Thursday, January 20, 2011

It's the little things that make life so sweet!

A brief moment of sunshine with a storm on the horizon
After days and days of cloudy skies, the sun came out for a brief yet sublime moment yesterday as I drove through Hayden Valley where I was completing my weekly swan surveys. I slowed my snowmobile and came to a stop so that I could take in the moment. The intense sunshine reflected off the snow which surrounded me, forcing me to squint and shield my eyes until they adjusted. Off in the distance a coyote trotted along the Yellowstone River seemingly unaware of the sudden change in light. I turned around only to see that the next storm was on the horizon. I pointed my face up towards the sun in hopes of getting a little Vitamin D, as I realized it might be my only chance of a sun tan for a lengthy period of time. 

When I returned to the Fishing Bridge Warming Hut  I was elated to see that the snowmobiling fairies had passed through while I was basking in the 10 minute heatwave. Lately, each time I return to the warming hut, whether it be in the morning or when I return from lunch, I find little treats that have been left behind by visitors and guides. These little treats come in all shapes, sizes and flavors, from apples and mini carrots to chips and chocolate! I never know who has left these pleasant surprises but I like to think of them as my little snowmobiling fairies!

Despite the name, the Warming Huts are more than just a place to warm up. They are a refuge from the outside world, where visitors share stories, re-adjust clothing, ask questions, share pictures and even eat lunch. By 11:00 am the first visitors start to arrive at Fishing Bridge. They pile into the small cabin and huddle around the wood burning stove. In no time at all, the cabin is filled with the rich scents of stew and deli sandwiches combined with the sweet smell of burning Lodgepole Pine. Southern drawls and foreign accents dominate the soundscape as stories are exchanged among the travellers. On some days there is only standing room in this little warming hut but no seems to mind as they are all overjoyed by the simplicity of warmth and food. Once their hands, feet and minds have thawed they seem to suddenly realize "What about the Ranger? Where does she live? What does she eat?" A few bold people will even ask about my romantic life as they become curious as to how rangers can find love under such remote and intense conditions! Bombarded with every question under the sun, I kindly and patiently divulge all my secrets: I live in the Park, my husband is also a ranger and we like to ski and enjoy the park on our days off. I explain the logistics and process for getting food which includes driving a snowmobile 30 minutes south with a tow sled  trailed behind our machine; followed by shovelling out our truck, driving 1.5 hours south to Jackson Hole, and then shopping. But let's not forget the return: driving 1.5 hours back to our truck, strategically loading everything into coolers on the tow sled and then driving the snowmobile back to Grant Village making sure to not toss around the food to badly...only to find out that bananas and lettuce don't like to be in -10 F' for 30 minutes on the tow sled!

When lunch is over each group prepares to head to their next destination, but before leaving they offer a plethora of thank you's: Thank you's for preparing the fire, thank you's for the conversation and thank you's  for staffing the warming hut. I graciously accept their thank you's while also reciprocating as I thank them for visiting Yellowstone National Park.

By the days end, each warming hut across the park is left with little treats which are sometimes found on our desk, table or window sill. I can only imagine that as each visitor learns about our lifestyle and lack of fresh food in this remote territory they feel the need to leave behind an apple here and a bag of chips there. These small yet sweet gestures are a testament to their appreciation of the work we do. As they leave the park and return home I like to think that they are pleased to know that somewhere in the middle of Yellowstone when it's -10'F there are a few rangers protecting the Nation's first National Park. 

As my day comes to an end and I return to my home it's the little things, when combined, that make my day grand- a brief ray of sunlight, a chocolate chip cookie, and a sincere thank you from a visitor.       

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