Thursday, February 26, 2015

Five Routes Coming and Going

Yellowstone Part 1

The granddaddy of them all, the place that created a seismic shift in the concept of public lands, the national park that defies comparison to any other among America’s best idea, Yellowstone National Park includes bubbling mud, softly cascading creeks, wildlife and clusters of eager tourists ogling them, powerful gushes of hot water and steam forcing their way up through the earth, and contrasting flows of turquoise water tumbling into golden canyons.  If every blogger, every author, every photographer, and every artist captured its magnificence in prose or paint or print or pictures, it still would be inadequate to capture the ambiance and awestruck grandness of its beauty.  Nonetheless, we try.

Like a majestic island in the Wyoming wilderness, five entrances allow the teeming multitudes of gawkers to reach Yellowstone’s scenery.  Open year round, the northern entrance accesses its famous stone arch proclaiming the words of Teddy Roosevelt, “For the benefit and enjoyment of the people,” and at the opposite end, seasonal tourists pass smoothly between Coulter’s Hell and the Grand Tetons, but my introduction to Yellowstone National Park, while including these routes, began after scraping the sky along the Beartooth Pass, which winds its way between Montana and Wyoming through the Custer National Forest.  When aspiring to a final resting place, skip the pearly gates and ask for the Beartooth entrance to heaven.

Yellowstone Part 2

My return visit cuts through the center of the park.  In from the west, out through the east, and thereby I easily boast having experienced all five viewpoints, of which others may only see one or two.  The harder dilemma, however, the challenge of the prioritization of one view over another perplexes me.  As vastly different as the terrain and natural features encompass the overall park, each passageway offers drastically varied experiences to me.  While in Yellowstone, a single human may see a grizzly bear, may photograph a galloping buffalo, may witness the speed of a gray wolf skirting through grasses taller than the mammal itself, may hear the bugle of an elk before its presence is visible through a grove of aspens, and each creature’s presence captivates and alters the viewpoint of the visitor.

Likewise the entrances display the power of an earthquake, the grandeur of approaching cragged mountains, the tranquility of a lake leading to watersheds of the Atlantic Ocean, the statement of a visionary president, and the perilous twists and turns and gasps reaching above twelve thousand feet in the air.  Pick a portal and find your favorite; choose one or two paths into and out of the natural brilliance of Yellowstone National Park.  Be bold and tackle them in progression over years or over a summer.  Drive away from one view and promise yourself to return to another.  Above all else, get yourself to Wyoming and choose your gateway into heaven.

Sunday, February 22, 2015


Stein After Stein

When in Rome, as they say, one tends to follow the customs of the locals.  Turns out, when in the Rheinland, the same general principle applies.  At least we drank the beer and sipped the glüwein, even if I never really embraced the sausage and sauerkraut.  We spent our Saturdays strolling through the countryside, forking over a few marks for ten kilometers and a commemorative beer stein.  Or two.  Dozen.  We scoured the newspaper each week for the outings that included our desired prizes.  We mapped each location and determined which towns were the shortest distance from our burg to the next decanter in our collection.  We only participated in those walks that included a ceramic trophy or a glass for keeping our beer warm.  After all, when in Katzweiler...

Most volksmarches, these mini pilgrimages around our expat fatherland, even kept Son Number One with his three-year-old little legs moving briskly towards the goal.  We’d start in a little town, walk two blocks this way and three that way and we’d find ourselves parallelling farmlands, passing through forests, and seeing the backside, the inside, the hidden side of Germany up close.  We wandered down dirt paths, over rocky roads, and dodged mud puddles, or at least I avoided the mud, until we returned to the local rathaus for refreshments, nourishment, and, “Prost!”  With each metal flip cover or a symmetric pilsner pillars, the collection grew.  When in Kaiserslautern...

