For the last three years I have had the good fortune of spending my summers in Yellowstone leading hiking and biking trips for an active travel company. While away from the hospital my medical skills still come in handy when dealing with for the occasional sprained ankle, bike crash or heat exhaustion. The medical lingo continues while walking around the geyser basin, talking about these funky bacteria, cyanobacteria called thermophiles, thriving in extreme temperatures, sometimes up to 400 degrees. These thermophiles create very colorful scientific artwork in the hot springs, such as the Grand Prismatic Hot Spring.
Yellowstone is a special place filled with beauty and wonder. The many native tribes that inhabited Yellowstone considered it sacred. For me Yellowstone is a teacher of uncertainty, change and impermanence. The very ground we stand on is moving, whether we feel it or not. We have the false sense of stable earth, yet we are walking on a super volcano that has up to 3000 quakes in a year.
Like most guides in the park, I find ensuring the safety of my guests a challenge. The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone has over a thousand-foot drop – and no barriers. Last year I witnessed a helicopter retrieve the body of a seven year old who fell into the Canyon. People have gone for a dip in the blue hot springs, only to discover their skin burned off. So far this year, Bison have gored five people, who disregarded the safe 25-yard minimum distance recommended by the Park Service –all for the sake of the perfect selfie.
Yellowstone is a living-breathing ecosystem and is often referred to as the American Serengeti. This past week I saw coyotes playing, pronghorn (second fastest land animal after the cheetah) prancing, beautiful white mountain goats hanging out on narrow ledges and wolves howling in Lamar Valley. August is the rut; Bison mating and some of the bulls were literally butting heads to impress the female bison. While driving in a thunderstorm with beams of lightening igniting the sky, we saw a black bear run across the road and climb a rock wall right in front of us.
With the recent death of park employee, Lance Crosby by a Grizzly this week, my heart breaks. My heart breaks for his friends and family. My heart breaks for his co-workers in the medical clinics and the rangers involved in his recovery. My heart breaks for the sow and the cub that may ultimately be put down, even though I completely trust the Park Service’s decision. While many are outraged and choose to blame him for hiking alone or not carrying bear spray, I can’t help but relate to this man. I am not perfect either and don’t follow the rules every single moment of my life. I imagine I would’ve had a lot in common with him as a medical worker and a nature lover. Lance I imagine your life was well lived and your friends and family will remember happy times with you. Yellowstone, thank you for the opportunity to be continually reminded that life is uncertain and impermanent and to go out and live happy and full lives.