Archive for June, 2016

A Yellowstone moment

June 6, 2016

The weather’s been beautiful. Perhaps it’s the same front that causing the excessive heat out west, but after enduring temperatures that couldn’t break 60, I’m delighting in the sun on my bare arms. Visitors planning for the more typical cool temperatures are complaining, of course. I doubt it’s a sign of maturity that their complaints roll over me; rather, I’m so overtaxed that I can’t get my hackles raised over something so trivial as weather-related grousing.

In my first 7 days I’ve created and delivered 7 talks. Admittedly, none of them are going to change the world or do more than keep the interpretative ranger programs at the Lake sub-district at Fishing Bridge operating as advertised. But rather than any small celebration for my modest accomplishments, I learned yesterday that the biggest hurdle – the 45 minute evening program complete with PowerPoint slides – is looming: I have 10 days to come up with something useful/interesting to say about a place I haven’t had leisure to explore except through books and computer screens.   My coming days off will be gobbled up in anxious preparation and I’ll continue to offer visitors asking for hiking/touring advice the cold comfort that they’re seeing more of Yellowstone than I’ve managed to.

Last night, with the air so warm and the view from my apartment area so limited, I decided to make the short drive over to the campground amphitheater to watch the ranger set up the audio-visual for his evening talk. I’d been to his program a few nights earlier, so I was surprised he wasn’t there when I arrived.

The view looks east over Lake Yellowstone to the snow-topped Absarokas, tinted rose by the descending sun, and although the campground was full and the road conveying visitors to their various destinations was busy, the amphitheater was surprisingly still.  I walked down toward the meadow to sit on a fallen log and take in the beautiful scene around the same moment a young elk calf stumbled by on its wobbly legs not more than 10 feet away. When a few more minutes didn’t reveal the mother, I knew I was obliged to continue watching if only to let the ranger know when he arrived. I’d encountered a similar situation at my ranger-led hike to the lake a few days earlier and had in the past few hours encountered signs that that orphaned calf had not survived. As I watched this even younger calf wobble away, his low, pleading cries tore at my heart, and I silently willed the young girls on bikes who’d stopped to check the amphitheater’s program listing to stay on the road. When I turned back and spotted him in the underbrush, he was nursing from his mother who was clearly nervous with the setting. A few more minutes and she was leading him toward some deeper woods, away from the amphitheater although, regrettably, closer to the density of the campers. I hoped she would find some refuge there, at least for the night.

When the ranger showed up, I asked if he would walk me through the set-up process. “The program’s been cancelled,” he told me. He likes to tease, so I thought he was once again having me on.  “No, really,” he insisted. “Wildlife issues.” When I told him about witnessing the elk calf and his reunion with his mother, he breathed a sigh of relief. “He’d been lying the grass over there all day.  That’s the best possible outcome,” he said. “I guess I’ll go ahead and give the program.”

Although the campground hosts had been rushing around, informing campers of the cancellation, as I left, a small audience was gathered. They would enjoy the ranger’s campfire talk about Yellowstone’s wildlife without interruption, but the magical memory of a mother-child reunion in the twilit meadow would be mine alone.

Elk calf at Yellowstone

Elk calf at Yellowstone