What Gives Her Away

  Elyse was four when she first showed us how brave she was—and what mattered enough to bring that bravery out. We’d moved, pulling into the driveway at a new house after dark on a Sunday night and popping out for a pre-school visit at nine the very next morning. During our tour she cast clandestine glances at the other children and when they invited her to stay for their Valentine’s Day party, she smiled and took a chair at their table. It was her smile that gave her away. Elyse is known for her smile. It’s ready and open {Continue Reading}

Waiting For What We 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 {Continue Reading}

Overwhelm: A Bridge Toward Saner Living

J 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 {Continue Reading}

Because Winter is Inevitable

Once, long ago, before babies and moves to houses in new communities, I picked up the beginning of an understanding of the seasons—their rhythms, their tasks, their hard realities. Learning to be a mom to three babies while finding my way in three different towns left room for little else in my brain. I traded a loose grip on the concept of seasons for the clutching fist of survival. It was not a good trade. I forgot that seasons really do change. That whether delightful or dry, balmy or bitter, fertile or fruitless, they don’t last forever. That there is {Continue Reading}

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 {Continue Reading}

Rest Along the Way

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 {Continue Reading}

On Breaking Trail

We pulled into the gravel parking lot at the base of Bunsen Peak, piled out, grabbed day packs and water from the back of the vehicle, and set off. Dust had barely begun to accumulate around our ankles when we saw him: a lone bison, a bull, just twenty-five feet off the trail. Someone was going to have to change trajectory and it was going to be us–my husband, our children, and me. First, because it’s the rules. The park service has clear regulations about how close visitors can get to animals: Approaching on foot within 100 yards of bears or wolves or within {Continue Reading}

For This Fall: What the Squirrel Doesn’t Know

A thud near my head stirred me from sleep. The stirring wasn’t difficult. I was on the ground. We were camping, tucked away in a tent that hadn’t been warmed by the sun since we last slept in it in the back yard seven summers before. We weren’t in the back yard that morning. Back yards have more grass. We were in South Dakota, in a Custer State Park campground, on packed earth. Packed earth does not forgive, not an aging body, and not whatever was landing on it that morning. The thuds were frequent but irregular, like the early {Continue Reading}

For This September: When You Get in Over Your Head

My parents are not lake people. They aren’t river people. When my brother and I occasionally talked about swimming in a nearby lake, they talked about field runoff. So when my mom told me we would be wading a river as we–my parents, the five grandchildren, and I–made our way from Iowa to San Antonio, I suspected travel psychosis in one of its more optimistic forms. The starting point was the Pedernales campground, where we were taking a blessed break from the road for a couple of days. We wrapped the children in life jackets and our feet in water shoes and {Continue Reading}