Shutdown 2018, Day #4 (part 2)….. THIS is why Congress does what it does.

Because people will feel it. And probably acquiesce.

Don’t fool yourself. Congress takes action only to give themselves more power. The U.S. Constitution allows for Congress to hold the power of the purse – i.e. they are the source of legislation regarding our nation’s financial decisions. But make no mistake, they are NOT in the business of doing things that make sense. Every financial decision is meant to either give them more power or remind people who are not members of Congress that they have no power.

To that end, Congress has, for the last century, used America’s public lands – especially the National Parks – as political pawns, withholding or reducing funding because millions of people every year will feel the impacts when they try to visit their parks on a weekend, or summer vacation, or even a holiday (like today). People all over the world love America’s playgrounds. This is why they grow more and more crowded every year. And when Congress limits an input to that love, people intrinsically feel it, even if they can’t put it into words.

This is also why funding for the parks is consistently one of the last appropriations to pass every year (if an appropriation passes at all, but continuing resolutions are a different topic for a different day).

So today, from my perch up on Lily Ridge, as I admired the view of Longs Peak, Mount Meeker, and Estes Cone to the south, and Lily Lake in the valley below me, I enjoyed the calm, sunny afternoon. People skated and slid around on the lake. Others hiked the few accessible trails. Children climbed on the rocks, people laughed and threw snowballs, and still others posed for pictures. Even a woman in a wheel chair scooted around on the frozen lake. It was a sight to see!

Yes, because so much of the park is inaccessible thanks to the #shutdown, it was a bit more crowded and noisy than I would prefer at Lily Lake. But there was a lot of good to see – and if there is one thing I could impress upon folks everywhere, it would be this: we need to have these experiences. We need to build this kind of relationship with the land and resources that allow us the life we know. When we build a relationship to the land, we are investing in our future, working on our mental and physical health, and connecting with our community in a way that all the technology in the world cannot provide.

Congress could not take this experience away from me, no matter how hard they tried.

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Parking was a mess. But I’m still glad I went.
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Shutdown 2018: Day 3…. When will I feel Ok merely rolling my eyes at Congress?

So one of today’s eye-catching headlines on TheHill.com read as follows:

Dow has worst Christmas Eve on record, S&P enters bear market

But even that couldn’t compete with my nightmare scene that I witnessed last night:

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What you see there are first the orange barricades with the gate closed and locked beyond (and an LE vehicle sitting in the road even further back). Highway 34 – Trail Ridge Road through Rocky Mountain National Park is closed at the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center.

I have felt…. deflated for almost two years now. I am utterly mortified at the present administration’s actions and words towards our public lands and natural resources. And I am constantly amazed at the stupidity of people around me who claim Trump is doing good things. Don’t you understand what is happening to our domestic water supply? YOU NEED IT TO STAY ALIVE, YOU MORONS!!!!!!!

The picture above is merely a superficial sign of the deeper, bigger picture completely ignored by most Americans.

 

Shutdown 2018: Day 2…. It’s a Holiday?

Quick shout out to my mom today. It’s her birthday! I hope it is a good one, Mom!

Ok, now that the important information is passed on, I can tell you about today.

We celebrated Christmas today at the Smith’s, as work schedules dictate this was the only day everyone had free. Lots of laughter, food, mimosas, and gifts happened. Also lots of hugs, which helped my mood, because, of course, I pulled up the headlines on TheHill.com many times, only to find that Congress continues to fail us.

A few weeks ago in early December, I took a class on Appropriations law. The best take aways I got from the class were knowledge of the GAO website and insight into how to use it.

So, while I have at least the next week free, I am going to dig into some of the stats and historic cases on the GAO website and put my analytical and writing skills to use.

Shutdown 2018: Day 1…… Sigh.

Congress you had one job to do.

And this time, you should have stood up to Trump. If you could have at least passed another continuing resolution (which, yes, is still a failure to do the job for which you were elected, but at least it’s something), hundreds of thousands of civil servants wouldn’t be left without jobs and paychecks through no fault of their own.

You are abject failures.

Meanwhile, I am furloughed. Not fired, mind you. Furloughed.

So, what will I do?

I am headed down to Estes Park, Colorado, for an undisclosed period of time to celebrate Christmas with some friends and get a change of scenery.

Doggie

Parks are like small cities, and just about any aspect of city life will happen in some form in a park.

