Sometimes vacations become more than a trip away from home. Sometimes they become a spiritual retreat, a moment of connection with the greater (and simpler) meaning of life. This was one of those trips for me.
It did not start out that way. A twelve hour day to get two thirds of the way across the country depleted my energy sufficiently for me to come down with a cold by the end of the first day. And not just any cold, but one that makes you stupid, grumpy and old. The travel was ridiculously idiotic, it all revolved around a broken bathroom on the plane in which we were supposed to fly into Jackson Hole. It ended with us having to make an unscheduled stop in Denver before flying to Jackson Hole. I won’t bore you with the details but suffice it to say that by the time I found my luggage didn’t make it to Jackson Hole, I burst into tears. Not an auspicious start to a vacation.
The next day went to the dogs…literally. We spent the day learning the art of dogsledding and I actually drove a dog sled for five miles. A two foot snow storm the night before made things a little more difficult but all in all it was a good day. That night we had our first of many group dinners, meeting our two guides and the rest of the members of the tour.
Throughout the week we spent much time driving around in special vans, stopping to look for wildlife. The list of birds and mammals increased each day, some we saw close up, some were quite a distance away and could only really be viewed through telescopes. Traveling through Yellowstone in Bombardiers (snowcats) was truly a wonderful experience, but I would not want to have to travel that way every day. I hope I don’t put any noses out of joint when I say that Old Faithful was somewhat disappointing. Maybe I was just really tired. By this time, my cold was in full swing, and the only thing that saved it was the cold medication I took religiously.
Then we drove to the northern parts of the park to find the wolves. And that’s when the magic happened for me. A snowshoe trek to an old wolf’s den became my moment of true connection with the earth. It is a bit hard to explain, and maybe I won’t really try. It was just one of those moments when the stressors of life fall away and you are left simply being where you are, taking in what is around you without any thoughts, without any judgements, without any anxiety.
I was blessed to have guides who understood this and didn’t try to rush me through the moment. There was no feeling like I had to hurry up to get back to the van because we had other places to be and things to do. Quite simply, it was RIGHT NOW that mattered the most.
The magic continued that night with an outstanding sunset. And the next morning we were able to spend over an hour observing (through the scopes) a wolf traveling and howling in the distance. The sound of a wolf howl is like no other, it brought a smile to our faces. It is lower than a coyote’s, and therefore is harder to hear, yet it pierces the soul. I talked to the wolf through the scope, he knew we were there and kept looking at us crazy humans standing on a ridge looking at him. Finally he went up into the hills to take a nap. I wanted to join him.
The return trip was just as ridiculous as the one out there, another comedy of errors that added hours on to the voyage. But I kept the wolf in my heart and managed to (mostly) slide through the day. I made it home eventually, at least physically. Spiritually…that’s another story.
I think I will take the next few posts and show snapshots of the trip. The pictures can’t and don’t do the trip justice, my camera is just not good enough to capture the expanse and beauty of the winter scenes. However, they might give you a glimpse of what Yellowstone is like in the winter. Here is the first one, taken in the Lamar Valley in the north of the park on the last day of the trip. It is one that will stay in my mind for some time to come. The tracks that you see were made by wolves and bison.