Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Thinking in pounds!

When my sister and I were children we loved to play "Little House on the Prairie". I always insisted on being Laura and my sister, of course, was Mary. The game eventually got a little out of hand when I boldly decided to give up my identity ( I was about 3 or 4 years old by the way!) and only respond to the name LAURA! My mom, being patient with her spirited daughter played along for a while until she realized that I was pretty serious! I had fully embodied Laura Ingles and there was no turning back! Just like any mother, her patience soon ran out and I was forced to come back to reality and just be me: Sabrina.

Yesterday, my sister reminded me of this because she has come to the conclusion that I am indeed living a pioneer life and from now on she WILL call me Laura! (haha...Victory). But she is indeed right.

This past weekend Shane and I drove 3 hours to get to the town of Bozeman, MT to begin purchasing our winter supplies. There are 2 other towns, Jackson and Cody which are 1.5 hours away however they only have 2 grocery stores and a Walmart or Kmart. Bozeman is the closest town which has stores like: Costco, Home Depot, Target, Michaels and Bed, Bath & Beyond. So, naturally if one needs massive amounts of household goods and food Bozeman is where you're headed.

Stocking up on winter goods is essential because at some point in November Yellowstone will stop plowing the road from our house to the park entrance which translates to a 40 minute snow mobile ride to the south entrance followed by digging out our car and then driving one hour to Jackson. Grant Village, Yellowstone receives about 8 feet of snow with lows in the -40's. So as you can imagine we might be tempted to buy a few items, maybe milk and eggs but full size grocery orders is out the question!

But exactly how does one determine what food you will need for approximately 4 months? As Shane and I started making our shopping list I quickly realized that most of the pre-packaged things we eat are all flour, sugar, water, cornstarch etc. My shopping list begin to change. Items like pancakes, cake mix, bread mix, oatmeal cookies, alfredo sauce were removed from the list and replaced with flour, flour, flour!!! As I began flipping though our stack of cookbooks I realized that most of us are seriously spoiled and seriously ignorant! I never realized just how easy it is to make pancakes because I have ONLY ever bought them from a box!!!

And so my "Little House on the Prairie" thinking cap went on: 50 lbs of flour, 15 lbs of sugar, 8 lbs of masa harina, 8 lbs of chocolate chips, 10 lbs of oatmeal, 25 pounds of rice, a healthy variety of dried beans and so on and so forth!

After twos of shopping in Bozeman our final bill was $2200 dollars of which approximately $1700 was in food. This is in addition to the $700 we spent 3 weeks ago in food. Our kitchen is a mini grocery store! And so when people ask me "What are you going to do this winter?" I confidently reply "I will Cook!" From homemade soups to breads I am officially prepared to cook 5 star meals from scratch this winter. Maybe my "Little House in the Prairie" obsession did me some good afterall.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Walk EXACTLY in my Footsteps

You truly meet some of the most interesting people in a National Park. The staff, both paid and unpaid, reign from all over yet are all united from the love they share for a place like Yellowstone.

Today my orientation to the Grant district of Yellowstone found me with Ralph Taylor a retired engineer and a volunteer in Yellowstone National Park for over 20 years. Each summer Ralph comes to Yellowstone and monitors the thermal features in various geyser basins. Sounds easy right? Think again!

As we pulled up to Potts Basin Ralph gave me his standard safety speech:

"We will follow a game trail down to the basin and then we will find the safest route in and around the features. You need to stay with me at all times and in some cases I will ask you to follow EXACTLY in my footsteps. Pay close attention where you put your feet and never step backwards...always forward."

As we passed the wooden fencing and the "do not enter/danger" signs Ralph and I found ourselves discussing those who have injured themselves in thermal basins and in some cases those who have died a gruesome death from falling into a thermal feature. By far, in my opinion, the worst way one can die. Needless to say as I followed Ralph I developed my own safety strategy: Follow exactly in his footsteps ALL THE TIME but not too closely...that way if he broke through the crust I would have a chance to jump backwards. Now I know that sounds selfish but even Ralph himself told me "If I fall in just push me back in; I would rather die suddenly than be pulled out and die in 12 hours in the hospital". Gruesome but realistic! The first thing you are taught when you become a Park Ranger is to ensure your safety FIRST before helping anyone else. I take this rule VERY seriously in thermal basins!

As I turned around, the road- my safety zone was over 100 yards away. "No going back now", I thought to myself. Suddenly, I found myself questioning Ralph's skills. Poor Ralph, I bombarded him with diplomatically phrased questions to figure out if he was indeed qualified to escort me through Potts Basin!

" How did you become a volunteer? Do you have any geology background? How do you know where to walk? But if there was an earthquake last night couldn't things change dramatically? How hot are some of these features? If I were out here alone would that grassy hill over there be safe? "

Ralph politely answered all my questions sensing my innate fear of Potts Basin! He assured me that in over 20 years of studying this particular Basin he had become extremely familiar with the land and had never lost anyone! Now that may relieve some people but my analytical and realistic mind was not going to accept that! Afterall, the law of averages would indicate that if he hadn't lost anyone yet...well... time's a tickin'!

