Waiting For What We Can’t See

Waiting for What You Can't See Along the road between Mammoth Hot Springs and  Cooke City, the meadows are open and greening, quite in agreement with the calendar: spring has arrived. Leave the dry, temperate north end of Yellowstone and try to head into the interior, though,  and you’ll see a place still in waiting.

The most obvious sign: You can’t actually get there. Many of the roads are covered in snow. And closed.

It’s too bad, because there’s something there I want to see and never will.

In winter, the Lower Falls on the Yellowstone River develops a cone of ice, constructed by cold air and the mist churned up the river’s three-hundred-foot drop. In spring, warmer air and the same mist break down the structural integrity of the cone, eating away at it until it can no longer support itself. Eventually, after a series of thunderous pops and cracks, it collapses.

I’ve wanted to see this ever since I was eighteen, since that winter’s day when I stood next to the Lower Falls, marveling at the shield of ice and listening to a guide explain what would happen later that spring. But when the cone collapses, there’s no way into the park. It’s completely inaccessible.

Waiting For What You Can't See The roads that close every November to accommodate the transition from asphalt to  snow  close again every March for the reverse. Unlike fall’s reliance on the natural buildup of regular, seasonal precipitation, the transformation from snow road back to asphalt is a systematic dismantling, one which requires heavy equipment and weeks of labor. It’s a slow process, one which renders most of the park effectively closed.

Yellowstone—its wildlife and its woods tucked away from the eyes of all but a few employees—is inaccessible but busy,  pressing on toward that  burst of growth that spring’s increasing sunlight and warmth will unleash. The park does fine without observation. It doesn’t need us to watch. Or wonder. Or worry.

Buds swell on their branches. Bears wake and wander hungry from their dens, ready to hunt and gather. And bison, the largest of Yellowstone’s animals, trudge through the receding snow and their final bulky weeks of gestation.

But, like the collapse of the cone, much of this happens out of our reach. It’s entirely inaccessible. No matter how much we might want to see it.

Waiting For What You Can't See

It’s spring. The calendar says so and there’s evidence all around.  Here at home green sweeps though the timber and makes its way across the pasture to the front door. Birds sing with the dawn. Morning and evening light cast their influence over our activities and our moods.

While the temperate regions in my life make their way into the light of spring with ease, there are interior pockets that are slow to join them. There’s no road to get there, so I can’t see what’s going on. I can’t hurry it along. No matter how much I want to.

Because I’m learning to pay better attention to the seasons, I’m starting to understand some things about those inaccessible, wintry pockets.

Just as the arrival of the vernal equinox does not mean that winter has fully released its hold on the earth, there is no one day to look to for the thawing of the wintry places in my life. What it does mean is that winter’s power is weakening. Spring is on the way.

Spring is always on the way.

Those wintry places will feel the light in their time. They don’t need me to watch. Or wonder. Or worry.

Spring’s got this. It’s blowing its warm breath across the landscape of life, creating the right conditions for the ice to crack and the cone to collapse. It’s slow sometimes and hard to wait, but the rhythm and inevitability of the seasons work in our favor, even when we can’t see it. Maybe especially if we can’t see it.

And you?  Are you prone to wonder and worry over what you can’t see? What could you do instead?

 

 

(You can see a photo of  the ice cone toward the end of its life here.)

Sharing at Barbie’s and Lyli’s places this week.

Overwhelm: A Bridge Toward Saner Living

Trout Lake BridgeJ and I took our first trip to Yellowstone together twenty-two springs ago. As we zipped down the interstate ahead of schedule in the middle of the afternoon, I realized we could make it to the park that night. We could cancel our along-the-way reservation, drive to the Old Faithful Inn, and wake up already there rather than still long hours away.

I calculated the miles and the time. I figured we’d pull into the Inn’s parking lot by ten.

What I didn’t do was reckon on a sleet-spitting storm and the sludge that passing semis threw over the windshield of our little red Plymouth Sundance. Or factor in the one hundred thirty-nine deer that crossed the highway on their way down to the Shoshone River. Or consider Yellowstone’s speed limits, which are 45 miles per hour at best.

And I didn’t know about the road.

It was ten p.m. when we crossed the park border. Still, we passed the gate and entered Yellowstone with a sense of euphoria. We’d made it. We were in the park. We still had sixty-five miles to go, but we’d be out of the vehicle and headed toward bed by midnight.

Except, just inside the gate, there was this sign. ROAD CONSTRUCTION, it read, along with something about how many miles this road construction was going to last. Something about a twenty-five mile-per-hour speed limit. Something that meant it was going to take a very long time to get from where we were to where we wanted to be.

