Monday, December 28, 2009

What Should I Wear to Church?

It's the question that single girls in Singles Wards ask on Sunday mornings to themselves and their roommates.  I asked it of myself this morning as well, but with a slight variation in emphasis.  What to wear to not at church.  A lucky Sunday without work and a one hour ride on a snowmobile with the only other church-goer to West Yellowstone.  The thermometer reads -17 degrees.  Here was today's outfit from toe to head: -148 degree boots (still got chilly toes), wool socks, toe warmers, two pairs of long johns, running pants, fleece pants, snow pants, 2 thermal tops, fleece turtleneck, two-piece coat, neck gaiter pulled up to my eyes, sunglasses, beanie, and helmet.  I am coming to see hot chocolate as it's own food group.  Scarcely a day, much less a meal, passes without it. 

Sunday, December 27, 2009

"Sweet is the sound of a carol sung by a choir...And sweeter still is life to me."

Some days are so perfect that they spill over into the days before and after.  In this case, it began early on Christmas Eve.  By the time the sun rose I was driving bomb #711 across Yellowstone.  The day was clear and the air sparkled.  At noon my first Christmas wish came true--a change in schedule meant I would get Christmas off. 

Later, I picked up my parents and sister in West Yellowstone in the afternoon.  We were lucky enough to have a coach to ourselves as we drove back to Old Faithful and watched the sun go down behind the Madison Plateau.  The snow reflected the colours of the sunset and the half moon began to rise.  It had been dark a long time when I finally finished cleaning the coach that evening, but Christmas was waiting in the dorm room I had reserved for my family.  It was a little room with two beds with barely enough space for the four of us to all be in it at the same time, but Eve had arranged the presents under a paper tree my nieces and nephews in Japan had sent. 

We walked through the cold night to the Snowlodge where George plays piano in the evenings.  Music is a part of my family and a part of Christmas, so Eve and I didn't hesitate to step up and sing along with the carols he played.  Before we had finished the first phrase a father and daughter joined saying, "We were just waiting for someone to start singing first."  Soon so many stood around the piano they crowded together to see the words and filled the hotel with music celebrating the birth of our Christ.  Couples stood hand in hand, sisters arm in arm, and children stood all around George. 

I found myself smiling at strangers across the impromptu choir who were laughing and smiling at me as well. 
We all became friends and as we celebrated this special holiday far from home.  Some couldn't sing because their voices choked as their eyes filled with tears.  One man stood on the edges of the crowd alone, rarely singing but with moist eyes.  By the fireplace another man seemed to sleep in an armchair, but his lips moved silently with the words of the music.  Time flew and eventually children were put to bed, families drifted away, and George ended for the evening saying, "That was a very rare evening."  No one felt as alone in the woods on Christmas Eve.

Christmas morning found the four of us crowded in and sleeping in the same dorm room.  For the first time in my life, we opened presents in our pajamas (I'm sure it will be the only time in the history of the Eddington Family).  We went on a ski through and to nearby geyser basins.  Every geyser seemed to be erupting and celebrating as well.  Eve and I talked and talked as we skied about boys, jobs, dreams, New Year goals, and hair cuts.  The talking helped keep our faces from freezing.  There is no friend like a sister.

The highlight of the afternoon was removing my stitches (I got to "unwrap" my knee for Christmas).  Soon evening found us in the lobby of the Snowlodge again for a little more music, reading, and lots more talking.  It was a Christmas so different from any that I've known.  This year I missed so many of the things that make me think about Christmas.  There were no decorated trees--no decorations at all, no shopping, no parties, no Ward Party or Ward Choir program, no goodies to and from neighbors, no lights, and for most of my friends here there was no Christ.  I felt His spirit in the beauty of nature, but even more in being with family and hearing from many friends far away (even if it is through mass-text).  My family left the next morning.

This Christmas couldn't have been better.  There were little blessings and miracles at every turn--some that I won't write online.  The last was that on Sunday I had the day off and had a ride to church in West Yellowstone.  In the parking lot I found my parents and a crew of nieces and nephews there for church during their stay at the cabin.  I loved snuggling with nieces during church and warming my frozen fingers on their cheeks.  Every Christmas wish, even those I didn't dare to dream, came true.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Radio Call: 2905 this is 708. Frolic Fleet headed south to Old Faithful.