Love? Have you seen the abundance of proposal pictures set amidst the backdrops of America’s most iconic landscapes? Eating, drinking, sleeping, should be obvious – for humans as well as wildlife. How about bathroom cleaning and garbage trucks collecting refuse? You *might* have to get to a visitor center early in the morning, but I can promise those happen things happen too.

So it doesn’t shock me that we have an abandoned dog roaming out site. Rangers find animals, especially dogs, many times a year in most parks. Abandoned pets in the National Parks are not a rare occurrence.

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Our present situation involves a female sheep dog. She doesn’t have a collar, but it is a female. She has figured out that a good place to spend the night is the patch of grass under the picnic table outside of our maintenance building. She is very skittish and generally doesn’t approach people. She runs away when we try to talk to her, but comes back after a while. Mostly, she stands at a distance of maybe 15-20 feet and barks a lot. She wags her tail readily, but will not approach. I think she is scared, as if she is used to a bit of abuse.

We have a couple of local sheep ranchers who have many such dogs. To them, these dogs are tools. They are left outdoors with the sheep (which is to be expected), but what I didn’t quite understand is that these dogs are NOT fed. The dogs learn to hunt smaller mammals like rabbits or squirrels for food if they are to survive. And if the female dogs get pregnant, or any dog gets too old or injured to keep up with the flock, the dog is simply abandoned wherever.

A tool that is no longer useful is thrown away.

Sounds just like any other aspect of our throw-away society.

Except is it?

The dog showed up on our property a couple of weeks ago. Some time after a certain rancher moved more than 600 head of sheep from BLM-managed grazing land, through the national monument (where I work), out to the county road for pick up and transport elsewhere. One of the days this flock movement occurred, I watched for a little bit. There were cowboys on horseback and four dogs running around.

So is our new friend one of that pack? Well, I didn’t get pictures that day. I called the ranchers on the sheep permit to see if they lost a dog. I called – and left voice mail messages – twice, in my professional capacity from my office. No one ever called me back.

Park staff – and a local hunter on his way to finding elk on BLM lands – snapped a few pictures and posted on the local town’s Facebook group. Our staff didn’t mention names in our postings, as we didn’t have 100% proof of where the dog came from. However, when the hunter made his post on Facebook, people responded to it saying that the dog belonged to the same rancher we suspected. Again, that particular family never responded to the Facebook posts either.

This time, people suggested the dog looked either like she was pregnant or had just whelped. We haven’t seen signs of any pups, but she makes a daily trek up the park road about 7:30 a.m. and is back in the maintenance yard by about Noon. Every day.

Some of my readers might wonder why we don’t call the local animal control or the county sheriff. The latter has said he can’t help, since the dog hasn’t harmed anyone, and we don’t have a local animal control. This is rural Wyoming. My NPS unit is small enough that we do not have a law enforcement ranger on staff (although Grand Teton said they’d send down and LE ranger if there was an actual incident where the dog became aggressive towards anyone), and the local BLM agent is too busy with hunting season. Tranquilization is a possibility, but one that we’d like to avoid is possible, since the dog isn’t aggressive.

One of our park staff thinks the dog was abandoned and the family won’t claim it because they don’t want the responsibility. He pointed out that when a sheep gets left behind and we call about it, the rancher never comes back. They just declare a loss and expect the BLM to compensate them. Whatever happens to the sheep or cows? We see them wandering for days or weeks. Either they die or some lucky person comes in the middle of the night for a free bit of livestock. (You can imagine how I feel about that program that offers payment for lack of responsibility.)

Anyway, so we have Doggie now taking up residence in our maintenance yard. No one will claim her. We have one man from town who has rescued other dogs in past situations that were similar. Problem is that Doggie is scared and won’t approach people. She just runs away. We are trying to train her that people can be nice – several of us have successfully left food on the ground that she eventually gobbles down.

Yesterday was my turn. I have never had a pet, and my current apartment lease does not allow pets, so she won’t be mine. However, my heart went out to her. She seems like she wants to talk to people and be around people, but she’s scared. Like really scared. I really do think she was treated badly at some point. So yesterday, after the morning snowstorm passed through, I drove out to the park and brought her some food. A container of leftover pizza crusts with cheese and a bag of Beggin’ Strips (which my parents’ dog LOVES). I figured yummy treats were going to be tasty and win me a few points with Doggie.

She was lying under the porch of park housing next door, but immediately got up and ran behind maintenance when I pulled my car in the driveway. I approached the maintenance yard through the open gate near the back so as not to unlock the front gate (since Saturday is outside of business hours). She ran to the back of the building, and then back out through the gate as I followed her route around maintenance. Eventually, I just held my ground and she circled back, standing at a distance of maybe 30 feet for a good five minutes. I tried talking to her the whole time.

