Archive for the ‘Yellowstone’ Category

old hurts and new solutions

March 2, 2017

Does anyone read this blog who isn’t obsessed with makeup?  Not that it matters, I suppose.  Young women who are mesmerized by makeup, let’s hope, can grow into an awareness that what matters is deeper than appearances and that dumping one’s money for Sephora products doesn’t truly soothe the spirit.

Since December I’ve been seeing a therapist for help in shifting the ways I respond to events.  Those old patterns of behavior might have helped me survive past traumas and might still be helpful in the future, but I felt that if I wanted to issue in a new future, I had to come up with new techniques.

Like clockwork, a trauma arrived.  Chronologically, it appeared new, but it was old (deep-time and karmic, I’ve been told).  Rejection.  I was not being asked to return to Yellowstone; it was my supervisor’s doing, something she’d hidden from me and would have kept hiding if I hadn’t persisted in ferreting out the truth.  It was unjust, perhaps provocatively so.  But it was what I was going to have to accept.  I’d faced this situation again and again throughout my life.  “You’re not wanted here,” “You don’t belong,” “What you possess is not needed,” were the messages I was hearing, and they triggered all the emotions they always had.

Unsurprisingly, one of my many responses was erratic sleeping.  Awake for three hours Tuesday, close to that Wednesday, two this Thursday morning.  Because of my unemployment, I’d accepted some mild disruptions as an alternative mode of getting my rest (“I’m sleeping like a cat,” I told my acupuncturist), but Wednesday’s sleeplessness became something else, a kind of wrestling act with my cat companion George, the pillows, the sheets, and presumably some element of the world.  When I awoke, my right side was in a state of semi-paralysis.  The stiffness spanned my ride side from head-to-toe making every movement an act of submission to pain.

All day Wednesday it continued.  I grew despondent.  I’d just been to acupuncturist and here I’d fucked up my back.  One center of the radiating pain seemed just behind my shoulder blades, the back of my heart chakra where she’d done so much work.  No matter what I did, I couldn’t ease the aching and wondered if I would have to return to her office much sooner than scheduled.

I have this oracle site I go to once in a while.  Last night, I shuffled to the computer and eased myself to the chair.  I asked it for a clarity on a situation that my mind kept punching at.  It pulled a card that told me the night and the dark were powerful elements for me right now and suggested that I contemplate my deepest darkest desires.  Even with the losses I’ve been encountering of late, the task I’ve given myself is not to look at those dark desires but instead to head into the light of compassion, faith and forgiveness.  Still, I tried.  Given how not too long ago my darkest desires seem uncomfortably close to the surface, now it took a lot of digging but they were still there.  I wished for lot of things, giving those dark desires up into the power of night, pitching fits, hurling insults, designing curses.

Then as I continued sitting it finally dawned on me that I was really, REALLY angry.  I was so angry that I had wrenched myself into a literal pretzel of throbbing pain.  I decided then to take all the things I hated about being at Yellowstone and put them in a box.  I took that hiking boot box off the lower shelf where I had placed it in my Yellowstone apartment and packed in it the overweight tourists with t-shirts bearing the beautiful faces of wolves stretched across their indecent bellies, the overindulgent parents and their persistently nagging children, the RV drivers towing cars who drove 15 miles beneath the speed limit, the visitors who got too close to the bison, the motorcyclists who thought they were cooler than everyone, the tourists who stepped off the boardwalk to take a selfie, selfies, the young maintenance guys who brought girls back from the pub at 2:30 am and built bonfires 20 feet from my bedroom window open to the night air, the fire alarm that would go off every time I cooked, the curling linoleum in my bathroom, the garbage truck’s reversing sounds.  Then I decided to add some of the many things I loved.  The sight of the Absaroka mountains as sunset touched them, the Lake Quartet playing while a soft wind blew across my skin as I lounged on a hotel couch and looked west at the evening stars just emerging, walking the campground before an evening program and seeing friends and families around their campfires, having a visitor tell me thank you for my work, Hayden Valley at sunset and sunrise, the sun flashing off LeHardy rapids and the aspens yellowing.

