Thursday, January 27, 2011

Just Another Day in the Office

I was walking to work in the dark yesterday morning when the dogs in Gardiner started whining and barking. I paused to silence the crunching of my feet in the snow and heard the distant howling of wolves. And did I mention that a deer has been on my porch eating my lilac bush? I saw her tracks in the new snow. In the past week I have traveled hundreds of miles by bus, van, snowcoach, skis, and snowshoes. I have been amazed at the beauty of the earth.  
Here are a few of the highlights:

For the beauty of the earth,

For the beauty of the skies;
For the love which from our birth,
Over and around us lies.
For the wonder of each hour,
Of the day and of the night;
Hill and vale and tree and flow'r,
Sun and moon, and stars of light.
or the joy of ear and eye,
For the heart and mind's delight;
For the mystic harmony,
Linking sense to sound and sight.
or the joy of human love,
Brother, sister, parent, child;
Friends on Earth and friends above,
For all gentle thoughts and mild;
Lord of all, to Thee we raise
This, our hymn of grateful praise.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

To Hear A Wolf

I leaned against the van with my eyes closed, soaking up the winter afternoon sun to warm up after leading a group skiing.  My group of 10 students, all old enough to be my parents, eagerly crowded around a few scopes set looking on the top of a bench across the Lamar River.  They watched six wolves wake up from a nap and begin to work their way through the deep snow.  As a guide and instructor it is a relief to find the ever-sought, often-elusive Canis lupus.  Despite the excitement of the sighting, not a word was spoken.  In fact, everyone held their feet still in the crunchy snow to listen.  The wolves turned their noses to the sky and filled the air with their howls creating the magical harmony of singing wolves--no two on the same pitch.  I closed my eyes and relished the moment, not as a guide, but as one listening to a symphony.  I know that wolves howl for many reasons: pack unity, excitement and hunting, to locate each other when spread out, happiness, loneliness, birth of pups, etc.  But for me, hearing a wolf is also a powerful cry of wildness.

When I was eleven years old I came to the Lamar Valley with several other 6th graders to spend a week learning ecology from Rangers Chet and Jane.  It was just a few years prior to the 1995 reintroduction of wolves.  I returned to visit the Lamar Buffalo Ranch in the summer 2009.  I arrived in the dark and rolled out my sleeping bag in one of the small cabins there.  I opened the door to view the stars before going to sleep.  Out of the darkness rose the unmistakable call of a wolf: it was a sound missing when I had come as a kid.  I stood in my doorway, alone in the darkness, with the hairs on the back of my neck tingling.  A wolf's song is an unforgettable reminder of untamed places and animals that exist beyond human settlements.

The sun moved toward the horizon.  The chill of night comes early in the winter months.  The wolves moved through the snow and into the trees, lost from view.  We quietly put away the scopes and drove away--the call of the wild still ringing in my ears.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

"Were you raised a Mormon?"

"Yes, and I still am," I reply.  I am with my group of 11 students for the week and we are seated around a table taking a break from scouting for wildlife to eat lunch.  More questions come in the days that follow.  Did you serve one of those missions?  Where do you go to Church?  Not all of my students nor all of my new friends in Gardiner ask these questions.  Most stop asking after finding out I went to Brigham Young University and that I have five brothers and sisters.  I can see the wheels turning and turning when I do not order an alcoholic beverage with dinner.  "Aren't women sort of oppressed and held back?" one man asked.  I explained that women in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are not second class citizens.  Rather, we are full and equal partners in every way.  Another inquired, "Do you want a family?" and "Are Mormons Christian?"  Affirmative to both.  The questions don't bother me.  In fact, I am glad to be able to answer a few and (hopefully) be known as a good Christian.

For I do believe in Jesus Christ.  I do believe that He was born of a virgin, lived a perfect life, and suffered and died for each person's sins.  I do believe that He rose from the tomb on the third day giving the gift of eternal life.  I believe in eternity.  I believe in this church to which I belong.  I believe that Joseph Smith did see Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.  I believe the Book of Mormon is true and it tells of Christ.  I believe in prophets today.  I believe that God knows and loves each person.  I believe in prayer.  My faith is the heart of who I am and who I strive to become.  It lights my way--it is the star I follow.  Like C.S. Lewis, "I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else."

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

"As if you could kill time without injuring eternity."

I've always liked Thoreau.  I love the idea of moving out to the woods, building a modest cabin, and thinking deep thoughts.  Yes, I know that Thoreau had a few personality quirks--like Ralph Waldo Emerson having to help pay a few bills on occasion or that he thought the ladies found his neck beard attractive.  Gentlemen: they didn't then, they don't now, and they won't ever.  I remember studying Thoreau in high school and learning that he had hoped to be a poet, but it turned out he wasn't actually good enough to make a living as a poet.  His writings gained much of their popularity after his death.  Nevertheless, there is something that is still just a little bit magical about his life.  Lately I've been reminded that at the age of 28 he stepped away from his Concord life (although Walden was barely 2 miles away from Concord) to "experiment" in living simply.  For the next two years Thoreau wrote, thought, and searched himself to understand what truly matters most.  A little over two passed and he returned to Concord.  His experience did not gain him fame or fortune.  Indeed, he spent the next nine years making pencils at the family factory while rewriting Walden.  I clearly remember standing on the foundations of his cabin in Massachusetts.  A sign nearby read, "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I have not lived."  I remain captured by the idea of living deliberately.  To take recognize and seize those things that matter most.  I wonder if after he returned to Concord and began making pencils if he ever took a walk back to Walden to remember what he learned there?  Did he ever sigh for those quiet days near the pond?  Did he love Walden the way that I love these woods?

Winter after the 2009 Arnica Fire

This is my Walden.  It is the place I come to be centered and to learn for myself what matters most to me.  I come to learn to live with the rhythm of nature and to share that heartbeat with others.  Thoreau might express this feeling differently saying, "If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.  Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away."  This is my time to face the essentials in life and boil it down to the few things that matter most.  I moved here one month ago and find much to reflect upon.  I find that living deliberately is about family, friends, and faith.  I am an instructor and Yellowstone is my classroom.  But I have learned much from watching my students.  They come to this place to take a special trip and they come with the people that matter most: spouse, children, or a close friend.  I see that it is not enough to experience it alone, the things that matter most must be shared with others.  I just returned from two days with my family and find that greatest happiness is in human relationships.  After all, "Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other's eyes for an instant?"  Faith, I find, is my constant companion.  Faith in things I cannot see and hope in the unknown.  One of Thoreau's earliest memories was lying awake at night "looking through the stars to see if I could see God behind them."  I remember standing in the hayfield as a child wondering which star was heaven.

West Thumb Geyser Basin

I do not know how long this season for reflection and deliberation will last.  But, like Thoreau, I am learning that, "If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined he will meet with success unexpected in common hours."  That's quite a brave belief for a man who earned a living at the family pencil factory.  Perhaps he did learn something about the "essential facts of life" while he was at Walden.

Hayden Valley

Sources:, photos of Yellowstone National Park by Michael Justice