Three hours later we were still alive and exploring the basin. I watched Ralph as he changed the batteries in his monitoring equipment, downloaded recent information on his computer and logged the changes in the features in his well kept yellow journal. He clearly explained everything he did and gave me ample time to marvel at the features that only a few people get to see. Mudpots, Geysers, Fumeroles and Hot Springs galore! All around me were tie-dye arrangements of colors; sizzles, pops and gurgles; and the faint smell of sulphur. The colorful mats of heat loving bacteria ran off into the cold deep waters of Lake Yellowstone whilst the Lake itself was surrounded by the beautiful snow covered peaks of the Absaroka Mountains.

I realized in that moment that fear is not always a bad emotion. Fear is what makes you marvel at the power of a supervolcano and makes you wonder what lies beneath the frigid cold of Lake Yellowstone. Fear is what evokes in us a sense of respect towards things greater than us. And with respect comes the idea that we must protect these things that are so grand. The idea of conservation and preservation. The National Park Idea.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Settling in

"Well, it says here Yellowstone... but Yellowstone is the size of several East coast states put together!"- Moving truck driver

Needless to say the moving company was not used to delivering to Yellowstone! I tried as best I could to explain to the driver that passing through the steep escarpments of the East Entrance in Yellowstone was gonna take some time with a semi. But by the time he found our little housing area in Grant Village he still looked a little shell shocked!

"I would've got here sooner but there were some Buffalo in the road!"

I chuckled and nodded my head. Our truck driver had NEVER been to Yellowstone and now here he was traveling through the park with a semi, delivering goods to two park rangers! As if the Bison were not enough Yellowstone decided to show the driver how weather patterns can change in an instant. While unloading the truck it rained, sleeted and yes, even snowed. Then the sun came out as if pretending as though nothing had happened!

But Alas, all of our belongings arrived in relatively good condition and within 3 days Shane and I had unpacked everything except a couple boxes of books. Buying furniture for a house you have been seen before is quite a challenge and by about the tenth time of me saying "how about if we put this here" I thought Shane was gonna freak out! However that tenth time was the perfect one! Everything fits quite nicely. Shane had shipped some poplar which he made a coffee table and book shelves with.

We are living in a nice 4 bedroom split level house tucked away in the government housing area about 1/4 mile from Grant Village Visitor Center. In the little time we have been here the bugling Elk and yipping Coyotes already graced us in our new home. We have met most of our neighbors and all are very nice. In about 2 weeks, as summer draws to an end, our neighborhood will go from a population of 40 down to 10-12 individuals. The 10-12 hardy who will bare the winter in the interior of Yellowstone. Oh and let's not forget the 5 dogs who will also stick around- Alice (our dog) being the smallest.

I am not the least bit worried about the winter. In fact I have taken great comfort in knowing that I am living in a National Park surrounded by 2.2 million acres of protected land. This park, that can see up to 3 million visitors a year, is my home; my backyard. And while others only get to see it for a week, maybe two, I have been given the chance to experience Yellowstone year round. A chance to see the snow fall, the elk rut, the wolves hunt, the bison plow through snow covered fields and the first spring flower bloom.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Welcome Home...

It was a warm sunny day when we packed up our belongings from our little round house in Flat Rock, NC and started driving West. Instead of being excited I found myself nervous and questioning our decision. It is amazing how you begin to see things in a different light when you know you are leaving. Everything seems more beauitful as fear tries to take over your good judgement. As we crossed the Great Smoky Mountains they seemed grandeur than ever before- lush, green and seemingly untouched. I had crossed these mountains a dozen times in the last eighteen months but this time the view of these impressive mountains was burned into my photographic memory- never to be forgotten. We drove almost 2600 miles to reach our new home and it wasn't until we reached the Rocky Mountains that fear finally lost the battle. There is nothing like the rawness of massive granite mountains to overcome your fear and remind you of why you left. As I rolled down the windows I got a fresh breath of cold, clean air scented with the sweet smell of pines and firs. Shane and I looked at eachother and both of us had that spark in our eye- the spark you get when you know something big and exciting is about to happen! Even our dog Alice, had her head out the window, glued on the views of the massive Rockies. As we veered north and passed the big cowboy Wyoming sign all I could say is "We're Home!"

Wyoming- canyons, plateaus, buttes, mountains, never ending blue skies and yes, even true Wyoming cowboys. I was instantly comforted at the thought of being surrounded by the true beauty of this land- the beauty that the Plains Indians, early homesteaders, fur trappers and mountain men once fell in love with just as I had. No Macy's, TJ Max, or Bloomingdales for miles! No distractions, no competition, no diversions. At that very moment as we drove closer to our new Yellowstone home all that existed was one girl, making her way in a world so different from her roots.
As we entered the entrance of Yellowstone National Park I proudly handed the Park Ranger my acceptance/welcome letter and clearly stated "I am a new, well actually a returning employee to Yellowstone". She read the letter and excitedly said "Well, welcome back and congratulations on you new position". And there I was- back to the place I called home 2 years prior: YELLOWSTONE.