I took that box, grabbed my keys, and told George I’d be back soon.  I had to remember to hold the apartment’s exasperatingly heavy door that never failed to shut on me before I was fully out (and once locked me out after I’d stepped outside in the darkness at 3 am to tell the maintenance guys to quiet down), got into my car, drove down the road with the Mess Hall on my left, the trailers to my right (where the sounds of screaming children made my loneliness last summer almost impossible to sit with) and turned left toward the park’s loop road.  I had no idea where I would take this box.  When I got to the road that headed north to Canyon and south to Grant, I took a left, then turned right, heading east over the impossibly bumpy Fishing Bridge which spanned the Yellowstone River.  I knew by now that I was heading to Storm Point, a hike I’d walked so often that now, once I’d parked and started out carrying my box, I could see in my mind’s eye how it looked after a rain and after two months of no rain.  I could envision the lupine and the yellow wildflowers whose names, frankly, I would no longer need to recall from the dim reaches of my memory because I was not going back after this.  That is why I was taking my box here to this place I loved.  I would bury it in that spot where the hike looped back from skirting the lake.

On my trail hikes, before we got to this place, my visitors and I would have come to know each other.  If the wind wasn’t blowing terrifically, I would have talked while they sat on the stone cliff that rose above the lake.  As they looked south toward the Tetons, I would discurse about the supervolcano, how it had shaped what they were seeing, how people had come to this place and how they had decided to use it and then to save it for these visitors and so many others who’d come before and would arrive in the future.  I would share my concerns with how we as citizens would  honor what they had decided to do, whether we would follow a similar set of actions to preserve a place that not only was important to our collective past but to the species who’d been coming to this site for hundreds of thousands of years.  Then we would have followed the sandy path eroding down to the lake’s edge, passing by the rocks where the marmots sometimes perched, their dark fur camouflaged with the rock’s same rusty spots in order to hide from the hawks’ searching eyes.  We would smell the sulfur rising, we would spot the depressions in the sand where the bison wallowed, the wildflowers that bloomed in the sandy soil despite all odds.  It would be just after re-entering the forest, where the young lodgepoles and firs intermingled sparsely with a few older ones, where I would bury my box.  I would dig a deep hole so no one would find it.  And I would leave it here, in much the same way everyone who has come to know and love Yellowstone has left their memories and part of their hearts.

When I awoke in the middle of the early morning (thanks, George), I got up for tea and toast.  My side still ached distressingly  Later, in the last gasp of the night’s dreams, I had an encounter with a very spoiled woman.  She’d accidentally spilled cider on me and in a sudden burst of anger, I’d tossed some on her.  She wailed and wallowed in her wrongedness like the spoiled brat she was, and to calm her down and assuage my guilty conscience, I proceeded to attend to her.  We went inside a small diner and as we were waiting at the counter, she commented about how she’d never had to fill out an application for a job.  “Wow, that’s amazing,” I replied, hoping to help her keep feeling as if she were exceptional and not let her focus on how cider was melding her t-shirt to her skin.  “I had something bad happen with a job application recently,” I said.  Then I tried to remember what it was so I could tell the story of how I’d been humiliated and rejected once again which would continue to help her feel superior.  But I couldn’t recall.

When I awoke, most of the pain I’d been struggling with had disappeared as well, just some sore muscles reminded me of past battles and making room for new opportunities to grow.

A Yellowstone Valentine

February 13, 2017


Roses are red,

bison are brown.

They forage on grass roots

held fast by the ground.

Oh their ways are quite ancient

and their demeanor seems patient

until late summer commences.

Then the herd starts converging,

and with the end to a’merging,

the rut hosts a range of offenses.

From this chart you will learn

how it’s hard to discern

the emotions a buffalo possesses.

But there’s one thing that’s true,

from a bovine or you,

nothing soothes like a Valentine’s caresses.

