Archive | November 2016

Yellowstone National Park Reflection

Rafting down the Snake River, Wyoming

Growing up and having family on both coasts, we usually visited one or the other side when my family took “vacation”. By time I turned 12, I’d traveled across America nearly half a dozen times. Traveling was a means to valued family time. Despite having friends who’d never flown or traveled out of state, at age 12, I was jealous of the ones who’d been to Disneyland!

Living on the West Coast meant more trips along Interstate 5 than cross-country. Around Christmas and at least twice again in the year, we packed up our silver grey Volvo station wagon and drove north for a long weekend. By pinching pennies, nickels and dimes, my parents saved enough for us to fly out to see our East Coast grandparents for a few weeks about every other summer.

Then one summer my mom’s favorite big brother and his wife came out West to go camping. And they were taking me (and the rest of the family) with them. They flew to PDX where we picked them up before packing up and driving to Yellowstone National Park. I was super excited. We were really going on a real vacation, a real adventure. We were off to see not some member of the family but solely to see a new location and experience a new place.

There in Yellowstone we saw waddling porcupine, sparring elk and shaggy lumbering buffalo. We attended reliably spouting Old Faithful’s water show and gazed at gorgeous snow crested mountains – the Grand Tetons and the Rockies. We rafted down the Snake River, walked around the hot brilliantly colored Paint Pots and waded in sparkling blue Jenny Lake. We ate scrambled eggs cooked over a camp stove, slept outside in a tent at a KOA, took the junior ranger pledge and learned all about preventing forest fires. The time flew by with all we experienced.

Charlie Tremendous Jones, a motivational speaker, has been quoted, “You’ll be the same in five years, except for the books you read and the people you meet.” A college professor of mine thoughtfully added, “And the places you visit.” Arguably you could say the places you visit lead you to the people you meet and thus that’s covered, but considering my Yellowstone experience, I’d have to agree with him. Sure, we spoke with rangers and exchanged greetings with the rafting guide, but being a kid, I really didn’t talk to those people. The people I interacted with were family. The people I barely met didn’t influence me like the place I visited.

All the memories came back the other day when I found a cassette. The recording my Aunt bought while in Wyoming – Goin’ Wild by the Banana Slug String Band – sounded just as peppy as it had the first time we listened to it while driving some highway in Wyoming or Idaho with miles of western scenery stretching out before us.

Did visiting Yellowstone change me? Am I a different person because of my Yellowstone experience? While I can’t say for certain that due to Yellowstone I resulted in changing these exact ways, looking back, I know it influenced me.

It changed my dreams. I dream of ‘returning’, which a different dream than the dream of ‘someday going’. Dreams of someday going always have an element of wonder and can take more belief that the trip is worth it. I wonder what xyz is really like; it’s gotta be amazing. Dreams of returning are more confident and more tangible in the memory. Dreams of returning to Yellowstone also bridge my dreams of other places and future trips. While I don’t know what it’s exactly like to ride with a pack string in the Rocky Mountain Range, having been to Yellowstone gave me a glimpse into that world. Someday I’ll take such a trip, and I know it will be amazing.

It increased my awareness of the world around me. The Paint Pots are a natural wonder had I not seen, I would not have remembered by only hearing or reading of them. Oh cool – colored hot springs. Ok, on to the next thing. No, no, no – they are more than that! They are BRILLIANTLY colored and acid-burn-you-to-death-HOT. Seeing them looking so clear and curiously deep, innocent and mesmerizing in a gorgeous mountain region, smelling the gases rising off them and leaning against the sturdy wooden rails to peer more closely at a sapphire blue pool – those are experiences you only get being there. Having seen such phenomenon of nature tantalized my appetite to see other wonders of this world. What else is out there?

