Sunday Morning in Parker

I’m on my second cup of coffee, just finished my second day-old scone with strawberry preserves from The Brown Palace, and we have Toy Story on the telly. Rosie and I are communicating in sentences; and she has a flair for the dramatic, I’m proud to say.

It’s a lovely Sunday morning.

The grasses in the fields outside the window are turning green, and there is a chartreuse blush on the flowering bushes. The birds are in riotous form, with meadowlarks and blue birds and robins and warblers. There is a red-tailed hawk that guards it all from above in lazy figure eights.

I arrived back in Parker on Friday afternoon and spent yesterday unpacking the bed of the truck (Big Red) so I can get the hitch back in and move the Hovel up closer to the house. I need to get busy setting it up for another summer in the park.

The uncomfortable sleeper sofa that came with the rig is gone, as is the broken down swivel rocker/recliner that was heavy as homemade sin. In their place I have the Poang chair I bought for my bedroom in the early 2000s, and a lovely light sage green chaise that I will have to reposition every time we move the rig, but will make such a lovely place to sit and read and look out the window at the West Thumb of Lake Yellowstone.

I’m also getting a new mattress and a new toilet. I’m buying myself one of those memory foam mattresses that ships for free, lets you try it for 100 nights, and will come and get it if you hate it. I don’t think I’m going to hate it. The toilet is a composting toilet. I like that I won’t be using so much water to flush body waste into a sewer system, and is a fraction of what it would cost to build a septic system to support the Hovel when I winter in Colorado this coming year.

I’ll be wintering in Colorado rather than in Yellowstone because the family is about to get bigger again. There will be a new baby, soon, and I want the chance to be a grandma and a good mother-in-law and lend a hand this winter.

This will be a good place to spend a winter. Gardiner was also a good place to spend the winter. Such a quiet little town in the off-season and the walk to work and back every day under the watch of Electric Peak, in all kinds of weather, was a treat. I never knew what animals I would see in the field across from the building. Would it be bison, or elk, or pronghorn. Some days it was a trifecta. I could do another winter, there.

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Wolves

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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Dusk

There’s a pretty sounding word 

Dusk 

Dusky 

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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Whew!

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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Ambiguous

It’s not at all 

neat and clean

black and white

this or that. 

It’s permeable. 

scary 

for you 

who want things neat

clearly defined

silly legislation

simple insecurity

fear of ambiguity

disorganization 

diversity 

humanity

Reality.

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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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