Snow was on the ground when I arrived in Yellowstone. Before I left, snow fell and winter began her embrace on the landscape. The summer concluded abruptly and although I was forewarned, my tenure at Yellowstone had done the same. Now I have the pleasure of looking back upon my time. I was here long enough to see the seasons change.
On this final day, I woke and hit The Tumbleweed one last time. Although this café was never ideal, it was the best place that I found in the small touristy town of Gardiner. At this round table, I did most of my thinking and writing. I was a fixture in this corner on most weekend mornings unless I had grander plans. Occasionally, I would come by after work to indulge in espresso and immerse myself in thought. This particular morning, I remember the young women who would offer a smile and casual conversation while greeting me for breakfast. They were always receptive to my morning cheeriness — something that isn’t always reciprocated. It was a pleasant way to start the day. They moved on sometime in late summer, just as I am doing now. I believe that they were still in school and likely aspired for bigger and better things. The new hires, whom I’ve gotten to know over the last few weeks, are equally friendly but without the same morning energy. Same as the young girls, over time, our exchange of pleasantries evolved into casual conversation and a familiar friendliness. On this last day, The Tumbleweed was welcoming as usual. For whatever reason, I decided not to make a fuss over my departure and I never said goodbye.
I was eager to hit the road. However, I couldn’t leave Yellowstone without saying goodbye to my dormies and I had to pack up the rest of my belongings anyway. After breakfast, I entered the park one last time, drove up the hill and through Mammoth, took a left at the travertine terrace, parked in the snow covered lot, and stepped inside the dorm one last time. This was my home for the last four months. While I couldn’t say that communal living is my preferred mode, the friends that I made this summer certainly made it tolerable if not pleasant sometimes. Our goodbyes were heartfelt. During the embrace, I couldn’t help but think that I should have engaged them more or participated in their adventures. I was always welcome and I received an invitation more often than not. Nevertheless, we were in different worlds. Here in Yellowstone, our lives overlapped just enough so they would always have a place in my heart. I wish them happiness and much success and I hope that one day, our paths cross again.
My summer in Yellowstone concluded that snowy afternoon. I left the dorm, made a right at the travertine terrace, drove slowly through Mammoth, and gave a final nod to the elk on the way out. I still had mixed feelings about the whole adventure, same as I did all summer. Perhaps I was slightly saddened to leave but I was undoubtedly happy to head to Bozeman where I would see Jill and begin our western adventure. Nevertheless, I would reconcile my thoughts and feelings at a later time.
Some weeks later, a candle burns in my living room. I sit in my comfortable green chair on a crisp autumn day. Squirrel stew is heating on the stovetop. I ponder roasting one of the two pheasants that I harvested the other day. My life has returned to normal and I’ve been taking full advantage of the season. My excursions into Penn’s Woods have been successful in bounty and joy. These days remind me of where my heart belongs — in the deciduous forest of the northeast.
A short time passes and my lunch is warmed and I ladle the homemade goodness into a bread bowl. I pour a tiny glass of Merlot for the simple pleasure. Returning to my comfortable green chair, I ponder my days. I’ve set my sights on grad school and I’m preparing to take the GRE. I’ve interviewed for another seasonal position — this one closer to home. In the meantime, I’ve picked up a gig to make ends meet. I take a sip of wine and smile — life is good.
I think about the other day. Jill and I were heading out to dinner when I received a message from Yellowstone. Jess, a coworker and friend, sent me a picture of her son dressed as a bat for Halloween. Although I’m not a kid person, I have to admit that he was as cute as cute can be. With a smile, we exchanged a few pleasantries by text. The interaction reminded me of a life that I left behind — friends that I may or may not see again and a place for which I still have mixed feelings. I’m glad that my final night in Yellowstone was surrounded by friends. My coworkers and dormies gathered at the Rusty Rail to reminisce and say goodbye. That is the first image that comes to mind when I remember them.
By this time, the bread and stew have made my stomach content and I discovered in these years that even a teeny class of red wine will produce a warm and fuzzy feeling. With this said, I gaze upon on the candle burning bright while I ponder my summer in Yellowstone. Lost in deep thought, my eyes turn to the fall colors outside my window. The sun casts a beautiful brilliance on the foliage and reaffirms my notions of home. Somewhere in this picture, my thoughts begin to solidify.
For most of the summer, I wanted to be home. I talked about my melancholy and disappointment often. This is very clear and as I look back upon my writings, I hope that I didn’t sound like a sad sack. Instead, I was grappling with my condition out loud. After all, I promised to give an accurate account of this life.
I look back and realize that it hasn’t been this particular posting that made me homesick; it has been the fact that I have been away from home for the most part of the last four years. I talk about different worlds, such as those of my younger counterparts and me. There was a conversation where we tried to figure out who was lonelier — a person who has someone back home or someone who has none. I could only speak for myself. Prior to the wonderful life that my wife and I share together, the emptiness of actually being alone wasn’t lonely. Not until I discovered the benefits of marriage have I truly understood loneliness. Truthfully, I underestimated the sacrifice that would be placed not only on my marriage but all the different aspects of my life.
Often, I remind myself that it is all a part of the plan. When I take stock of these past years, I notice that I reached the milestones in timely fashion. However, I have become restless. Perhaps, I can better describe this feeling as hungry. This past year, starting sometime during my tenure in Congaree, I’ve felt that I need more. These temporary positions have been full of new experience and wonder but I’m not growing at a pace that I prefer. I’m beginning to tire of being the helper and I desire to take ownership of the work. My curiosity hasn’t been satiated. Instead, I have more questions than when I started and I wish to be in a position to explore these topics in greater depth. With this said, I renew my desire to attain my goals and stay the course.
Months have passed and the leaves have fallen from the trees. Snow fell last night and a blanket of fluffy white covers the ground. The sun shines brightly on this mid-December afternoon. In a couple of weeks, I’ll be starting my next job. I am curious about the new people that I will meet and how the days will unfold. I wonder what kind of stories will manifest in that time. I recall the same thoughts prior to my summer in Yellowstone.