I drove past the sign onto a road that had been reduced to its dirt base. Obeying the speed limit was not simply a matter of compliance with the law. It was a matter of survival. Even at twenty-five, the car lurched and bounced, jarring our bones and rattling our brains. Twenty-five became more of a dream than a reality.

Between the nonexistent road, a mountain pass still blocked by winter’s snow, and the potholed highway that led to our destination, four more hours went by before we finally arrived, worn and weary at the Inn. In my optimism and desire to get to the park, I had made a gross miscalculation.

I do that in life sometimes.

I tally up the tasks and the time and figure I’ll be able to pull it off before the deadline. But I forget to factor in life’s squalls that throw sludge and limit what I can see and do. I don’t factor stopping for one hundred thirty-nine unexpected obstacles. I forget how fast I can—or can’t—go.

And I don’t always know about the road.

Sometimes it’s smooth. Sometimes it’s a little bumpy. And sometimes it’s a bone-jarring, brain-rattling surface that brings me to my own life worn out and shaken up.

It isn’t the math, not the reckoning or the factoring or the considering. It’s a tendency toward optimistic and often delusional thinking, a belief that the little things don’t really add and the road will always be clear.  It was this delusional thinking that defined last fall.

I felt overwhelmed. And stuck. Every day.

And then, one day after a morning (morning!) nap, I realized I wasn’t as stuck as I felt. I had options. Not a lot of them, but enough to make life more manageable for the now and better for the next time this always-packed season came around. I postponed a self-imposed deadline and enlisted help for current projects and one that would come back around in a year.

Overwhelm, I saw, was not just an unwelcome companion on that leg of my life’s journey.  It was a bridge, a rickety one, between a land of delusion and one of saner living. Seeing it for what it was allowed me to be grateful, not just for the bridge but for the road that brought me there. Crossing it taught me a few things. Here they are, in print, so I can remember them and so I can share them with you, just in case you ever find yourself overwhelmed.

Six Ways to Use Overwhelm as a Bridge to Saner Living

  • Resist the urge to panic. While panic comes easy and calm takes effort, it never helps.
  • Realize you are not as stuck as you feel. Feelings serve as good indicators, but they aren’t good at telling the whole truth.
  • Rest. Whatever that looks like for you. Somehow, things look better after a night’s rest. Or a morning nap. Or a bath. A walk. A conversation.
  • Reconnoiter. While this is a military term, it’s helpful in navigating life. It means to go to an area to gather information about an enemy. Basic reconnaissance. And, while enemy may be extreme in describing overwhelm, the concept of an intentional information-gathering trip into your own life applies.
  • Remediate. Based on what you learn, make changes where you can—both for the now and the later. Even a small change is movement.
  • Request help. About the truth that we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength, CS Lewis said that sometimes the strength is simply to ask. Sometimes it’s to carry on. Sometimes it’s to do less. And sometimes it’s the strength to face the truth that we need help.

And you?  Have you ever found yourself in need of a saner way of living? What did you do? I’d love to hear.

 

 

 

Sharing stories at Jennifer Dukes Lee and 3D Lessons for Life

 

Because of New Normals

On the eve of our son’s return to college when the kids were snarly and I was weepy, my husband looked at us and said, “Transitions are always tough.”

They are. I know. But I forget.

With his words barely out into the air between us, I remembered Yellowstone’s roads and the rough transition from spring-summer-fall to winter and that it’s hard sometimes to get from where we are to where we need to be. Because I see the road as a metaphor for life, remembering Yellowstone’s roads smoothed my frayed nerves and gave me perspective. And because I know that transitions the road to new normals are not only tough, they’re inevitable, and that it’s human nature to forget what we know, here’s a repost from a couple of years back.


 

IMG_1511The sun dawned in the steely sky and peeked through trees veiled by the falling snow. It had begun the night before and lingered, fine and heavy, through the day. “It’s slick,” my son told me when he returned from his mid-day Calc class. I must have looked concerned, because he amended his statement. “The roads were fine. It’s the parking lot that was bad.”

Of course the roads were in better shape than the parking lot—the DOT turns the crews loose before the first flake hits the ground. They work to keep the roads neat and tidy, safe surfaces for us to navigate between where we are and where we need to be. Their trucks and plows spread through the area with sand, salt, and blades.

The forecast called for snow in Yellowstone that same day, but there no one bothered much about the roads.

