Notes from Yellowstone #1

Not proving myself to anyone
only myself, of course
and it’s true
I’m a hard woman
as he said
but not so hard
you know.
I found a spot for him,
and kept it safe.
and warm.
not proving myself 
to anyone
That’s what this summer
is about
Except I worked so hard
at proving myself
to myself
of course
I nearly killed
the very first day
of course
proving to myself
that this is what I wanted
this is what I needed
I can do this
MORE.     sgf///7/16/15

I worked my freaking ass off yesterday. I haven’t worked so hard for so many hours at a time since I was a young mother with two toddlers and a full-time job in the Air Force. I bounced back pretty quickly in those days. Forty years and a joint replacement later, I try to avoid bouncing. I could end badly. It can lead to a trip to the hospital in an ambulance. I know. I’ve made that trip a couple three times. I’m over it. 

But before I tell you about Yellowstone, let me tell you about the trip.  I had planned my route pretty well, with no day over 240 or so miles. On Wednesday I drove from Denver to Northwest Nebraska to see a friend. I took two days at Agate Fossil Beds in Nebraska to enjoy a personalized tour of the park. A dear friend from high school, now a professor at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa, is spending his summer at Agate Fossil Beds National Park (AFBNP) as a National Park Service Ranger Interpreter. He was actually my inspiration for the summer job in Yellowstone. He aimed a little higher than I did and is having a wonderful summer immersing himself in the history of the place and teaching it to the visitors. He will not be cleaning bathrooms and showers.

By the way, if you’ve never been to AFBNP, it is a fascinating trip with something to interest almost everyone in a family group, from the geologist to the paleantologist to the American history buff. The museum at the Visitor’s Center contains a priceless collection (The Cook Family Collection) of artifacts documenting their long association with Chief Red Cloud and his family. One treasure included is the handmade quill emblazoned shirt that the Chief wore for a portrait. The portrait itself is also on display with the collection.

The trip was not without a humbling experience. The RV spots in the guest parking were wonderfully level concrete pads that were nice and wide and long enough to accomodate The Hovel (the name I have given my home on wheels) plus Old Blue (my trusty truck which happens to be blue). Unfortunately. I am still pretty new at this thing, and I don’t have a lot of experience backing up the trailer. Make that once. And my cousin was directing me. I pulled way past the space and tried to back in. Nope. Pulled forward a little more. Tried again. Nope. Pulled forward again, trying to get myself straightened out. This happened over a half dozen times, until I realized I was going to run out of road, I had pulled so far forward. I had to back up to the first of the two available spots from where I was. I practiced backing up in a straight line for close to 40 minutes. My right knee was screaming angry with me. I tried another six or so times to back into that spot. Now my left hip was pissed off as well. And that’s when the UPS driver showed up. The first of several angels who have appeared along the way. He backed it in like he knew what he was doing, because he did.

On Friday, I drove to Devil’s Tower, Wyoming. Again, it was a reasonable distance and stopping-off point, and it’s Devil’s Tower. Old Blue worked pretty hard in the hot sun that day, pulling The Hovel up some long climbs, and I had to learn her limits. I began watching the transmission temperature very carefully and pulling off, before it got too warm, to let things cool down. I was really happy to have made reservations ahead of time with the KOA here. It is a prime spot, with almost every campsite within view of Devil’s Tower (An unfortunate bastardization of the terms used by the native Americans when speaking reverently of the landmark. There is a movement afoot to rename it: Bear Lodge). Another big advantage was that my reservation assured me a pull-through campsite. 

On Saturday, we pressed onward to Garryowen, Montana, near the site of the Battle of Little Bighorn. All of these sites were on the side of a hilltop, but were fairly level. The park never filled completely, and was a quiet spot with an occasional train going through a mile or so away. I had reserved two nights here, thinking it would be a good time to settle into The Hovel a little bit, maybe go out to the battle site.

I was still waiting to hear where I would be going in Yellowstone from the company employing me. I finally did. On Sunday, the 12th. I was on a track to Gardiner, Montana (the north entrance to Yellowstone) and my job was to be in Grant Village…at the southern end of the park…separated by 80 miles of challenging road which crosses the Continental Divide at least twice on one side of the loop and once on the other. 