It satisfied as only vacation travel can. The pressures involved in traveling to visit family are not there. Before cell phones my parents called my grandparents just as we left our house. My grandfather then estimated our time of arrival. We were always under time constraints to get there at or before Grandpa’s estimation. That pressure isn’t there. When we’d go visit the East Coast, my grandparents always expected us to stay with them. They’d raised seven kids in their old large New England home, and there was plenty of space and no reason we shouldn’t stay with them. That pressure isn’t there. The pressures are more internal with vacation traveling. When do you want to get there? Feel free to adjust that mid way along. Where do you want to stay? Let your imagination and wallet decide that.

Okay. Now I want to go on a vacation! While I still haven’t been to Disneyland, there have been other trips solely for suspending normal life to escape elsewhere for rest, relaxation and fun. Each one has influenced me, and it’s fun when something simple, like a cassette, can bring up such good memories.

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Whatcome Co. Washington

“Oh, you were in Bellingham? Did you do anything fun?” Her voice reflected a smile. She looked ahead out the front window as she sat in the shot-gun seat.

“Yeah. Sunday we took Grandma on a three or four hour car ride…”

“Three or four hours?” She demanded, whipping to look directly at me over her left shoulder.

I hadn’t finished my thought. “Yeah – about three or four.”

“That’s a long car ride for – how old is she?”

“Um… late 80-something.”

I started to feel a little guilty about my part in the torture of Grandma when everyone in the carpool began chiming in about older people and how even for young people three or four hours in a car is a long time. In my defense though, she wanted to go on a car ride and her son was driving; she’s the one who taught him how to drive! Despite the lengthy drive, or probably due to the length, we covered a lot of ground in Whatcom County.

We began by driving to Greenwood Cemetery on Wiser Lake Road, off the Guide Meridian, next to the fire station. Apparently my great-great-grandmother (my grandma’s father’s mother) resides at Greenwood. She died in the early 1920s before Grandma and I were born. I’d never heard of her, nor had my grandma any recollection of her (remember, she died before we were born), but my dad had heard from his sister about her and decided it would be interesting for us to visit. The cemetery was easy to find and turned out to be a very tranquil and peaceful place. The place had a friendly neighborhood feel to it, and a number of dogs with their walkers passed through. Along with my ancestor, men from early wars and more currently deceased people are buried at Greenwood. Apparently the notables number a large enough collection to warrant a monthly tour of the plots. Every last Saturday of the month at 3:00 you can take “A Walk Back in Time.” Not being able to find great-great-grandmother Anna during our short visit means my dad wants to return.

As we drove back to the Guide, we almost passed a gravel drive with public access to Wiser Lake. I stopped Dad in time, and we pulled in.

“Why are we stopping here?” He asked as the car gently bumped along.

“Grandma and Uncle Fred used to go row boating out here on Wiser Lake.” That’s why.

“Mom, did you and Uncle Fred boat on Wiser Lake?” Grandma heard him, his voice deeper than mine.

“Oh yes!” Her eyes brightened as she began to recount happy summer days with her big brother.

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Wiser Lake from the Guide

After surveying the lake, we continued on. Back on the road, we contemplated where to go next. After stopping for a brief visit with my dad’s cousin, we decided to head out to Lummi Nation and maybe get dinner out there. On the island there is a diner my dad and grandma have enjoyed before. I had only seen the photos text to me while they enjoyed the hearty fare. It took us a little while to drive out to the Lummi Nation, but we enjoyed the rural scenery.

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Ferry Ramp to Lummi Island

When we arrived at the ferry dock, we were the third car in line. As time passed more cars pulled up. We began getting nervous. Grandma needed to be home around 7:00 p.m. It got later and later, and finally we looked the ferry schedule up online. When we discovered the ferry wouldn’t load until 6:10 p.m., we decided to skip the ferry ride and just sail home.

It was a good decision. By time we drove back to Bellingham, stopped for dinner at a Wendy’s and arrived at Grandma’s assisted living home, it was nearly 7:30 p.m., and Grandma was quite tired.

While it all may have exhausted Grandma, when we saw her the next day, she was back to her chipper lively self. I bet she slept well that night!