Walking Together

There is more to setting off on a hike than hopping over the back fence with a loaf of bread and a pound of tea à la John Muir–turn-of-the-nineteenth-century naturalist, writer, and outdoorsman. While his shortlist encompassed food and nutrition, survival and sanity suggest we take more when we head into the woods. We need to know where we’re going and how to get there. We need protection from the elements. We need first aid supplies. Beyond that, it helps to know a little about hiking technique—how to take an incline, how often to rest, and how to travel in {Continue Reading}

One Question for When You’re Finding Your Way

The gradual slipping away of the pine-lined path went unnoticed—by me anyway. We’d set off that morning, wanting to spend just a little more time on the trail and in the park before heading home from our week in Yellowstone. Situated along the way, the Gneiss Creek Trail would do well, we thought. It was new. It was short. It sounded inviting. And it was, rising slowly through terrain that sang an unmistakable song of the west and stirred memories of Kevin Costner’s narrative segments from Dances with Wolves. Emerging from thick, head-high lodgepole pines into a sudden clearing, I {Continue Reading}

Two Ways of Waiting

Yellowstone’s Old Faithful Inn gift shop hummed like a hive. All the time. Except when Old Faithful was about to erupt.  Then, every visitor in the area was out on the boardwalk, waiting. After a short lull, the gift shop—site of my summer job between high school and college—began to fill with customers. They came first in a trickle, then in a torrent. Milling around, they searched for some thing to take home or some way to pass the time until the next eruption. Then, as if in response to a silent summons, they turned in unison and brought their {Continue Reading}

Waiting for Tomorrow

Dad and I were the last to check in. The arrival window for the nature writing class was from four to eight, and the sun hung low behind the distant mountains when we stepped out of the van and onto the gravel parking lot. We’d put it off as long as possible. We’d been busy for three days—revisiting beloved sites, taking favorite hikes, and discovering new ones. It wasn’t until we stopped for huckleberry ice cream on the last leg of our journey that the first-day-of-school jitters set it, stirring up worry that maybe the best part of the week {Continue Reading}

Why We Don’t Feed the Animals

One evening, toward the end of my shift at the Old Faithful Inn gift shop, I saw a woman circling the front of the store, searching. When I approached her to offer assistance, she turned and said, “Where do you keep the food for the animals?”  Food for the animals? I was shocked that anyone would say the words out loud. The park code was clear: Do Not Feed the Animals.  “Feeding the animals is against park regulations,” I told her, probably apologetically. “Oh,” she said. “My little boy wanted to feed the chipmunks.” Of course he did. They’re tiny. They’re {Continue Reading}

Walking When You’d Rather Wait

A couple of Mays ago, our family was in Yellowstone, standing in line at the Visitor Education Center at Mammoth Hot Springs, waiting to find out if a trail was open. Because the wait was long, we ended up eavesdropping as a ranger recommended the Sepulcher Mountain Trail to the older couple in front of us.  My husband and son were looking for a hike to take, one for just the two of them and, in terms of destination, location, difficulty, and length, it was just what they had in mind. When our turn came, my husband asked the ranger {Continue Reading}

For When We Find Ourselves Waiting

Bundled against the sub-zero temperatures, we left the cozy warmth of our cabin to brave Yellowstone’s deep winter chill. At twelve below zero, the temperature was up seven degrees already that morning from the previous afternoon’s negative nineteen. After fumbling over my own thick, clumsy fingers to fasten snowshoes to boots, I wondered what kind of people would take their children into the woods in such weather. My husband and I, apparently. We set off across the expanse of barren parking lots and abandoned roads toward the pines on the other side, snowshoes slapping the ground under our feet. As we {Continue Reading}

The Spiritual Discipline of Expecting Delays and Great Scenery

Because of the invisible cord that ties writing to life, it is with some trepidation I acknowledge that my anticipated writing topics for the coming months center around a theme which can be summarized by a road sign, especially a road sign in a construction zone bearing this kind of verbiage: Expect delays and great scenery. Oh, I’m all about the scenery.  I’m just not fond of delays. I don’t want to wait. For anything. That the roads we wander will need repair is a given. That there will be delays, an inconvenient fact. That they will occur at nearly {Continue Reading}

Christmas In August

  Steamy air radiated from the asphalt as we crossed the road in front of the diner. Dad and I had traveled to Yellowstone for a nature writing seminar and a quick stop at Mammoth Hot Springs for an ice cream cone marked the transition from our leisurely tour of the park and three days of learning at the Lamar Buffalo Ranch. Huckleberry ice cream cones in hand, we wandered over to the hotel to see if Randy Ingersoll  was playing that evening. Inside the lobby, cool air carried the sound of music and slowed the purple flow of ice cream {Continue Reading}