Summer’s end

September 27, 2016

I think this is my favorite moon phase:  past last quarter, earthshine illuminating the new moon cradled in the old moon’s arms.  Before dawn I can bundle up and push out the door to see the stars of Taurus, Orion, Gemini, and now Leo rising, while the cat, whom wiser, more careful owners wouldn’t dream of letting loose in Yellowstone, joins me excitedly, muttering goblin-like joyful meows.

Pretty much all I know of where I’ll be in a week is that I will no longer be here.  I have received many gifts this summer, all of which will take up no extra room packed away in my car.  Even if it’s years until I return to Yellowstone, I know that the next time I do I will be comparing the woman I was before I arrived to the woman I was when I left.  Since kindness, patience, love, and wisdom are the only qualities I’ve ever valued deeply, having added to my capacity for each this magical summer, I leave much richer than when I arrived.

aspens at Lehardy Rapids

aspens at Lehardy Rapids

My Yellowstone Summer

July 20, 2016

’A Yellowstone double-rainbow


With two months behind me at the park, I’m beginning to sound as if I know something about this place.  I still regularly “beg for mercy,” as my yoga teacher taught me to do, but I’m growing confident enough to use the park-wide radio and to issue the Junior Ranger’s pledge without cribbing it from the booklet.

Ahead is the bison rut.  Already the herds are heading toward Hayden Valley like frat boys flooding into the streets of university towns after football games, and cars are backed up for miles as the occupants in the first vehicle aim their multiple picture-taking devices to get their 1000th picture.  Just in case the first 999 don’t turn out.

It’s easy to get jaded when the largest percentage of questions include “What is there to do here?” and “Where can we see bears?”  People have to drive hundreds if not thousands of miles to get to this out-of-the way spot, but it’s still not a long enough journey to drop their consumer orientation.

Not that they’re solely to blame.  The parks want to suck every last dollar from your wallet; even our interpretation guidelines counsel the same techniques as Superbowl ads:  hook ’em in emotionally and then they’ll care about your product, regardless of what you’re selling.  As a culture, we’re becoming so used to being emotionally pushed and pulled that we’re growing shell-shocked.  Maybe that’s why people come out here to this extreme environment:  to press themselves against something so unlike their everyday existence that they can find the reset button and erase what is inessential.

I guess I’ll just decide to believe this is true.  Because there’s no absolute truth out there, just individual convictions that, if you’ve made the choice to live consciously, you must be forever re-calibrating, ensuring your ideals are doing the least amount of harm to all we share this blue planet with.  It’s exhausting and rarely gains you any peace of mind, fame, or financial stability, but when you’re in a place like Yellowstone National Park, watching the bison herds migrate as they have for millennia and the cutthroat trout leap the rapids to spawn and the elk cows struggling to protect their calves, you know it’s what you’ve signed on to do.

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


Postcard from Yellowstone

May 28, 2016

Souvenir Folder (postcard) of Yellowstone National Park; Sent August 12, 1916

Yellowstone is incredible. I’ve seen bison, elk (one buck with velvety new antlers laid down by the amphitheater last night waiting for the ranger talk on, what else? elk), a pine marten, pelicans, blue herons, and sandhill cranes dancing.  There’s a wolf pack that runs in the valley just north of here, so I’m hoping to see them when I have some time, but I’m not in a rush to catch a glimpse of a grizzly.  The guy who got eaten last year met his end on a trail behind my apartment.  Gulp!

I’m so busy writing my talks that I haven’t gotten out much, except to and from the office and then to other spots where my newly acquired cell phone gets a signal. Waiting all these year to capitulate to those stupid things, I got frustrated almost immediately with this putative useful technology when I couldn’t make calls to tie up loose ends back in Virginia. Once you enter purgatory, it changes everything, I suppose.

Today I give my first talk, and just finished putting my ranger badges on my uniform.  Wish me luck!  I’ll write more later and try posting pictures.

Happy Memorial Day! love, Tamara