Monday, January 25, 2010

Yellowstone in Winter

Many people have asked me what it's like to live in Yellowstone National Park in the winter.

Well, I'll tell you....

It's cold.

My first week back to work in December, my eyelashes kept freezing together on my way to work. I've gotten used to that now, though, because it only really happens when the temperature dips below zero. Even though it rarely gets above freezing here in the winter, I've been lucky this year, and most days haven't been too bad.

The cold has made me change some of the ways I deal with my day, though. I ski to work and back every day, so I can no longer count on running to the safety of my warm car. My routine here now consists mostly of layers and finding things - two things at which I am very bad.

Layering sucks. Mostly because my thermo-regulatory system is not so good. Must have been all those years in Texas. Nevertheless, I am constantly either too cold or too hot or getting too cold or getting too hot or sweating too much and needing to remove clothing or shivering uncontrollably and needing to put clothing on.

When I'm working, the end result of this constant flow of clothing is that I end up looking like a bag lady coming from an irish garage clothing of all sorts (jackets, vests, gore-tex shells, fleece, etc.) hanging off my backpack at all angles by random zippers, ties, and bungee cords.

Every layer must have an option to make it warmer or colder. Pants have long underwear underneath and/or gore-tex shell pants on top. Shirts have a turtleneck underneath and/or long underwear and a vest or a fleece or a shell or, if it's really cold, a down jacket on top.

This wouldn't be a problem except that I hate being cold. So I start every day with the full compliment of layers on, regardless of the fact that every day I heat up so much on my ski to work (especially if I have the 5 mile circuit through the geyser basin to do!) that I'm sweating profusely by the time I walk into the visitor center.

I really don't know why I even bother showering.

My other problem is that it always takes ten times longer to get anywhere because not only do you have to put all these layers on...but you have to find all the accoutrements that go WITH all the layers.

On a normal day, I have problems simply making it out of my apartment with my wallet and my keys.

Now, not only do I have to find my wallet and my keys, but I must also discern the location of my gloves (the everyday light ones as well as the heavy mittens in case I find myself in a life threatening situation in which my fingers get so cold they might fall off), my hat (fleece hat to start so my ears don't get cold and ball cap to change into when I start steaming like a human geyser), my neck gaitor and/or balaclava (depending on how much of my skin can tolerate the current temperature), extra socks (in case my feet get cold or wet), and ski boots or snow boots.

And that's just getting dressed!

There's snow everywhere.

This may seem obvious, but some of you may not know that for the months of December through March, my beloved Honda Pilot is sitting 30 miles away from me at the West Entrance to the park underneath a foot of snow.

This means that I have to find alternate ways of doing just about everything.

Most of the time, I ski everywhere. I ski to work. I ski home. I ski to get my mail. I ski to walk the dog (quite the challenge that I'm still trying to master).

I even force the dog to pull a sled to take my recycling to the bins. He is not happy about this arrangement. He keeps thinking the sled is following him. A paranoid dog is not good.

If I'm not skiing, I have to snowmobile (and you wouldn't believe the layers and accessories needed for that thing!). I actually like snowmobiling, but the fear of having to change the darn belt (which apparently breaks a lot) was instilled in me at the beginning of the season, so I probably don't use it as much as I would otherwise. I have figured out, though, that a large pizza box will, in fact, fit between the handlebars and the windshield if I don't turn too quickly.

If you ski a pizza home, it's cold by the time you get there, so the snowmobile comes in handy.

It is, however, murder on your back.

It's remote.

Did I mention that I'm 30 miles from my car?

I'm also 30 miles (and an hour snowmobile ride) from the nearest grocery story.

This means that in December I had to anticipate what I would be wanting to eat in March. This may explain why I have recently been having cravings for things like cupcakes....didn't see that one coming.

This also explains why I have cravings for fresh fruit, vegetables, bread, and real milk. These things don't last very long. I pretty much live on frozen and boxed everything. And soy milk. Eek.

