Thursday, December 30, 2010

I am Glad for Many Things... especially:
- a hot shower after a cold day
- a space heater in the bathroom right after the shower
- an apartment so small that I can carry said space heater to every single room without ever needing to unplug it
- a down coat
- a down vest
- down mittens
- a down comforter
- hand warmers tucked in each coat pocket
- the toe warmers that stick right to my socks
- the wool socks under the toe warmers
- let's not forget those great boots outside of the package (incidentally, everyone notices and asks me about my boots and I can't figure out why)
- hot chocolate in a thermos when it's o'dark 30 in the morning and cold
- hot tea in the above situation and at any other time
- hot soup in between the cocoa and tea
- the heater in the bus
- I pay homage to radiators in general
- my Rudolph-red long johns (I've never had red underwear before)

And that wonderful stupor that sets in after a long day outside in the cold when all the hot food and drink finally gets me warm--even my toes, nose, and fingertips.  I feel like the little mountain chickadee who lowers its body temperature 20 degrees at night to survive by spending less energy staying warm.  Except that I have a lower body temperature during the daytime and at night I thaw out and come back to beautiful 98.6.

Did I mention that a north wind is blowing and tomorrow's windchill prediction is 20 to 30 below zero?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Come Away With Me

 I've spent much of the past few weeks scouring the northern range of Yellowstone looking for wildlife.  I've never devoted so much time looking for animals.  Although I am no stranger to Yellowstone, I am still amazed by the diversity of the wildlife in an ecosystem with very little human interference.  Before lunch on Thursday I had seen a 5 point mule deer, a golden eagle, a bald eagle, bison being hazed back into park boundaries (that's another story), coyotes, a trophy elk resting in a pasture among some horses just outside the park, pronghorn antelope pawing away the snow to reach grass, and three bighorn sheep rams battling for mating privileges with a young ewe.  The days that followed added to that list multiple foxes, a wolf pack, and an assortment of birds.  Not to mention Dasher and Dancer were hanging out by my door this past week.  I've learned that if I pull over with a scope and search carefully, something will be out there going about its life.  I spent yesterday snowshoeing up a ridge with overlooking a glacial carved valley contrasted with a canyon created by a river.  I felt all alone at the top of the world, until I came over a rise and found a few bighorn sheep looking back at me.  I detoured around three separate groups.  It isn't easy to survive the harsh winters here.  I watched kids born in the spring paw at the snow to reach the dead grasses underneath.  Sometimes it takes more energy to get to the grass than is received from eating it.

As I trudged (which is the only form of movement that can be done on snowshoes) back towards my car I thought how difference between an excursion in Yellowstone than other places: the animals here are as much a part of the landscape as the thermal features and rivers.  It is easy to imagine myself as a mountain man like Jim Bridger, or even a pioneer.  They saw the West filled with life around every corner.  To take a walk alone here is to step back in time and catch a glimpse of life before Europeans fulfilled their "manifest destiny".  It takes more effort to live near wildlife.  If there are deer or other ungulates around having a garden or planting new trees can be difficult.  If there are predators it changes how we care for our pets and where we put our garbage.  I have been impressed by the community here that has learned to do some of these things.
Coyote taking the easiest path to his destination.

Yellowstone is a place where wildlife can live essentially without human involvement and that's not the best choice for every landscape.  But in every landscape we can make small changes in our lives that improve the situation for our furry, feathered, and pollinating friends.  A backyard can easily be made into a bird habitat.  Do you know which plants are native to your area?  Try growing a few.  Nature isn't just thousands of miles away in a designated state or federal facility.  It can also be in each town or city, if we make a place for it.
"Conservation is a state of harmony between men and land." -Aldo Leopold

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Sunday Walk in the Park With John Muir

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, 
places to play in and pray in, 
where nature may heal and 
give strength to body and soul.”

“How glorious a greeting the sun gives the mountains!” 

“Take a course in good water and air; and in the eternal youth of Nature you may renew your own.  
Go quietly, alone; no harm will befall you.”

 “Between every two pines is a doorway to a new world.”

“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.”

 "The clearest way into the Universe 
is through a forest wilderness."

Sunday, December 5, 2010

There's No Place Like Home

In C.S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia Aslan tells the Pevensie children that they cannot come back to Narnia.  They go back to their own world and live their lives, never forgetting the magical land of Narnia where animals talk and they have wonderful adventures.  Then, in the final book, the children are suddenly snatched from their world to Narnia--this time to stay.  I feel a little bit like that.  This week I moved to Montana.  "Moving to Montana" sounds like it ought to be on a bumper sticker.  Starting tomorrow I will be an instructor for the Yellowstone Association.  Yellowstone National Park, like Narnia for the Pevensie's, is now my permanent home.  Most people tell me that I'm "living the dream".  If you should wonder what the dream is like, let me tell you a little bit about Gardiner, Montana.

It's located on the edge of the northwest corner of Yellowstone only a few miles north of Wyoming and the 45th parallel.  In other words, I am closer to the North Pole than the equator.  Sociologist that I am, I can't resist demographic statistics: population of 742 (counting me), pretty even gender ratios and married vs. singles, ranks in the 98th percentile for air quality, the unemployment rate of 6.6%, the crime rate is half that of the U.S. average, the mean temperature in July is 86 degrees and in January it's 13, and the elevation is 5,285 feet.  I went to church today where there 21 people (8 under 18) and 3 deer in the parking lot.

I have 400 square feet, not counting the front porch, to myself.  For the first time I have no roommates which means I don't have to label my food anymore.  I've already learned that I talk to myself more than I realized.  I take my garbage a few miles outside of town to the dump where I was thrilled to discover that they have recycling!  The lone grocery store is called The Food Farm and I can walk there in three minutes.  The only chain restaurant in town is a Subway. The closest stoplight is 51 miles away. And what of my neighbors?  I often see residents walking down the street.  About half of the time these residents are human; the other half are deer working their way down from high elevations that are now filled with snow towards lower ground for the winter.  There was a five point elk in the post office parking lot yesterday.  There is a pile of deer scat on my front porch, which was where I was standing for the following:

I feel the immensity of the change as much as if I really had stepped through a magical wardrobe and heard the door close behind me.  Even good change can be disconcerting.  I tell myself, "I can do brave things."  I remember being part of a discussion about the meaning of the word home.  Is it a childhood house?  A college apartment or a car packed for a long road trip?  For me, home is the place that I think of while falling asleep at night and where I want to be in those moments before I first open my eyes in the morning.  I think of a place that is quiet with few people.  I imagine beautiful pine trees.  There are stars twinkling above and I can see the Milky Way.  I must be home because now when I go to sleep I cannot wish myself in any other place.