Lessons From the Road: Yellowstone

IMG_2442I was away from my kitchen for twelve days this month while Darrell and I were hiking in Yellowstone.  My curiosity about the park was piqued when my aunt and uncle (then in their 70s) started working in the park and living in the dorms!

Mom and Aunt Florence in the 50s

Mom and Aunt Florence in the 50s

Aunt Florence is my mother’s youngest sister who helped keep me afloat during my mother’s struggle with dementia by sending beautiful letters to read to her which recounted their years growing up in Rochester.

Now starting into their 80s! Aunt Florence & Uncle Si have shifted to Logan, Utah, where they’re part of the “summer citizens program” and have become part of the local flora and fauna. Darrell and I started the first leg of our trip by moving in to their dorm suite and hiking the Cache Valley.

IMG_2406Sandwiched on the other end of our trip was Grand Teton National Park.  Though I did my research before the trip, nothing prepared me for what the mountains looked like in real-time.  In each place we visited, the views (and the high altitudes) took my breath away.

IMG_3591True to my nature, after looking at the trail maps and sheer size of the parks my first thought was, “How much can we cram in?”

"Stay in your car," the ranger announced.  "Really???"

“Stay in your car,” the ranger announced. (like we really needed to be told!)

It wasn’t long before we were up at sunrise to go buffalo spotting in the Hayden Valley, watch the sun rise over the lake, or head to Old Faithful to see her erupt.

Darrel would stuff the backpack with food we’d foraged at a local market and off we’d go.

We hiked, paddled, and rode horses, dragging ourselves back to our little cabin with just enough energy to shower and head to the General Store for something more substantial than cookies and trail mix.

Not long into our trip, we had a sobering realization. No matter how busy we kept, we could only skim the surface of what these ancient landscapes held. It would have been easy to keep up our futile pace but thankfully I’d been given some sage advice before we left.  “Don’t get so busy doing Yellowstone that you don’t take time to just feel it,” my friend said.  “The land is amazing.”

With that in mind, we decided to stop trying so hard.  Instead of chasing after wild animals and the perfect scenery we decided to follow our hearts to the places that called to us and that meant we needed to find a swimming hole!  There’s not a lot of places to swim in Yellowstone but we found one near Mammoth Springs where we could climb into the confluence of the Gardner and Boiling Rivers.  I’d never been in a hot spring and leaving Yellowstone without dipping into one would have felt like leaving Florence never having seen The David.

To our surprise, as we walked toward the swimming hole a lone elk was browsing across the river.  We joined the other swimmers soaking in the sun, the warmth of the water, and the view!

As we dried off, Darrell spotted another elk in the sage bushes on the other side.  “There’s a baby, too,” he pointed out.  Sure enough the pair began walking down to join their buddy who was still grazing.  We watched the three of them gently wade into the water while the people who were still in the river gently waded out!  As if by magic, six more elk appeared. We watched in awe.

IMG_2909Yellowstone Lesson #1:  Stop trying so hard.  Follow your heart and see what’s waiting there.

It happened again one afternoon when Darrell, always hungry when the clock strikes noon, suggested we stop to eat lunch on the banks of Moose Pond near Jenny Lake in the Tetons.  As we settled in, a moose and her yearling came splashing into the water heading towards us.  We sat gaping at them until they stopped in the middle of the water and started to feed.  SInce they’d left us plenty of breathing room, we stayed.

mooseResolved not to chase wildlife, there were times we couldn’t resist crowds gathered on roadsides who seemed to be staring at ….well…something.  We didn’t have binoculars so we had to ask, “What’s out there?”  Even though we felt a little out of the loop people were kind and we learned some things about “spotter’s lingo” that we would have otherwise missed. One serious spotter reported, “We’ve been glassing it pretty hard!  Nothing to see.  We’re gonna roll.”

I gave Darrell a puzzled look and he quietly explained.

Yellowstone Lesson #2:  It takes all of us to make the world go round.  The National Parks are filled with people from all over the world.  Be curious.  Each one has a story to tell.

This was just the start to breakfast at Morley's Acres!

This was just the start to breakfast at Morley’s Acres!

At Morley’s Acres, our B & B in the Tetons, we met Julie and Tim. They were transplants from Palo Alto who fell in love with the area and bought a farm.  Not only did they feed us well but Julie directed us to some great places not found in our guide books.

When a thunder storm rolled in over the mountains our last morning, we lingered with them over breakfast and discovered yet again that people are people and when it gets right down to it we all have more in common than we think at first glance.

By the time we left we were not only sharing ideas about apple orchards and biodynamic gardening but Darrell had promised to send a recipe for hard cider when we got home.

Even though it was great fun to meet and chat with a lot of different people, they weren’t the highlight for me.  Neither were the animals (big though they were).  The mountains are quieting in a way that’s hard to explain. You get a sense that whatever you’re burdened with will be cleansed somehow by the time you come out of the forest.

IMG_3156IMG_3300As we hiked over hill and dale, and paused by cool mountain lakes it occurred to me that it’s not kneading bread or hiking through the woods that’s important.  What’s important is time for contemplative practice.  Where do we give ourselves time to just be silent and listen? Like dough, in order to fully rise to my potential I need time for that slow, organic process.

Yellowstone Lesson #3:  There’s wisdom to be found in nature and in your own heart.  Give yourself some breathing room. Daily.

Being a carefree wanderer for 12 days, there are more lessons than I can possibly recount in a blog post.  How can you capture the essence of the mountains in words?

I felt a sadness leaving Yellowstone. You know how it feels when you finally meet up with an old friend and then there’s not enough time together?  It’s like that.

john muirI’m clinging to something John Muir wrote in the 1886 after the mountains must have touched his soul, too.  He said,

“…Stay on this good fire-mountain and spend the night among the stars.  Watch their glorious bloom until dawn, and get one more baptism of light.   Then, with fresh heart, go down to your work, and whatever your fate, under whatever ignorance or knowledge you may afterward chance to suffer, you will remember these fine, wild views, and look back with joy to your wanderings in this blessed old Yellowstone Wonderland.”

Amen, Mr. Muir.

IMG_3600Exhausted and content, it was time to head home.  Delta Airlines had their system down the day we were traveling so there were some long delays but we were still reveling between worlds, savoring our trip plus I’d brought one of Ruth Reichl’s books along for the ride.  A former restaurant critic, she tells great stories.

I read and reread the recipes she’d sprinkled in feeling pangs of desire to get back into my kitchen while Darrell munched cookies beside me!

Is it any surprise that as soon as my suitcase was unpacked and the first load of laundry was in that I tied on my apron and experimented with her Coconut Bread?  I’ll be posting about it soon!

IMG_3046We’re hanging up our hiking shoes for now but I’ve been thinking that while we can’t all live near Yellowstone, there are probably undiscovered treasures right where we’re planted.

If you have a great place in your area, please post in about it!

Hope to see you around the bread bowl or on the hiking trail one day soon,



CapturePS: That extended layover in Atlanta has left us with two vouchers to help with our next airfare!!!!  Darrell’s dying to see the Redwood Forest and I’m thinking we could drive from there up to Olympia National Park…..hmmmm……

Have you checked Kneading Life’s Facebook page?  You’ll want to check out my herbed mayo which is a great addition this time of year to a BLT on focaccia!  Please like us while you’re there!



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