I guess I could snowmobile out every weekend to get fresh veggies. Many people do. But it's a lot of work. You have to determine if the amount of groceries you need will fit in a cooler that is imaginatively bungeed to the back of the snowmobile or if you need a tow sled. If you need a sled, then you need a tarp. If you need a tarp, you need more bungees.....

You see where this is going?

The remoteness of my home also makes visiting friends a little difficult. If a single friend wants to visit, I can snowmobile out and pick them up. More than one, though, or one that wants to visit when my shared snowmobile is unavailable, and they have to pay to hop a snowcoach to get in.

I also don't go out to visit people much. Bridger, while being awfully cute, does not possess the right size or demeanor to ride a snowmobile. Dogsitters are few here in my community of 200, so I have to plan my visits to the outside world around Bridger's bladder.

So why, you might ask, do I choose to live in Yellowstone National Park in the winter?

I can.

Although many people tell me they would love to live in Yellowstone, most of them couldn't do it. I sometimes wonder if being here is what is right for my personal goals, but to be honest, right now I have no spouse, no kids, and no reason (besides a dog that has had to get used to being on leash ALL the time) to not take advantage of this opportunity that, in the future, might not be an option.

It's mind bogglingly beautiful.

Nuff said.

It's a place like no other in the world.

I ski to work to work everyday. I stand by myself in a snowy geyser basin and watch geysers go off just for me. I hear wolves howling in the distance and follow their tracks. I watch bison amble past Old Faithful as it erupts. I watch the snow swirl around the windows as if I was in a huge snowglobe. I meet amazing people who have made it a priority to get themselves in to this cold, snowy, remote place because they think it's important to have and to visit and to support wild, unique places like Yellowstone National Park. I get to do a job that humbles me. And then I get to ski home.

So what is it like to live in Yellowstone National Park in the winter?

Where do I start.....

Sunday, January 24, 2010

A Whole Lotta Shaking....

  1. a series of vibrations induced in the earth's crust by the abrupt rupture and rebound of rocks in which elastic strain has been slowly accumulating.
  2. Something that is severly disruptive; upheaval.

It seems like earthquakes are getting to be more and more common in my life lately.

The first few little tremors were kind of exciting. The subsequent bigger ones made me want to drop everything and run outside screaming.

This is, of course, not what you are supposed to do. If you are inside you should stay inside. If you are outside you should stay outside. Apparently there are some crucial seconds there between being inside and being outside where all hell could break loose. The point is, though, that you're supposed to stick it out where you are.

I suppose that in a really big earthquake your fear comes from the fact you are in imminent danger of having everything around you fall on your head. In the little big earthquakes like I recently experienced, I was pretty sure that nothing was going to fall on my head. In fact, the most perilous physical result of those quakes was the gentle swaying of my hanging plants.

Not scary.

But they scared me all the same.

Don't get me wrong. I'm no chicken. I've purposely chosen to live on a fault line, in a tsunami zone, and , now, inside a supervolcano. But the big crises don't scare me. It's the little ones – the little ones that come along and shake everything up and make me have to look at the world differently without any warning – that make me want to curl up into a little ball.

Big earthquakes change everything. People die. Houses fall down. Communities suffer. And everyone recognizes that there was, indeed, a major catastrophe.

Little earthquakes just shake you up. There are no outward signs. People don't know how they've affected you. Little earthquakes sneak into your own little personal world, give it one big jolt just to remind you that you are, after all, not in control of what's going on, and then leave you to deal with the fact that your world just changed whether you or anyone else can see it or not.

When little things shake you up, you're supposed to get over it quickly.

Luckily, the earthquake swarm seems to be tailing off here in Yellowstone. The shaking, what little there is of it now, is too small to be noticed.

Soon, the earthquakes will just be a good story to tell....and a lesson learned.

Hopefully, I'll be better prepared, and a little less shaken up, when they strike again.