Fantastic Sky

17 07 2013

The boys of summer

The boys of summer

I tend to look at the sky a lot out here. There’s good reason why this part of the country is called “Big Sky.”  The cloud formations are incredible, especially those puffy cumulus clouds mixed with a blue atmosphere that goes on and on. I am grateful to awake each morning to a new adventure, new people and new stories.

I dutifully walk over a mile to work every morning and eat three square meals a day in the EDR (Employee Dining Room). The deal is, to work in a national park like Yellowstone, you have to live inside the park and so you are provided housing and meals. Those charges are taken out of your paycheck and usually there’s just enough money left over for gas.

“You are not here for the money,” we remind ourselves daily. Still, I’m wondering if I’ll have enough in the bank to get back to Florida. I did not bring my jeep out here which was a major miscalculation. Public transport is inept at best. Tales of people being left stranded throughout the park are quite common as is the sight of hitchhikers thumbing a ride.

During our training in Mammoth, I was lucky enough to bum a few rides from my colleagues. I rode to Bozeman one day with Jerry, a retired banker from the Orlando area, Terry, a school teacher from Nebraska and Joe, my roommate. Jerry and Terry, both Vietnam veterans in their 70s, were quite a pair. They played well off each other and kept the rest of us smiling. Terry is especially entertaining, with his storytelling and sincere love for Yellowstone. He first worked in the park in the early 1960s, returning five decades later, admittedly, to seek out lost youth.

“We used to feed the bears you see,” Terry would say, always emphasizing the “you see” part for dramatic effect. When Terry would enter the EDR, someone would invariably announce his arrival with the word, “Showtime!” Terry is well liked by many of his co-workers. “There was a dump out in West Yellowstone you see,” Terry continued. “And we would ride out there at night to watch the bears eat. They’d stand up on two legs and growl at each other. It was FANTASTIC!”

Everything in Yellowstone is fantastic to Terry and he loves hearing other people share their experiences. On our trip to Bozeman, the four of us piled into Jerry’s full size king cab pickup truck. We stopped in Livingston and paid a visit to Dan Bailey’s fly fishing shop. Across the street sat the train station where Terry was quick to reminisce about passenger service which had long been discontinued.
Once in Bozeman, I got the guys to agree on trying a hippie co-op downtown that Joe and I discovered on our first night in Montana. All the food is fresh from local farms, grown organically and many of the dishes even I could not pronounce. There were several flavors of protein shakes, entrees of tofu and kale and plenty of gluten free grub to go around.

“I wonder if people eating this will get a whole new set of medical conditions,” Jerry mused. Hanging out with such a senior set, health and wellness issues were always on the tip of a nearby tongue. There were obvious risks at play. Since arriving in the high altitude of Yellowstone, Joe had struggled with his balance and took to walking with a stick. He was also having trouble grasping the company’s computer system, although he wasn’t the only one, still privately there was talk that Joe might not be cut out for Yellowstone living. I hoped this would not be the case. Joe is a kind hearted person, quick to share his pistachios or crack a joke to lighten the mood. When I had come down with a sore throat a few days after settling into Mammoth, it was Joe who dug through his medicine bags and found just the right remedy.

On the drive back to Mammoth, Terry regaled us with code words from his Vietnam days. As we drove through the stunning Gallatin and Absaroka mountain ranges, I learned for the first time what — or rather who — a “Mackerel Snapper” is. Raised Catholic, I found this outdated slur to be amusing. The day itself was a blast. One of the better ones I’ve had here. Sadly, Joe and Jerry are gone now. Both have returned to Florida for different reasons. Terry, at last count, is working at the Lake Yellowstone location, while I’m still predicting eruption times at Old Faithful and looking to the sky — cherishing every minute.

Big Sky over Mallard Lake

Big Sky over Mallard Lake




4 responses

17 07 2013

I note you are ever so slowly catching up with yourself. But if you don’t get current, I and all of your readers are going to be left hanging at the edge of a cliff when it comes time for your Xanterra gig to end. This, because of your statement that you might not end your tour with enough money to get home! Really?? I guess you’ve moved on to Canyon? Probably running you ragged? At least being closer to Kirk will carry tangible benefits, and stimulation. No? Frustrated at not getting mail that I know arrived at Y’stone after I split, I called the PO and was told they have been shelving my mail — including a rent check — for weeks, even tho they were instructed to forward it. Go figger. Weather’s much improved over last summer. So far, temps mostly in the 90s and enough rainfall to keep things green that this time last year were burned yellow and gray. Take care, Johnny, and keep writing.

Sent from my iPad

22 07 2013
Margaret Webster

If we had only known you were in Yellowstone! We will be (hopefully) heading that way next year . This year we had a 50th Anniversary Party to plan and attend for my in-laws so we had to stay this side of the Mississippi. It was great but we are looking forward to heading west again soon! Love hearing about the new adventures and “characters” you are experiencing. We will want to know all the inside places to go and see – of course. When you coming back to PC? Now you will HAVE to come have dinner with us to tell us about your adventures! We insist! Take care and watch out for those bears and bison.

25 07 2013

A really great post John. I can tell your getting your rhythm back. The thin air in that 8,000′ altitude must agree with you. Looking up from down here at sea level it’s hard to imagine the hike. I definitely want to take the journey some day.

29 07 2013

Thanks for the note, Margaret. Should be back in Florida in October, but who knows. 🙂 Have a great summer!!

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