This is what we can promise the future: a legacy of care. That we will be good stewards and not take too much or give back too little, that we will recognize wild nature for what it is, in all its magnificent and complex history—an unfathomable wealth that should be consciously saved, not ruthlessly spent. Privilege is what we inherit by our status as Homo sapiens living on this planet. This is the privilege of imagination. What we choose to do with our privilege as a species is up to each of us. Terry Tempest Williams The Hour of Land
There is nothing like Christmas in Lamar Valley, Yellowstone National Park. To be surrounded by howling wolves, to watch bison snow plow their heads into white powder next to my cabin, to walk scrunchy snow paths on a dark night with constellations sparkling in the black night sky above… This is my paradise.
Fourteen participants came to ‘Christmas in Lamar’, the Yellowstone Forever program that I was fortunate enough to lead for four days. Mornings were spent rising early and driving out at first light to find whatever wildlife would grace us with their presence. We were lucky enough to see wolves each day. Three packs: the Prospect Peak, the Junction Butte and the Lamar Canyon Packs were visible at various times some for close-up views and some for long enough to be able to observe wolf interaction and behavior. We watched moose, bighorn sheep, bison, elk, coyote, magpie, bald eagle, raven, Wilson’s Snipe, Common Goldeneye… Lamar Valley is known as the ‘Little Serengeti’ of America, and we were not disappointed.
Winter has been good to us this year: with plenty of snow and some frigid temperatures, we were able to break trail on snowshoe and cross the Lamar River to visit off-the-beaten-path Fairies’ Fall, a 30 foot frozen waterfall in a lovely little alcove of volcanic rock.
While snowshoeing to the confluence of Lamar and Yellowstone Rivers, bald eagles flew overhead and an elk grazed across the river. Our snowshoe around Mammoth Terraces provided close-up views of thermal features with beautiful orange, yellow and green micro-organism mats in the flowing hot water.
Fresh snow pillowed Douglas Fir and Rocky Mountain Juniper. Rabbit and coyote tracks cut through snow, punctuated by elk and bison postholes… Games, laughter and music by the Christmas tree warmed the bunkhouse. But when I stepped outside into the dark to return to my cabin, the surrounding silence wrapped me in its blanket of calm.
It is the rare place these days that one can find night skies dark enough to see the Milky Way, where one can stand in such silence that one’s own pulsing blood can be heard internally, where grizzly bears can hibernate away the winter months, where wolves can be wolves and do what wolves do, where humans can observe and learn from the natural world, where moose and elk and bison rule the valleys.
As 2016 winds down, I pray that 2017 brings continued protection for our bison and wolves and bears. I pray that our public wild lands remain wild and public; that more people of more colors and ages and beliefs and diversity experience inspiration in our wild lands and work to act in protecting these natural places.
Humility is born in wildness. We are not protecting grizzlies from extinction; they are protecting us from the extinction of experience as we engage with a world beyond ourselves. The very presence of a grizzly returns us to an ecology of awe. We tremble at what appears to be a dream yet stands before us on two legs and roars. Terry Tempest Williams, The Hour of Land