There is a tradition that dates back to at least the early days of tours being given by car, if not earlier than that, called "Frolic".  All new guides, then as they do now, would go throughout the park with an experienced guide to learn how and what to say and do. 
From Tuesday until tonight at 9 pm we frolickers (11 newbie guides) reported to work at 6:15 where we banged all the ice off the coach under the direction of our guide and then headed to breakfast.  We left Old Faithful by 7:30 and didn't return until after dark.  We'd drive straight to the EDR and then after a quick dinner go bang more ice off the coach, fill it up with gas, and stumble back to the dorm.  It wasn't always easy to climb in and out of vans and plod through knee-deep snow in geyser basins since I'm still pretty tender with the stitches. 
But I have seen the park from top to bottom in the snow and have pages and pages of notes.  I am now a repository for facts about Yellowstone--if I can just keep them straight. 

- I have driven three kinds of coaches: Mattrack (15 passenger van with rubber tracks on all four wheel wells), Glaval (like a mini bus with four separate tracks), and the queen of the roads--the Bombardier (invented by the same French Canadian--Joseph Armand Bombardier--who invented the snowmobile, before he invented the snowmobile; it was meant to be a school bus for Canadian kids in the winter).  She's affectionately called a "bomb".  She's got a Chevy 350 V-8 engine (whatever that means).  The coaches deserve an entire description of their own, but that will come later.  Above is a Glaval (we were walking through the snowstorm in a basin).
- Bison chips have so much moisture in them that when they freeze they become like piles of steel in the road.  If I hit one with the Mattrack or the Glaval I'll bend an axle.
- Don't get the Glaval near the edge of the road.  No one knows for sure, but the mechanics think that if one track gets in the snow the entire thing will roll.  The Glaval takes diesel.  If I put in unleaded and then start the vehicle it will explode.  Good to remember.
- Trumpeter swans pretty much mate for life.

- The Park Service prefers to call pit toilets "vault" toilets.  Once someone asked a ranger why and was told, "Because it is a place where you deposit your treasures."  Just don't make withdrawals.
- The leader of a bison herd (a herd is actually called an obstinacy) is the alpha female.
- All this touring stuff is a great idea, but the dispatchers (one of whom is German and gets large packages of sausages from home) told us, "Don't worry about touring too much for now.  For now your motto should be: get 'em home safe."
- When a bomb starts to overheat, go to the back and bungee cord the door over the engine open so it gets more air. 
- There is a lamp post in West Yellowstone just as you are driving into the Park.  It's on the right just past the IMAX.  Now I know I live in Narnia.  This picture is the canyon and Lower Falls partially frozen.

- Road kill in Yellowstone is moved to certain areas in the Park because they still want the carcass to be available to other animals.  So don't go hiking along those "Service Roads".  Some of them are designated carcass dump sites.
- A small bird called the American Dipper hangs out in river rapids.  It flies above water, dives below, and continues to fly through the water to catch the critters it likes.  It can also grip the bottom with its feet and walk along the bottom of the river.
- Coach drivers never pass gas.  We learned this the hard way (the bombs don't have gas gauges).  This is me, standing by my bomb after it ran out of gas. 

Luckily, it was just around the corner from the gas station.  I guess that new tank doesn't hold as much as the mechanics thought.  By the way, there's no power steering either.

- Duck Lake was caused by a steam explosion, unlike the West Thumb area of Yellowstone Lake which was caused by a magma explosion.  So, in other words, Duck Lake is just a "quack in the earth". 
- Boiling point at sea level is 212 at Old Faithful it is 199 degrees F. 

On Friday afternoon we finished at Mammoth Hot Springs where we dropped of our guide/teacher and then piled into the three vehicles we were to shuttle down to Old Faithful (two bombs and a Glaval).  We don't have mechanical training, but we didn't have any tools anyway so we crossed our fingers and headed south.  Doing radio calls are kind of tricky because they are mostly numbers.  For example: 2905.  708.  1029 Madison.  1017 Norris.  708.  KNFK 912.  When coaches travel together they have a name (north fleet, south fleet, etc.).  The last coach gets to make the calls to dispatch.  We called ourselves "The Frolic Fleet".  I start my own tours on Tuesday.  And Wednesday, for the first time in nine days I'll get a day off.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Goofy Learns to Ski

This week we moved down to Old Faithful.  It is nice to be back in the trees and it has also been a lot warmer here (in the 20s) which feels so nice!  This week has been about skiing.  The best way to get to meals is to ski and the only thing to do when not at meals is ski.  Luckily, I am no stranger to cross-country skiing.  To quote myself, "I grew up cross-country skiing."  Friday after lunch another driver agreed to show me Fern, a 3-mile loop that leaves from near the dorm.  Remember that old Disney movie about Goofy skiing in the Alps? 

