Peaceful Heart

Winter in Yellowstone

Winter in Yellowstone

I'm not sure how many people that read this will have experienced in a personal way the impact of the ALS on the life of someone that they love. For the past couple of years, I've watched as a member of my wife's family (her cousin) has been impacted by the disease. It is an incredibly painful to watch the disease as it traps brilliance in a failing body.

Michael was an outdoorsman. It worked for years with the National Park Service including time at Yellowstone National Park. Today, he is in his 40s at home with his parents in a wheelchair. I remain amazed by his perseverance in the face of the inevitability of his disease though. Already the author of two books, he has now authored another that is set for publication very soon, and works on another with just the ability to move his eyes. 

In a year that may be his last, he continues to speak into the beauty of the outdoors as well as the difficult questions of how to balance access, nature, and using natural resources. This winter break was supposed to be my time to complete another book proposal, but it became a project left incomplete for now. Michael's work pushes me, and his peaceful heart in the face of his roaring disease brings me calm. 

I've included a recent excerpt that he recently shared with family from book number four. Enjoy. 

Winter in Yellowstone is a time of contrasts and extremes. White light parries with crushing darkness, intense chill duels with scalding heat, screaming wind alternates with icy calm, all while subzero cold, whiteouts, and snow by the foot punish anything and anyone with the temerity to cling to life there, much less seek recreation. Snow and cold define the landscape, dominating from October to May in the high country, less if the gods are merciful. Snow falls anytime, anywhere, accumulating to depths of several feet in the southern and eastern mountains while fleeting away from the sheltered northern valleys. It is the stuff of whiteout and whimsy, dousing all visibility one day and treating Alice to a frozen Wonderland the next. It drifts into immense pillows in leeward nooks, but scours away into nothing in exposed areas. It hushes all sound one minute, then shouts it all away the next. It descends vertically from the heavens, turns into sideways snow in dimension-destroying whiteouts, and puffs into curly-cues in lighter moments. It is annihilated instantly by the thermal features but reborn as hoarfrost and rime caking nearby trees. It suppresses all smells, putting them on hold for months. In a thousand ways, snow transforms, reshapes, creates, and sculpts the landscape.

Meanwhile, cold keeps company with snow, going everywhere it does and working its own wonders. It freezes any surface waters, transforming liquid into solid, lake into ice, gurgling into silence. Waterfalls become vertical caskets of ice that sometimes even entomb the sound. The sounds of life give way to those of cold: snow squeaks as you walk through it, trees pop as subzero cold pervades, lake ice groans as it expands. Moisture in the air freezes to create halos and sun dogs around the solar orb that gives light but little warmth; halos warn of impending storm, sun dogs of arctic air. Daytime highs above freezing decrease in frequency till they are the stuff of memory and daydream. Balm and comfort go south, replaced by brace and chill. Wind chills alternate with stillness to intensify the cold, the one by assaulting you with wind and gale, the other by releasing residual warmth to the heavens. Nighttime lows below zero become the norm, rising above only when a storm moves through, dropping more snow and, as soon as it moves on, a return to subzero nights. No heat source can compete for long with the coldest air, which freezes the moisture in your nose and even geyser water, clattering to the ground as ice pellets, Yellowstone’s unique contribution to the winter soundscape. In myriad ways, then, white and freeze are the essence of the Yellowstone plateau in winter.