It wasn’t because of a strike. It wasn’t because of a government shutdown. It was because–with the exception of the fifty-two mile stretch of road between the North Entrance at Gardiner, Montana and the Northeast Entrance at Cooke City–Yellowstone’s roads are accessible only by snow machine during the winter.

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In spring and summer and the early months of fall, Yellowstone’s roads are just roads. They have their seasonal dangers—potholes the size of small cars, thermal mist which ices the surface on cold nights, wildlife lallygagging just around the bend—but they are roads, meant for us to drive. We belong there.

During the winter they consist of snow, groomed smooth enough by the same machines that tend to downhill ski slopes, their edges marked by tall orange stakes rather than the familiar white line. We can belong there, too, on snowmobiles or in Suburbans retrofitted with treads.

But for a few weeks in between they are roads in transition.

They’re messy. They’re dangerous. And they’re fit for neither tires nor treads.

Some of the people who live and work in Yellowstone’s interior drive them anyway—to the grocery store, to visit a friend, to their winter’s work assignment. Park employees tell tales of white-knuckled travels over slippery, snowy roads. It’s what their life requires while they wait for the snow to build up so that groomers can carve out a smooth surface for them to get from where they are to where they need to be.

coyoteonthe road

Some of ours are roads in transition.

Stretches are messy. Sections are dangerous. And sometimes our vehicle feels like no match for the way ahead.

Our kids get older and what once worked suddenly is a cumbersome, clunky way that doesn’t get the job done. Our marriages reshape themselves just as we do, and so do our friendships. Our jobs change, and sometimes even the place where our key fits the lock.

In the midst of it all, we keep going. We make our way over roads that are messy and dangerous, in vehicles that feel like no match for the terrain. We wait for the day when it will smooth into a neat and tidy surface, one that feels safe to navigate–even if only for a little while. It’s the process life requires and the way it gives for us to get from where we are to where we need to be.

And while we wait, beautiful encouragement from a Psalm of David: For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him. He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. 

No matter the condition of the road.

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And you? Are you on a road in transition today? What helps you navigate?

Rest Along the Way

Switchback

We sprinted up the switchbacked trail, pausing occasionally to measure how far we’d come, to rest our already used-up legs, to fill our lungs with as much oxygen as the mountain air would give. In previous years, I would have decided that it wasn’t worth it. Not the rush. Not the climb. Not even the destination. But over a lifetime, I’d come to embrace hiking, to believe that forest trails led to worthwhile places, to want to finish what we’d started. So we pressed on, putting one foot in front of the other, making painfully slow progress toward the solitude of one of Yellowstone’s backcountry thermal areas.

We’d tried this trail eighteen years before, on our first trip to the mountains together, just a couple of years into our marriage. We’d left our little red Plymouth Sundance in the pullout and approached the trail. Well, we walked to where the trail was supposed to be, just beyond the sign nestled in the pines, but no inviting packed-dirt path beckoned us deeper into the woods. The only indication that we were near the trail was a slender opening through the trees and a line of footprints in the snow.

That was May. After eight years away from Yellowstone, I’d forgotten about winter’s lingering ways. We’d set off into the snow in jeans and tennis shoes. One hundred yards later, soaked from the knees down, we turned back.

Now we were trying the trail to Monument Geyser Basin again. In September. On a dry trail. In hiking boots.

The intervening years had taught us some things.

The trail was short. Just a mile. Still, the steady string of switchbacks which climbed over 500 feet in that short distance earned it a classification of strenuous.

Under clear skies and over an open trail, this could have been a pleasant, though thigh-burning, hike but we’d chosen to squeeze it in between an already finished long trek and an appointment for a tour at the Old Faithful Inn.

In other words, we had to be quick. We had to hurry. Hurry and strenuous make a bad match. Hurry and hiking are poor companions. We knew this, but in our desire to get to Monument, we ignored it. So we raced up the trail, intent only on getting there in time to get back down again in time to make our appointment.

The trail ended at an opening in the trees, a doorway into a barren landscape of haunting shapes and the familiar scent of sulfur suspended in the air.

I perused the ghostly scene with its grey silhouettes and its gurgles and felt a strange disappointment settle over me. After all of that effort, I was expecting something different, something more. Something more spectacular. Something more worth the climb.

We’d pushed to get to this place. We’d rushed. We’d risked.  And here I stood, dissatisfied.

I knew the problem wasn’t the geyser basin. It was me. In my rush I’d burst through the opening in the trees as a consumer expecting to be entertained rather than as a visitor willing to be surprised by creation’s hospitality.