It was an absolutely beautiful day!  The sky was clear blue without a cloud and the sun sparkled on the snow.  The snow muffles all sound and it is difficult to even carry on a conversation with your ski buddy.  The first half on the trail climbs up the hill for a view of the valley.  At the top we had to go off course a little because a bison was on the trail and showed no inclination to leave.  The second half of the trail goes downhill. 

The very last hill isn't very steep, but it is long so a skier keeps picking up speed.  Zac made it down without difficulty and I hoped to do the same.  I was flying along the long downhill and around curves at a speed that was both exhilarating and also a little concerning.  I came around the last bend and saw the level coming closer.  At the point of maximum speed something went seriously wrong.  I flew forward and face planted.  Embarrassed, I rolled over as quickly as I could, pushed my snow-filled sunglasses onto my head, and tried to shake most of the snow off my face.  I got myself up and the pain in my right knee suggested I would probably have a bruise there.  After getting my breath back and limping a bit down the hill I assured my guide that I was just fine and we continued to ski.  After a few minutes I glanced down and noticed a tear in my new fleecy sweats.  Rats!  Then I noticed some reddish stuff at the edges.  I peeked through the tear and saw a V-shaped gash.  After getting back to the dorm we took a closer look and it was definitely a rather meaty mess.  I rolled up my pant leg and Zac and a fellow from personnel helped me clean it up a bit.  I haven't really been into shaving my legs here, but I probably would have made time for that if I'd known anyone would be seeing them, especially up close.  Later, I had a ranger take a gander and he immediately advocated some "professional" medical care.  Luckily, the roads aren't completely closed yet and my good friend Pete (a semi-retired engineer from Ogden) had a truck and agreed to drive me to the nearest open medical facility. 

So we raced against the clock and made it to urgent care one minute before they closed.  With some tweezers to pull fleece bits out, numbing, a tetanus booster, a scrub brush, and seven stitches (lucky number seven) I limped back out.  In two weeks I'll take out the stitches.  It's swelling up now, but in the next few days that should go down. 

In the meantime I am back in the Park and it has finally started to snow here.  Everything is covered with a new white blanket and hopefully more is on the way.  From my room I can see it falling against the trees.  I'll be ready to ski again before Christmas. 

I have learned firsthand that Lord Mancroft was right when he wrote, "There are really only three things to learn in skiing: how to put on your skis, how to slide downhill, and how to walk along the hospital corridor." 

Sunday, December 6, 2009

"Baby it's cold outside!"

I'm gradually adjusting to life again in Yellowstone.  I'm here at Mammoth Hot Springs for training until Thursday when we'll all move to Old Faithful.  Mammoth is still on the edge of civilization so it is a nice way to ease into the season.  Here is an assortment of observations from the last few days:
- I am so very grateful to birds who willingly (or unwillingly) gave their feathers to keep me warm.  I would happily hug and kiss whoever figured out bird feathers belong in coats.
- New skill: judging the temperature +/- a few degrees by how my nose hairs freeze. 
- The employee cafeteria is called the Employee Dining Room (EDR).  I didn't miss it and it hasn't improved since I've been gone.  I ate oatmeal for the first three meals in a row.  There is a disease called EDR-dia (say it out loud and it will make sense).  Beware the day they serve "Chinese".
- Getting my work uniform was an ordeal.  Filling out the uniform request was a cinch until they asked what size pants I needed--in waist and inseam inches, which isn't how women's pants come.  I don't know my measurements and they had no tape measure.  I finally, through trial and error, got my size down (while all the other drivers waited in line for me to figure this out) and learned the uniform office didn't have it.  Correction, they had pants my size, but they weren't insulated, is that okay?  I quickly responded I would be happy to wear bigger pants.  In my mind fashion is optional, but insulation is an absolute essential.  So I held the pants up while a lady marked the hem.  I decided to add a belt to the list of my requested uniform pieces.  Good news--they have my size!
- What is that noise?  The fellow in the room on the floor below snores. 
- Last night my roommate Kristine and I wanted some ice cream after the guide pizza party in Gardiner.  The only place open at 7 pm was the grocery store.  We were met by containers there that were much larger than we needed.  What to do?  We couldn't eat that much ice cream and don't have a refrigerator in our room.  However, given the temperature rating taking with my nose hairs, we decided to store it outside without any danger of it thawing.  We came back to the room and ate it out of my titanium cup with sporks and put the rest out on the railing.
- We drove two hours today through a snow storm to the Wal-Mart at Bozeman.  It took four Wal-Mart employees to help me find a shower caddy.  One woman also offered us some dating advice while her boss was far enough away to not hear, "I would never date a man like that.  Look at how high he wears his pants!  Girls, don't date guys like that." 
- Had CPR training yesterday.  I did a little sociology during the training.  Of the men in the room 75% had some kind of facial hair (9 of 12).  Picture for a moment our instructor Dave: about six feet tall, solid build and a stomach that hung over his jeans.  Now, from the bottom up: Sorel boots, dark blue Wranglers, long sleeved long johns sticking out from underneath a Sesame Street T-shirt reading "I was raised on the street", bright red suspenders, and a Yellowstone baseball cap.  Under the hat was a head of curly blackish-brown hair.  Most impressive, however, was Dave's beard.  He must have had two hair follicles where most men have one.  He had a full, bushy beard that covered his face, under his chin, and down most of his neck without losing any of its thickness. 
- My Jiffy Lube sticker that tells me when to get my oil changed won't stick to the windshield when it is this cold.  It falls right off.
- I went to the Gardiner Branch today.  There is something special about branches.  They were excited to see me there and quickly offered to transfer my records to the branch just so the Ward Clerk would have something to do, they invited me to dinner, invited me to pray, and really made me feel at home.  It was a really wonderful testimony meeting.
- The Chapel in Gardiner has frosted windows, but it didn't used to.  Once the Relief Society made beautiful silk floral arrangements at an Enrichment activity.  On Sunday the arrangements were in the small chapel.  A bison wandered by (I think it was winter) and really wanted at those flowers.  He started sucking on the window and apparently a bison can make very loud sucking noises.  The congregation and the speaker all turned and just watched the bison suck at the window trying to get in and eat the flowers.  So now the church has frosted windows.  That is the story told to me by the Branch President and his wife and they were there or else I wouldn't even believe it.
- I'm giving the Branch President's son a trumpet lesson tomorrow night since there's no one in the area that knows anything about trumpet.