It was a toasty day and Old Blue had been pulling The Hovel with all of its stuff for 220 miles over hill and dale. She was hot and tired. I had to pull her over about four times during that last 80 miles, back into Wyoming, before pressing onward and mostly upward.  It was 7:30 before The Hovel was expertly backed into the campsite by a Marine Devil Dog and former truck driver. Yeah. I know. I really should learn how to do this. And I will. I promise. I have a lot of things I’m learning right now. Some of them have to take a lower priotiy. I don’t have to do it all at once. Realizing this truth has been liberating.

Over the past week, before I got to Yellowstone, I was practicing hitching and unhitching and setting up the camper every day. I made mistakes. One or two of them could have ended disasterously. Like when I thought I had put Old Blue in park and she was really in reverse. The didn’t. End disasterously. I have a lot of good thoughts carrying me. I got here.

And when I got here, it was cold, pouring rain. I put on my trusty canary yellow poncho and set up The Hovel for the two-month stay on a hill that overlooks the West Thumb of Yellowstone Lake. Where the early morning mists and low clouds on the other rim produce the most delicately skyblue pink and orange sunrises I’ve ever seen, before the sun pops like a cork over that eastern edge of the caldera that holds the lake waters, source of the Yellowstone River that runs from here into Montana and into North Dakota, joining the Missouri.

Did you catch that word, caldera, in the last paragraph? Yes, my friends. I’m living on the rim of an ancient volcano. How cool is that?

On Tuesday, I was required to report in and get badged, ID’ed, and uniformed. Where? Why Gardiner, of course. Another 160 miles, roundtrip; but this time, without The Hovel weighing her down, Old Blue was back to her old self and performed flawlessly. I left Grant about 6:45 am for the trip up to Gardiner, taking the eastern portion of the Grand Loop over Dunraven Pass to avoid the 20+ miles of construction and terrible horrible no good very bad dirt road and traffic on the western portion. We did that yesterday. Got the t-shirt.

That 80 miles in the early morning mist captured my heart forever. Was it the sun playing peek-a-boo through the mists on the lake? Was it the massive bull Elk with the mossy 6 by 6 rack suddenly sauntering alongside my truck? Was it the bear ambling up a hill covered with wildflowers? It was all of these things, and the smell of sulfur leaking from the restless earth, and the clear blue sky that fills with stars every night. And the darkness of the night. And the quiet.

I’m so glad I did this. This is what I needed. Even the hard work, and it is very hard work, promises to either kill me or make me stronger. I’m counting on stronger.  sgf///7/16/15

About Sharon

Like anyone who lives long enough, I have experienced great loss and survived. I am convinced that my survival depends on my own participation in creating the reality I am living in, and I am determined to be a thoughtful and active participant/creator. These writings are my way of documenting that creation. As the song goes, "I will survive!" I chose the title Staying Vertical because I find that surviving isn't just staying on my feet physically. Keeping my thoughts and emotions on the vertical plane keeps me alive and moving forward. Thanks for joining me!
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8 Responses to Notes from Yellowstone #1

  1. Ah, magnificent. This is a glorious post. I am in awe. This is a book, woman. I hope you know it right now and give it everything. Even your leftovers are more extraordinary than some people’s best. I can’t wait for more.

  2. George says:

    Male Elk are Bull Elk, not Bucks, like deer are. You will see a lot of both in yellowstone so you will soon learn the terminology. We did need some more time for backup lessons! God’s Blessings! Like I said before, you got sand.

    • Sharon says:

      I’ll get the language down pat with time, I think. At least I didn’t call it a 12 pointer! Already got schooled on that one. :)

  3. Anne says:

    Good to hear from you, Sharon. I am waiting for pictures, maybe on FB? I loved reading this. We will miss you this summer, or September.

  4. Pete Siegel says:

    And Elk “bugle.” Hearing a bull elk doing his thing raises the hairs on the back of your neck. Sharon, I have problems just trying to back up a jon boat.

  5. Jan Parrish says:

    So great to hear about your journey. We miss you here – but what a fabulous opportunity. Next year you can run the tours. :)

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