I opened my container of pizza crusts and tossed one on the ground in between us. She didn’t move. After a while, I guess she learned I wasn’t going to hurt her. I was standing right next to the picnic table where she slept. I tossed a second piece of pizza crust on the ground. She still didn’t go after it. But when I got the third one close enough to her (she had walked a bit towards me), she sniffed it and ate it in one bite. I walked a few steps and picked up the crusts from the ground. I tossed one closer to her and she ate it. I did the same with a Beggin Strip. She really liked that treat. So I crumbled up a second strip and sprinkled the pieces on the ground in front of me. She sniffed around and got the bigger pieces. Then she ate another piece of crust. Finally, I left another Beggin Strip on the picnic bench next to me. She came up and snatched it, but moved back about 10 feet to eat it. Then she sniffed around in the grass until she found the last few crumbs from earlier.

She never came close enough that I could pet her. (She did take one milk bone from the rescue guy on Friday before running away from him too.) We don’t know if she’s sick – rabies is always a possibility out here – but she isn’t aggressive towards us. Quite the opposite. She has a tiny limp, but she obviously walks a lot, even around our property. I kind of wonder if the puppy situation is a possibility. Who knows?

I didn’t go out to work today, so I don’t know today’s action. I think one of my coworkers was going to try to give her a snack today. Tomorrow (Monday), the guy who rescues dogs is going to come back out and try to feed her again. We’re hoping that if she learns to trust us, we’ll eventually be able to get her to a vet to get checked out and adopted.

Just Another Day In The Neighborhood

I got a late start today, by hiking standards. In the summer, I generally start my longer hikes around 7 a.m. Today, I hit the trailhead about Noon. I didn’t have the longest trek planned, so a late start was fine. I relaxed this morning, ate a good breakfast and worked on a project until I was well-caffeinated and ready to go.

Bear Lake was fairly busy, but I took the first left turn and headed up to Nymph and Dream Lakes. How many times have I taken this trail? I’ve covered that 1.1 miles in the fresh green of spring, the heat of summer, golden Aspen leaves of autumn, and the blowing snow of winter. Like so many times before, I found myself seeing a few other hikers over and over as we made our way up the hill. Many were on their first visit to Rocky, college students from several states and retirees from Alabama.

You see, this is part of the beauty of the National Parks – they are a great melting pot. People from all over the world, challenging themselves physically and mentally. Learning about history and famous people, teaching themselves to conquer fears and reconnect with the resources that sustain their lives. So often, the National Parks force people to the same level – novices against Mother Nature.

Perhaps I should have challenged myself a bit more. I’ve done the snowshoe to Dream Lake maybe 15-20 times, and I sort of have every curve of the trail memorized. But I needed fresh air and I got a late start. So any miles were better than no miles. Dream Lake never disappoints. (By the way, the trail I did was about 1.1 miles and 450 feet of elevation gain, according to trail guides, although I did a bit of off-trail up at the lake just to get a different view.)

There is one section of the trail, about halfway between Nymph and Dream Lakes, where the winter trail is very narrow on the best of days and on warm sunny days like today, the snow is slippery and the trail deteriorates a little bit with every new set of footsteps. Add to this that the trail often is as wide as only one snowshoe. Going uphill might seem hard to some, but in my experience, downhill is much more nerve-wrecking. Gravity on a downhill slide is far more of an enemy.

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Looking up the scary, narrow section. It’s steeper than the picture portrays.

After my lovely snack up at the lake, I decided it was time to head down the hill. I made it back down to the scary section, and there were people slipping and falling trying to get up the hill. Since I had snowshoes with crampons, I just waited at the top for a clear trail. A few other hikers lined up behind me, waiting as well. I chatted with them as we waited for the uphill folks to finish. One guy, maybe in his late 20s, looked longingly at my snowshoes. He said he’d not been too afraid going up, but watching folks now, he was a bit freaked. I told him I felt the same, even with my crampons. I pointed to the narrowest section and suggested that it would be fine if someone would just kick in an extra step. I showed him where to put his feet, all the while, telling myself that I could do the same. I could get past the scary bit. With my crazy big snowshoes, it might be really tight, but I’d done it before and I will live to do it again.

