Tuesday was my Friday and the weekend needed to be planned. There were many options. Could rest up with some movies and short day hikes. Could drive somewhere for a great view with a book and music. Or, as was decided, hiking with the back country rangers, Kevin Dooley and John Murray, to the northern border of Yellowstone. Brian Wick initiated the idea and off we were at 7:00am with the four federal horses, Pilot, Rhino, Victor, and Teddy. Brian and I would hike the nearly 20 mile journey with an elevation change of 6,500 to 9,000 feet. Rhino, the biggest, carried the equipment we would be using in the field to clear down trees and other obstacles in the trails. Pilot carried Dooley and Victor, Murray. Teddy, even though being at Tower the longest was bare back and was in it more for the adventure than actual work, although in the event that Victor, 16, became too tired, Murray would have switched. Teddy was not meant to be a work horse. From Tower we loaded the horses after saddling them and drove to the Hellroaring Trailhead. The trail begins as a steep decline to a bridge that leads to the open valley around Hellroaring mountain. It was up and over, up and over, through long grass and wildflowers. I was struggling a bit, but Brian had the long saw on his back so it gave me the motivation to keep up. You really get winded at such an elevation so when the first big tree that needed to be moved presented itself, we had time to breathe, but only for a while. We chain sawed through the thick trunk that must have fallen by a microburst. The horses ran off during this time and had to be wrangled together. Rhino really freaked out when they left again while he was being loaded. Back on the trail we headed higher, this time the long saw on my back. My water was starting to run low, but Dooley had a filter that we could use at the next creek we would come across. As we continued on, Pilot had a hitch in his giddy up. I was about 20 meters behind but as I neared saw the grizzly far too close for comfort. Brian and I shielded ourselves opposite the horses to the young but ferocious bear. Good thing the horses did not run off, although I am sure Brian and I would have put up a good fight. Several miles on we came across endless down trees and branches that needed clearing. Many times they would be waiting for me at a down tree while I caught up with the saw. It was fascinating to feel alone on those heights. They stayed ahead and Brian kept up with their pace bouncing along with glee. Nearing the back country cabin was taking longer than expected. Only a few crackers were in my stomach and the feeling of being close was the only thing left to propel me those last quarters of a mile. The cabin had survived the 1988 fire which destroyed a third of Yellowstone. Several times, grizzly had broken in to scrounge for food. A few paw prints were still visible as we downed our packs and rested our feet before an evening hike. The horses were dealt with interestingly. You can set up an electric fence system for them and that is what we did along the best grass for them to enjoy through the night. Pilot and Rhino were outfitted with cow bells to ward off bears and let us know if they make it away from the fence. The hike brought us to magnificent views of the entire northern part of the park. Mountains, horizons, and enough land in between to distract you from what is real and what is not. There are some very large flying insects that require a hell of a lot of DEET, but as long as there is a breeze can be unnoticed. Murray went back to the cabin to prepare some spaghetti dinner while Dooley, Brian, and I climbed higher to find more views. We were in Montana for a while and studied the poaching trails before descending to the cabin for dinner. There was some news, news that was neither all good nor all bad. Kastner’s body had been located. It was not totally confirmed since an autopsy would be necessary to determine cause of death with dental records to prove identity. It was not the best concept to think about. We searched a mile in every direction back and forth but missed him above a peak only an hour’s walk from the Hellroaring trailhead. The scent of his corpse was spotted by some geology students and from there found that he had downed some pills before pulling the trigger sitting upon a mountain side in the final moments of this 25-year-old marine torn apart by Iraq. The subject was quickly changed once there was only so much to consider. Stories were told and bear defense techniques were discussed before setting the mattresses for bed and attempting to gain enough rest to repeat the whole deal over again in the morning. Aside from the general snoring in the small cabin, it was a good sleep.
The next morning, coffee was shared, the cabin prepared for the next team, log book detailed, horses readied, and off into the wilderness of the forests north of the Park. There was not much we could do in the wilderness. Fallen trees made it difficult to move on through but soon enough we were back in the Park at the Coyote trail. We could have gone farther but time constraints drove us toward the Hellroaring trailhead. A tree was removed by ax and saw, and we were getting closer to the end. Exhaustion was starting to set in after being on foot for so long. Brian exhibited good form when he carried the saw the last mile up the steep Hellroaring end with zest beating the horses while I struggled to lead Teddy back to the trailer. Upon reaching the end of the 20 mile journey, I nearly collapsed, but was overcome by a sense of pride in completing the mission, the likes of not experienced since the height of high school football. In the end, all was well and we were promised a case of good beer.
To be counted on. To be able to count on someone or something other than yourself. The world is far too complicated and hard to be all alone in the cosmos of imagination. There has to be some other form of hope in the understanding that everything is going to be all right. Does this mean there is only one right way to go about this? Absolutely not. Even if there was, we would never be able to settle on which was the right way unless we destroyed ourselves. For several thousand years we have toiled to figure out the right way. And this has prevented us from the important part of believing in something greater than yourself. For an individual, a bleak realization can destroy, but with another and a few more, such realization can be looked at from another point of view that may include some inspirational optimism.
Take another look around the river bend to see if there is something better worth believing in. As Robert Duvall said in Secondhand Lions, “doesn’t matter if it is true, so long as you believe in it. If you want to believe in something, believe in it!”
When you are young and on your way about things, temptations grab hold of you. Bad habits form. Mistakes are made. Several times you probably will regret an action you thought would be of no consequence. There is no need to mention specifically that which many of us regret or are not proud of. But it is important to realize that we do have faults. We all live lives of imperfection yet are obsessed with making it not seem that way. Over-religious hypocrites are not the only ones with this problem. Anyone who judges others or thinks little of that person because of some problem is a hypocrite. Everyone can be at fault sometimes for this. It is important to move on. Dwelling on any of it should not be considered an option. Consider what has happened and figure out the next move. For all the times that you are able to keep moving against the wind and keep a steady head, you come closer to grace. In that moment good things do happen.
Today was good. The assignment board had a quote written, “no time like the present, because the future is uncertain.” But some things felt certain about what could be, and what already is. Tomorrow anything may happen here on patrol seeking out bear traffic jams and emergency scenarios. Several tourists approached a grizzly sow with two cubs in the morning and had to be shoved off to safety. They were all amazed at what was being seen and I heard repeated phrases such as “out of this world” and “nothing beats it.” Usually I can’t help it but allow people to be closer than the mandatory 100 yards. Seeing diverse personalities and nationalities all with joy in their hearts is more rewarding than anything I’ve experienced before. But it is important to stay focused and ready for anything because life is incredibly precious and in one split second can be extinguished. That does not mean you should wall yourself out of the reality of the world. You need to know what is out there and you need to feel it. Without that passion for finding what is out there that would stir your heart, you haven’t lived life at all, and are wasting away the gift of being alive.
I just finished a stir fry dinner prepared by Brian Wick, an adventurer of good form who basically made this entire experience possible, and now I sit and reflect on what the day really meant. There are some young maintenance workers nearby who are challenging each other in a tournament of beer pong, a strange invention. We may join along with Colby, Brian’s roommate. I live with a law enforcement fella who is also a good guy. Colby though is young and studies wolves and lives the dream in my opinion. His call sign has “alpha” in his title so that must mean something great. He works with Rick McIntyre, the most knowing wolf expert on the planet. Fan of Dylan, of course. He wakes up early to see the wolves so I haven’t had many opportunities to have conversation of good form. But today just made me think. And I do not have a point here. As I told Collette, out boss, driving around in the patrol vehicle made me think, but I need some time to figure out what the thinking was going to lead to.