With the hour of our impending meeting with the Old Faithful Inn bellman driving us on, we didn’t linger long.

On our descent, we noticed another opening in the trees, one we’d missed on our way up. Even in our hurry, we turned toward it rather than following the trail to the car. Stepping through the trees we found ourselves above a wide meadow. A bison herd, brown dots scattered among the tattered grasses of fall, grazed near the Gibbon River. Standing above the river and the road which followed its course, we let our rush, our race with time slip away and I found rest for my disquieted mind and a reminder for my soul that it is possible–and good–to be still.

Monument was our destination. It drew us up the mountain, reminded me again that we miss out when we hurry, and then it offered the gracious hospitality of rest along the road, even though I showed up as an ill-mannered guest. That was its gift. Someday I’d like to return to Monument with a less entitled eye, to see it for what it is, a quiet marvel that God declared to be good. But for now, I’m grateful for the time on the trail, for what I learned, and the rest along the way.

SwitchbackAnd you? What unexpected discoveries have you made when you’ve paused along the way?

 

Sharing at Small Wonder.

 

 

 

She Needed Me to Play

Dance FloorSometimes, when we head west, we land for a few days at a cabin. In a meadow in Custer National Forest, it’s far enough from civilization that the siren song of phone, internet, and television falls silent, replaced by the gentler sounds of wind in the trees and water dancing over boulders. There, the weather unfolds in the sky rather than on radar.

After a series of bright, high country autumn days, the sun succumbed to a veil of clouds which rolled in over the mountain, bringing with them a cold, splashy snow that blanketed everything it touched.

Fly-fishermen in the Snow

It fell through the afternoon and into the evening. As night closed in, we noticed a dark figure in the distance, a bull moose making his way across the meadow, an inky shadow plodding through the haze. We’d never seen a moose here before and we watched it until it disappeared into the trees.

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When morning came we threw on our coats and burst into the bright day, the snow already succumbing to the warmth of the air and the rays of the sun. Impressions in the snow revealed that the moose had not been the only wildlife to pass through in the night. Deer tracks meandered over the cabin’s wooden dance floor and a coyote left prints for us to follow down the driveway.

Deer Tracks on the Dance Floor

We’d known the animals were there. In the middle of a national forest how could they not be? But until that morning we’d seen only trout at the end of the line and an occasional deer.

Tracks in the snow proved their presence.

Down the Road

We headed to the meadow to search for the moose’s tracks. Unlike those at the cabin, his were gone, concealed by the snow that fell into the night. So we followed the road over the stream and between the frosted trees as it led higher up the mountain and deeper into the forest.  At a bend in the road, our son stopped and pointed down at a series of tracks across the road, fresh tracks, clear like those of the deer and the coyote back at the cabin.

Bear tracks.

The best bear defense is a good offense and a good offense is avoidance, so we retreated. And we let him know we were there by going back down the road in the same way we had come up: talking and laughing, planning for the day ahead, but always, always mindful of the presence of the bear in the forest.

After the snow

With the cabin in sight, I felt the familiar relief of having made it back from the wilds with the whole tribe intact, unharmed and uneaten. J must have felt the same, because he launched a snowball at our son just as our oldest girl, who’d been walking a little ahead of the rest of us, entered the cabin.

I paused, torn between heading in and staying out. Snowball fights aren’t my thing. Playing isn’t really my thing. At least, not playing the way kids like to play. I’ll play the game or work the easy puzzle for a while. I’ll hike. I’ll read a book. But play?

I walked to the door and called to my daughter, the one our littlest girl misses because they don’t play together much anymore, and we followed the laughter and squeals around the cabin to where the battle had spilled, and I bent to make a snowball of my own. It fell short. Woefully short. But every one of us was in the game.

Cabin in the Snow

In the midst of it, my girlie sidled up to me. “Thanks for telling me about the snowball fight,” she said.

“I didn’t think you’d want to miss it.”

“I knew there ‘d be a snowball fight,” she said, “but I didn’t know you would play.”

She needed me. She needed to see me play and laugh, to show her that even though growing up is serious business it isn’t all seriousness all the time. And she needed me to show her the way.

The next morning, the moose was back, a dark silhouette weaving in and out of the aspen and pine that bordered the yard, just one of a forest full of animals always present but rarely seen.

And like the woodland creatures that hint at their presence more than they show themselves, the wandering steps on the winding path between childhood and adulthood are easy to miss. They’re watching us, those kids, looking to us to show them the way.

Watching

Linking at Small WondersUnite, #RARA,  Thought Provoking Thursday and Weekend Whispers.