Driving to church: Can't the elk read?  This area is only for sheep!

Driving home from church

A Sunday morning walk when the temperature is 0

Sunrise over Mammoth Hot Springs

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

"A beautiful sight, we're happy tonight. Walking in a winter wonderland."

It was 25 below this morning at Old Faithful.  Luckily, I wasn't there.  Yet.  I left Blackfoot and watched the world around me change.  Towns gave way to fields, then to trees and snow.  I drove to West Yellowstone and made the final left-hand turn towards the Park.  I quickly checked the rearview, and once I ascertained that no one was there to see, I finally took my picture with the "Yellowstone" sign. 

Then I got back in the car quickly and tried to act natural.  I drove to the gate--locked.  But I had the combination!  I've had Top Secret government clearance, but nothing felt as significant as turning the combination lock and opening the gate to Yellowstone.  It's like having your own magic wardrobe into Narnia. 

It really is a different world inside.  Not a cloud in the sky and the sun made the snow sparkle.  I didn't see any fawns, but about seven miles in I came upon two skate skiers headed out.  I wonder how long it would take me to work up to that...I only saw three other cars.  But in the drive to Mammoth Hot Springs I did see several trumpeter swans here for the winter, four bison, a herd of elk, and a lone coyote.  The coyote crossed the road in front of me, waited until I had passed by, and then returned to the road headed towards Norris.  I stopped and got out to get a good look at him.  He stopped and looked back at me.  The bison were pushing at the snow with their heads to dig down to the grass.  The waterfalls are frozen.  Listened to lots of Christmas music.  I love my down vest. 

I arrived safely in Mammoth.  Nothing is open: no restaurant, no hotel, no general store.  I am now tucked into my dorm room for the next two weeks for training until we all go to Old Faithful.  My roommate and I will check in tomorrow and receive all the important stuff--namely, the ID card that lets us into the cafeteria.  She ate crackers for dinner and I a cold can of soup (in a titanium cup with my spork, of course).  The bathrooms and showers are down the hall.  Through the window I can just glimpse one tall pine tree that has been hung with Christmas lights.

In my Defense

I don't blog for two reasons. First, I humbly don't think I have anything to say that would be either humorous or profound. Second, my ego tells me that I am above posting online. However, since I failed miserably at staying in touch this past summer working in Yellowstone and family and friends have requested that I do a better job this winter. In other words, that I blog. My ego is flattered, I have selected my text colours and now there is naught left but to write. If you should feel pressed by traffic, cubicles, or social pressures step through the wardrobe and join me in Narnia. Let your imagination wander.  I'd love the company.