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Archive for May, 2009

I’ m heading off to Yellowstone tomorrow, the mother ship of all national parks, and perhaps America’s best idea it has given to the world so far. I wonder what her next one will be…

Anyway, I will be a guest artist/vendor in the Yellowstone General Stores Pathways at Yellowstone program at their main store in Old Faithful from Sunday May 31-Tuesday June 2, so it very much feels like a coming home journey to return to the park in this capacity. From there I will make many sales visits en route home, with camera and journal ready to capture anything that comes to light and  mind.

Yellowstone has played a huge role in reawakening my heart and soul and purpose over the years, and I look forward to what it may reveal to me on this journey. It will be awesome to meet so many other park enthusiasts, share my love and knowledge of this magical wild place, and learn from others what makes it such a special place to them. The same goes for reconnecting with and running into friends and former colleagues, who also have Yellowstone in their blood, and call it home seasonally or year-round.

Check back for new blog postings toward the end of next weekend or on June 8 at the latest. I am on somewhat of a poetry trajectory at the moment, but inspiration flowing from wild places may influence me to post otherwise.

In the meantime, here’s hoping you’ll also get outside, and enjoy and make the most of that beautiful place wherever you call home. See you in a week or so, and travel well.

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Clark Fork River rushes by

Nature’s flotsam hurtling downstream, seaward.

Churning waters rise and drown

willow islands and cottonwood forests,

Their uppermost branches float and dance in the din

Earthly grace yields to water’s power.

Spring run off rages on, releasing, transmuting winter’s carnage and debris.

Calmer clearer waters surely follow.

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I was hiking with a new close friend up Woods Gulch a few weekends ago, and it felt great to be alive, in a beautiful place, in a budding relationship. Spring. New green. New growth. Gorgeous trillium flowers abounded alongside mountain streams. Bear scat and wolf tracks lingered on shadowed snowbanks, with gorgeous views beckoning in all directions. Less than a mile from the trailhead on our way out, we saw a huge cinnamon-colored black bear bolt and run up a steep hillside. We were both awed and amazed at our good fortune, not only in seeing a bear, but with its choice to flee and create a happy ending for everyone.

I feel pretty clear-headed and fearless in nature, unlike struggles with committing to and being responsible for who and where I am in the “real world”. There are fewer distractions and possibilities (at least in my mind) vying for attention out there. It seems easier to be here now, and to stay focused on the next step I’m taking, which will lead to the next step. And that’s o.k. That’s all I can really do, anywhere. Remembering and embodying that back in the  human world, where livelihood, neighborhood, friendship, intimacy and relationship collide and converge, has traditionally been a trickier place to integrate and practice this.

But nature ultimately teaches me to be unafraid of who and where I am, or where I am going. It was the wellspring that nourished and healed through heartache and exasperation as a long-distance relationship unraveled and disintegrated, even though Yellowstone was the magical place that had also first brought us together. It became the unshakeable foundation upon which I discovered the courage, inner strength and healing to come out. It continues to fuel and feed me, when I remember to pay attention, to listen, and to hear.

Time in nature also teaches that every day truly can be different, that I never really walk the same path or trail twice, if I keep my heart and eyes wide open, and choose to see, experience, express and allow things to become different. There is no “Groundhog Day” in the natural world, just in the human-constructed one. Every day can be the best day of my life, if I so choose.

I’m at another trail juncture, navigating an even greater wilderness, more excited and hopeful than afraid, where two human hearts and souls intersect, and where there are no road or trail maps. I dare to go there.

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Three months after a wounded nation plodded toward war and exacting revenge, I plunged into a long winter of  self-imposed isolation and reflection in the heart of Yellowstone. Feeling way out of my comfort zone, unnerved, and afraid, I initially resisted embracing the commitment I had made, and constantly wondered what the hell I had just gotten myself into.

The closest unplowed road was over 50 miles away, via a round-trip four-hour snowmobile ride. Everything I brought in had to be carried by snowmobile or sled, and that’s how I also got groceries twice a month on scenic and occasionally scary jaunts from Fishing Bridge to West Yellowstone. Lettuce, bananas and eggs required particular attention when packing for the return home, as I found out the hard way on my first grocery shopping mission, with none of the above among the survivors.