Perhaps now is a good time to share a lesson I’ve learned over the years: when on slippery, downhill trails, if I have snowshoes, I let everyone else in boots go ahead of me, even if I can move faster than them (which is usually the case since I have good traction). That way, when they slip and fall, they don’t slide into me and take me down with them. I won’t say how or when I learned this lesson. 😉

Anyway, the guy said he’d try to kick in an extra step. His group headed down ahead of me, and all four of their group slipped and fell a bit. But they managed to kick in an extra step with only one scream uttered between them. He looked back up at me and said something about wanting to go back uphill. Other folks came around the bend, making their way up the hill at that moment and there was a time of crowding, confusion and nerves. I stepped to the side (thank goodness for those snowshoes) and let the uphill folks plow on. I was very thankful that the guys kicked the trail wider; it calmed my nerves quite a bit.

By letting groups pass me, I had a peaceful snowshoe down the trail. Back at Bear Lake, I decided to walk up to that lake – maybe only 200 feet further than my trail junction. It was very slick due to the high volume of traffic all winter, and melting and refreezing of snow. Several older folks told me I was smart to wear snowshoes. I smiled and said I’d just finished a bigger hike where I needed the traction.

One such older woman was clearly very scared of slipping and falling. Complete with a thick southern accent, perfectly dyed hair and makeup to make her look younger than she was, thin black jogging shoes and lots of chunky jewelry, she looked rather out of place. She had two men with her – I’m guessing her husband and her son. She was moving very slowly away from Bear Lake, back through the woods towards the parking lot. I asked if she wanted to borrow one of my hiking poles so that she had two to use. She turned me down. Her husband just smiled.

So I moved on to Bear Lake, and enjoyed watching people having snowball fights and building snowmen out on the frozen lake. Eventually, I turned around and started heading back to my car.

The older woman hadn’t made it more than 4-5 feet since I’d passed her going up to the lake. This time, she had two more people around her – a couple maybe in their 30s. I waited in the line of traffic on the trail for a minute and then made a decision. I had traction, whereas no one else in the vicinity did. Everyone was moving very slowly and there was a bottleneck on the trail.

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Looks pretty tame from this perspective, but the icy trail scared older folks who had no traction. Bear Lake is the clearing just beyond the trees.

I picked up my pace, side-stepped around the crowd and stopped just in front of them. “This is what we’re going to do,” I said. “Let me help you.” I stomped pretty hard on the packed snow and ice in front of the woman. I assured her that I wasn’t going to slide, and showed her the crampons built into the decks of my snowshoes. I also pointed out that I was more… stout than she. She looked up and tried to laugh, but behind her sunglasses, I’m pretty sure she was in tears.

I offered my hand, which she took with her free hand. Someone had managed to give her a hiking pole which I reminded her to keep in contact with the ground when she lifted a foot to take a step. (In her case, two points of contact with the ground were better than one.) Her husband held tightly to her upper arm, and I snowshoed backwards, breaking up the ice, as we brought her down the hill. She held tightly to my hand the whole time. I was thankful that she seemed to catch on quickly to the idea of stepping where I’d broken the trail; wet feet were better than sliding and falling.

People watched us, and I’m sure the effort was a sight. The woman was rather vocal, in her southern accent, about how she couldn’t have done the walk back without me. (Well, she could have, but it would have taken a lot longer.)

This is what rangers do. We help people from all over live to tell stories of their adventures in the parks. Just another day in the park.

 

The Mountain Valley Home

Looking out over the same mountain valley I have seen a thousand times before, the sunlight sparkles off the snowflakes in the air, seemingly held aloft by an unseen breeze. The valley stretches ahead of me, dotted with the occasional pine tree or boulder, criss-crossed by a small cold stream. The pines and spruces create a patchwork of deep green against the snow white backdrop on the slopes around me. This valley is protected on all sides by distant mountain spires. Those peaks seem to grow taller the nearer I move.

A grand orchestra resounds all around me. The present concert involves the trilling of birds in the trees and the rustle of the winds as it hurries through dried grasses, all set to the tempo of my footsteps as I walk through the snow on this blustery morning.

I am lucky to be here. And I try to be present in this moment. I don’t want to be anywhere else. I have spent time in many mountain wonderlands across North America, but I always come back here. This mountain valley is home.

Every time I come back, some things are different: the seasons, the color of the grasses and wildflowers, the activity of the wildlife, the wind, temperature and snow.

But some things stay the same: the feeling of peace and calm. The excitement of the challenge (for all trails, no matter how simple they may seem, present a challenge). Same too is the realness of the living world around me–something I certainly don’t get from my computer and office in the city.

I just need to be up in this mountain park where the trees dance to their own music.