, the blue grew lighter with the lightest bands of blue turning white where they kissed the tangerine orange bands of the coming sun. You could see the reflection of those oranges and blues and the mountains and the tops of the trees on the still waters of the Yellowstone Lake’s West Thumb. I saw all this from my pillow this morning. I dozed off and on, checking the progress until the sun finally came over the top of the mountains at six. That’s when I got up and threw on the sweats and took the dogs out for our first walk. I love it when we are the first ones up and out on a morning like this — like it was made just for us. 

We’re home, again. 

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It’s not at all 

neat and clean

black and white

this or that. 

It’s permeable. 


for you 

who want things neat

clearly defined

silly legislation

simple insecurity

fear of ambiguity





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Yellowstone #21

Somehow, I thought I’d have written this months ago. But the words never came. The thoughts came and went. By the hundreds. How do I talk about leaving, and how hard it was that final day in Gardiner in early October? I had the urge for going (thank you for those words, Joni. what a deep place they spoke to when you sang them.), and so I had to go. I had promises to keep. I make them very carefully these days; because I intend to keep them all, and we never know how much those promises mean to others or what change might lie ahead to make the promise-keeping impossible. I especially treasure the promises I make to myself, these days. As I drove out of Montana that day, I made one of those promises. 

I’ll be back.

In the past several days, I’ve received word that I have a job. It’s not a glamorous job. It’s damned hard. And the pay is way south of some of the proposals for minimum wage. But I’ll have a camping spot in a place as close to heaven as I have ever been. And I can keep my promise.

Here are a few more reasons why:


Grasses in late September at Mud Volcano

A Visual Treat in Late September – Mud Volcano Area

Traffic was backed up for almost a mile behind this guy.

The bison have the right of way.



I was on my way back to camp from West Yellowstone.

Bull Elk walking up Madison River.

Photo taken from Sulphur Cauldron turn-out.

Thermal areas along the Yellowstone River



I always had the best seat.

Sunset from the Hovel

The dogs and I almost walked right up on this guy!

Elk on Lake Yellowstone

We were some hard-working women. We also know to have a little fun!

I met the most fabulous people!


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Notes from Yellowstone #20

It’s Monday. My ninth Monday in Yellowstone. Next Monday morning, the tenth Monday, I’ll be having breakfast with my friends and coworkers, turning in all of the company issued materials, and breaking camp. It’s really almost over for the year. I can hardly believe that the time has gone by so quickly, until I raise my arms with that 90º bend at the elbow and see the muscle-tone in my upper arms. Guns! I have GUNS! And only a little bit of wing left on the underside. In fact, the hard work of hauling the cleaning kit (known as a Biffy Box), scrubbing showers and hosing them down, swinging a mop, loading the ice freezer, and walking miles every day has put me in the best shape of my late adult life, and stripped off some of the excess weight I’ve been carrying around for close to 30 years. I even have ankles! 
To be sure, I’m not a skinny little 20 year old, but something better, inside as well as outside. This summer has been transformative, in so many ways. I feel like I am becoming the person I always wanted to be. The truest me. No pretenses, no posturing, no excuses, and not as many fears. Except for bears. 

In the beginning of this adventure, I realized that I was working excessively hard to prove to others, but mostly to myself, that I was capable and worthy. I’ve spent a lot of time in my life trying to prove myself, much to the discomfort of those around me. I am finishing this summer with the realization and confidence that I don’t have to prove myself with extreme actions. The best moments have come with words and actions that came easily and naturally. 

The rewards have come in unexpected ways. Concern and care from fellow work campers when I sliced my head open (10 staples!) on the glide-out bedroom of the Hovel. A bottle of Czech beer and a heart drawn in soap bubbles on a shower room floor by two dear young people from the Czech Republic who worked with us in the evenings after their shift in housekeeping was over for the day. Working with strangers who have become dear friends and fellow survivors. Letters and emails (and CARE packages) from friends who have been with me most of my life, encouraging and lifting me up. Sunrises and sunsets, cool misty mornings, thunderstorms, star-filled nights and nights lit up by a full moons. Meadows and hillsides filled with wildflowers, Incredible, otherworldly landscapes. And critters, large and small. I have no choice but to return to Yellowstone. It’s magic has invaded my cells. 