Once on the way home, I got stuck in deep snow during whiteout conditions in the Hayden Valley, then waited over an hour in fading late January daylight for help to arrive. Chocolate, a cool attitude, and singing and dancing to stay warm were part of my survival tool kit that afternoon, as was having a radio link to the Comm Center, and more standard emergency gear.

Bison on the road, along with occasionally unruly, unskilled or unprepared winter visitors, also made travel and work on this high plateau atop a dormant volcano extra exciting and unpredictable. I settled slowly and more confidently into days spent starting and maintaining wood stove fires in the warming hut, reporting weather and road conditions, “roving”  nearby areas to meet and assist visitors, and staffing, subbing and giving slideshow presentations, with a four-stroke National Park Service snowmobile as my winter steed.

Compared to many other winter park rangers, I was pretty much on my own at Yellowstone Lake, free to be myself, free to make mistakes, and hopefully wise enough to survive and learn from making them. That relatively TV, internet, and cell-phone free winter provided time and space to reconnect and rediscover my passion for writing and photography. It also reawakened other long-ignored and neglected desires that I didn’t have the courage to begin fully exploring until three years later, when I left the park.

In hindsight, a clear pattern emerges as to how much five years living and working in Yellowstone continues to guide who and where I am today, and to where I may be heading. Nature is where I have consistently retreated to get clearer, to immerse myself in and be o.k. with the unknown, and often, the unknowable.

Nature is also where I’ve felt most comfortable not knowing it all. None of us ever will, in the natural or the “real” world for that matter, and that’s o.k. It’s all pretty much beyond our control. The one thing I have free will and control over is whether and how much I choose to fully explore and bring forth my own true nature, and to share that freely and fearlessly with others.

That magical Yellowstone winter of 2001-02 continues to bear amazing gifts, such as greater trust, wisdom and confidence in a rapidly changing world. A steady knowing that by moving through fears and challenges, in natural as well as human communities, amazing opportunities to grow and change and thrive arise. That through discovering and developing my  talents and abilities, the better I can contribute to my own life and livelihood, and to those of all others on the planet.

I’m not without fear. I embrace and engage it every day. It has become a most unlikely friend, often revealing a higher and unexpected way through perceived problems beyond the more limiting solutions society, others or my ego might come up with. As a result, I am better at surrendering and allowing  things to happen, being less attached to outcomes, and visualizing positive results for my six billion or so other fellow human beings to also discover their own true nature, and share their talents in the highest way.

Six years ago in early May, I accidentally came within six feet of a Yellowstone grizzly and her two cubs, while responding to a “bear jam” between Norris and Mammoth Hot Springs. Managing a “bear jam” actually involves skillfully managing the unpredictable nature of humans, and there were plenty of them emerging from cars parked all over the road, doing their best to circumvent my and another ranger’s orders to remain in their vehicles, as three bears navigated a human labyrinth in search of peace and a calmer place.

I had turned around to stop a family from approaching any closer, and in that moment, I felt the hackles on the back of my neck stand up. On the far side of the car closest to where I was standing, radio-collared grizzly bear number 264 and her cubs zoomed by, ears down, eyes averted, panting hard, fearful perhaps. They ditched the road, meandered along the far side of a mucky meadow, then vanished into a jumbled, regenerating lodgepole pine forest. Bear jam over. I was emotionally spent once the adrenaline fled.

I still get chills when recounting that experience. That same night a crazed grizzly bear came to me in a fearful dream, peeling my scalp and crushing my skull before consuming me alive. I’d like to think that my worst nightmare was only that, and quite different from what my highest hopes and dreams may ever bring.

It’s hard to say whether grizzly bears dream, what they may dream about, or whether their nature is much different from ours. One thing I can say with conviction is that I have tremendous personal power to change my reality. We all do. It depends upon embracing our true selves, as well as befriending and learning from our fears.

Perhaps grizzlies and other wild beings spend less energy being afraid of how things are or look in favor of more fully being themselves, making the most of opportunities inherent in the now. I’m glad places wild and large enough for grizzlies still exist, for if we ever lose such places, we’ll also lose a wilder and wiser part of our own nature. When I really listen and slow down, I hear Yellowstone’s wild heart beating fiercely in mine.

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Thanks for checking out Your Life Nature. I am taking a short break from the technological world this week in order to recharge and regroup, so please check back on Tuesday May 12 to see what’s new here. I’ll see you then!

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