Solo Hike

My last volksmarch in late spring takes me to a town outside my comfort zone, not just this new town forces me to drive new roads in a new direction, but because I am hiking this one alone with minimal command of the language, and only the occasional, “‘Tag,” or “Tschüß,” to make my way through town.  It’s raining.  I’m straying from the American cores and wandering through grassy fields which might double for landing trips.  I run, and I never run.  I wear a yellow rain poncho cloaking myself like a tent, and I’ve spent the bulk of my life avoiding rain gear.  I keep a mental list of the places I pass and then repeat it aloud so as to keep a repeating list of what I have seen.  I am stepping briskly and stepping into a fuzzy new experience for myself.  But as they say, when in the Saarland…

I am nearing the end of my first solo hike.  In the years to come, I will become a seasoned pro at passing through nature and letting it penetrate me.  Sometimes winded, sometimes wiped out, sometimes wet from the rain, but always refreshed and replenished and renewed, I accept its offerings.  New experiences change us and traveling and living abroad obviously implies such alterations, but more than a change of language, or a change of environment, a subtle, lasting change affects what matters most, and as nature surrounds me, touching me permanently, I am transformed.  I reach the end of my walk, and the end of my duration in Germany, and as I accept my reward for my ten kilometer stroll, I clasp the prize in my hand, a terra cotta bird bath, marking a baptism of sorts into the next phase of my life.  When inspired...

Monday, February 16, 2015

Penobscot Narrows


Skirting the shoreline of the northeastern edge of the United States, Son Number Two and I found ourselves easily distracted.  For him, we cross a spattering of new states and first time visits to Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Maine requiring photo ops as I cruise the rental car past each “Welcome to…” state sign.  For both of us, being so close to the Great White North, we felt compelled to stop for a leisurely hot chocolate and a sampling of Tim Horton’s pumpkin and maple specialties (see “Brock University” from January 2012), unknowingly our last visit while still in the control of its Canadian forefathers.  Admittedly, most people frequent donut shops in the morning, but by sliding in mid afternoon, we secured a cozy spot by the fireplace and relaxed ourselves into a sugar coma.

Once we rolled back into the car and onto the road, we continued towards our final destination on Mount Desert Island, but stopped for a few choice photos near the base of the Penobscot Narrows Bridge.  Named for the river beneath it, the crossing above the waterway offered us the access point over the last geographical divide between us and a plate full of lobster.  Noticing that travel to its observatory above the hill and tree lines was possible, we focused instead on getting across its span, still marveling at its size in the rear view mirror.  What we wanted to see laid ahead of us on the stretch of road between us and Acadia National Park.  The shortest distance to hot, buttered, succulent crustacean, and an equally tempting view of the ocean, carried us flatly eastward.


The Sunday after Labor Day the bulk of New England glues itself to the television in hopes of a victorious kickoff to the football season.  For us, the prospect of a post-summer thinning and a local population engrossed in indoor activities gives us a clean palette to explore the partially submerged rocks hovering beneath the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse.  When we head back to the landlubbers side of the scenery, we again face the two towers of the Penobscot Narrows Bridge beckoning us to consider its height, not just its breadth.  We acquiesce, and we have the observatory to ourselves.  While lacking in maple sweetness, this private afternoon perk far exceeds the previous day’s lounge.

One of only four bridge observatories in the world, and the tallest one at that, we see the ocean we leave behind to the east, tucked just behind the top of Cadillac Mountain, upon which we stood less than twenty-four hours earlier marveling at the sunset.  To the north, Mount Katahdin rises above the horizon noting the end of the Appalachian Trail, and the end of the nation.  Westward and to the south, the entire rest of the United States awaits our return.  Carved into the stone floor, the arrows point the way, but the brilliant sunlight hidden for most of the day by the morning’s rain clouds streaks through the glass lookout and lights our way home.  The river winds through the hints of autumn in the density of trees far below us, bumping into the piers and then continuing to the sea.  We depart similarly, quickly stopping at the bridge and then heading on our way.