Watching, watching, watching.
I've always been a proponent of watching. Careful observation of wildlife, plants, and weather patterns makes me feel connected to a place and appreciative of the infinite variety of ways that living things have been able to prosper. Recently, though, I've been wondering if I've gone too far, if I've shifted from a participant in life to an observer of it.
Why would anyone come to Yellowstone National Park in the winter? It’s cold! (Lowest temperature so far this season at Old Faithful: -36°F. Lowest temperature ever recorded in the park: -66°F.) The days are short! (Sunrise today was at 7:59 am, with sunset at 4:51 pm.) It’s logistically challenging! (The only ways of getting around involve traveling “over snow,” which at different times may mean riding a snowmobile, sitting in the comparatively cozy microenvironment of an enclosed snowcoach, or going self-propelled on snowshoes or cross-country skis. You cannot drive your vehicle into any part of the park except from the North Entrance across to Cooke City.) Read more
Yesterday was my first full day home at Old Faithful. After breakfast, I checked the temperature outside—six below zero—and got my things together to head out for a quick ski. I felt it was my moral obligation to take advantage of the knee-deep, powdery snow before I tackled any of my other chores for the day. So then I faced the big decision: what to wear?
Fierce Montana wind
blowing over snow-capped peaks
brings me home at last.
On this national day of reflection and gratitude, what do people sitting around a Thanksgiving feast usually give thanks for? Family, friends, the gifts of good fortune or the rewards of hard work. Bounty and abundance of food or material possessions. Those going through hard times will express gratitude for the lessons they’ve learned in endurance or the emotional closeness they’ve achieved with loved ones.
How many gatherings of families and friends will voice appreciation for the land itself? Read more
It’s day twelve of the government shutdown, and the country has settled into a tired routine. Much of the shutdown discussion seems to have taken on a tone of resignation or half-hearted complaint, as the public watches while efforts at bipartisan talks collapse. Despite this trend towards passivity from sidelined Americans, there has been a lot of venom out there—some of it terribly misdirected.
I have been appalled at the extent of the vitriol and misinformation that’s floating around, especially regarding the role of the National Park Service in the closure of its 401 units around the country. Sites ranging from the Liberty Bell to Yosemite have been barricaded to visitors. Understandably, people are upset about being shut out of America’s most special places. For many travelers, a big national parks vacation is the trip of a lifetime: a pilgrimage to places of tremendous natural beauty and historic significance, planned for months or even years in advance. Being turned away at the gate is hurtful and costly. Read more
Work for one day in the visitor center at Badlands National Park, and someone is sure to ask, “Why is it called that?” The term “badlands” is a translation from the Lakota “mako sica” and the French fur traders’ “les mauvaises terres à traverser”—which is to say, “bad lands to travel across.” The rugged terrain is part of the problem, of course, as is the harsh climate. Winters can see the mercury plummet to well below zero, while summer temperatures can reach triple digits (in Fahrenheit, of course). Winds over fifty miles per hour can occur at any time of year, and the starkness of the prairie affords little shelter from the gusts.
But I often think that the lack of potable water in the badlands is what really made this area earn its name. Read more
In keeping with my pledge to spend more time in nature this year, I made my first visit to the Outdoor Campus – West in Rapid City this past weekend. Run by South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks, the Outdoor Campus — West opened in 2011. The facility features a LEED Gold building (one of only eight structures in South Dakota that have attained this level of certification from the U.S. Green Building Council) situated on 32 acres that include two small ponds, a stream, and 1.5 miles of trails.
The windows lining the front of the Outdoor Campus – West building look out over a pond that’s home to ducks and muskrats. View a map.
Sad news today from Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave National Park, where Superintendent Sarah Craighead confirmed the death of a northern long-eared bat from white-nose syndrome, a deadly infection that affects bats that hibernate in colonies. It is named for the frosty white fungal growths that appear on the muzzles of sick bats.
Bat with white-nose syndrome. USFWS.
It might seem strange that a park ranger is making a New Year's resolution to spend more time in nature, but my job involves a lot more sitting in my office than you might think. Yes, I do have an office of my own—but my tiny space was originally a storage closet, and doesn't have any windows. The beautiful Badlands are right outside, but I can't see them.
The isolating effect of working in my closet is stronger in winter, of course, when I go to work just after sunrise and return home after the sun has already gone down. I get very little natural light. Yesterday, it started snowing, and I didn't know about it for three hours. If a fireball were headed for the Earth and everyone looked to the skies, screaming in terror, I would still be tapping away at my workstation, oblivious to my impending doom.