What comes between the now and the return are the unanswered questions. Where will I go? Who will I meet or be reunited with on my travels? What work will I do to keep fuel in Old Blue and keep the Hovel parked wherever that somewhere is? What experiences and adventures lie ahead? Whatever the answers are, I’m willing to be there. I want to see how this all turns out, don’t you?
(Note: In the days to come, I’ll be working on #21 — my last note from Yellowstone 2015. And then…on to the next!)

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Notes from Yellowstone #19

Friday. Autumn is knocking on the door here in Yellowstone. Yesterday a friend and I drove down to Leeks Marina in Grand Teton NP for pizza, beer, and conversation. The drive took us by Lewis Lake and Lewis Falls and along the Lewis River. Not only are the grasses changing from green to golden, the low shrubs are also changing into their fall reds, oranges and yellows. I love fall colors and fall weather. It’s my favorite season, even if it only lasts about a minute and a half. 

I can recommend the pizza restaurant at Leeks Marina. Excellent pizza, cold beer, and a wonderful setting with the magnificent Tetons reflected in the still waters of the marina. Picturesque. 

This morning a strange fog hung low in the trees around the Hovel, hiding the lake and the Absarokas from view. It hung around for several hours and didn’t completely lift until mid-morning. 

I decided to stay close to home during this break and rest up. The pace has been intense with a short staff and another one bit the dust this week. We also gained one, and it appears he is worth two of the one we lost so we are almost back to normal. The problem with taking a break to rest up is that I start feeling guilty about not doing all the hikes and ranger talks and other activities. There are hundreds of hiking trails and ranger talks at every village every evening. Realistically, it probably isn’t possible to do it all, at least in one season. It seems like I have spent most of the summer adapting to the environment and my new life style, not to mention working like crazy.

It was a beautiful, mild day once the fog lifted, so I took a bike ride around Grant Village: down to the Lake House and Pavilion, the amphitheater, post office, campgrounds…The traffic has calmed down significantly from July’s peak. I had a lot of the road and trail to myself, making the uphill walking of the bicycle less embarrassing, and giving me a chance to look closely, listen ?-ly, and breath deeply of the pines and humus. A clear day after so many smoke-filled ones, made the colors appear more brilliant than ever.

After the bike ride, a nap of course, followed by a lazy afternoon of reflection and daydreaming. That’s what summer afternoons are for, aren’t they?

Saturday. A gorgeous start to the day and some excitement this morning. An actual helicopter landed on the helipad at the end of Workcamp Yellowstone. All this time, it’s been no more than a great spot to walk the dogs and look at the lake. 

There is a fire in the park, on the Promontory peninsula of the Lake, between the two southern arms of the lake. It’s been burning since Monday, following a lightening strike. 

From all appearances, this was a relief crew coming in to replace some of the firefighters who are keeping the fire from spreading to other areas while it burns itself out. One group was clean and fresh and the other was covered in soot. The really interesting thing was that of the two crews (about six or seven people) there was only one male in the group. The rest were young women firefighters. 

I’m glad I lived long enough to see women following their dreams to become firefighters, Army Rangers, and fighter pilots. As I get older I realize the only thing that limits me is my imagination, or lack thereof. If you can see yourself doing it, you can do it! You may have to convince the imagination-challenged folks around you, sometimes the hardest barrier of all; and, if that group is too difficult to win over, you may need to start hanging with a different crowd. 

Back to work this afternoon for three swings and two day shifts. Just a little over three weeks left before Grant Village closes for the year, and those of us left head out for the next destination. Some will be going directly home, some to other parks (Death Valley is a popular spot for the “migrant” park workers), and some (like me) a a little trip planned before we head to the permanent or next address. 

I’ll be visiting friends and relatives in Idaho, Oregon, California, and Nevada before I get back to Denver in October. From there, I’m looking for something in south Texas to get me through the winter (National Park, State Park, or RV Park). The requirements: a place to park the Hovel, a beautiful view, and some time to enjoy it. I’m looking for something in or within an hour or so of San Antonio. WiFi would also be nice. Let me know if you hear something!

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