It seems like a very long time ago, but it's only been three weeks since we went to Yellowstone. We wouldn't get the call about Lynn's mom for several days yet, not until we got to Cody, but we knew it would be coming soon. Lynn talked with her dad at length everyday, getting the latest update.
It was the very end of the season. Most of the activities & tours had shut down a week or two before. Our hotel would be closing at the end of the week. The college kids who staffed the restaurants carried a weariness about them as they ran down the clock of the last few days of summer work, before they went back to wherever they'd come from. Our waitress the first night would be going back to her home in Warsaw. She'd graduated from the university there the previous spring (international relations) and it was the last summer she'd be able to get a student visa. She didn't know when she might be able to come back.
I'd been to the park years ago, on one of my first long solitary driving trips, and didn't like it at all. I'd been out about a week or so by the time I got to Yellowstone, and had been camping in remote spots across South Dakota and eastern Wyoming. It was the middle of July and Yellowstone was a shock -- bumper to bumper traffic, paved paths, trimmed lawns. I stopped near Old Faithful but can hardly remember anything but the crowds. I left as quickly as I could, heading for Slide Lake in the shadow of the Tetons. I didn't care if I ever got back to Yellowstone.
But with no one around but the end of season stragglers, it was fine. We loved the geysers and the sulphur pools. We saw many bison and elk -- some quite up close. And there was a loon in the lake that we could hear from our window.
The weather was perfect. It was cold in the mornings -- something that I'd been looking forward to. We'd sleep with the window open, bundled up against the chill. But by afternoon I'd be strolling about in a t-shirt. On our last morning I set an alarm for 6:50 and took a thermos of coffee out to watch the sunrise. There were a handful of other folks out, many with cameras. I'd noticed over the course of the previous days that people with cameras tended to focus on getting their shot -- they'd find a spot, set up the camera, click away with serious looks on their faces, and then hurry off to the next location. People without cameras tended to sit longer, and look around more, particularly at the sky. They were frequently smiling.
I sat on a rock, made some hapless notes in my journal. It was a soft and gentle sunrise, with a line of clouds just above the horizon, creating an opening for the sun to come up and illuminate the hills on the other side of the lake, and then providing a gauzy cover for the sun to ascend into.
I walked on a bit, past a little grizzled guy in a parka and stocking cap who looked to be about my age or a little younger.
"And the amazing thing," he said. "Is that it happens everyday."
I smiled and nodded.
"That's it for the season, though," he went on. "The weather report says this is the end of my backpacking."
"Oh," I said. "What did you hear?"
"Rain and snow coming in today."
"That's alright. I like rain and snow, too."
"I've been backpacking 86 days this summer. I'm greedy. I was hoping for a few more." He had a charmingly wild grin.
"That's more than most people get," I laughed.
"More than most people want!"
We nodded to each other and I walked on.
Later that morning we packed up and drove to Cody where we had a marvelous lunch at the Irma Hotel, where Tia, our charming young waitress, filled us in on the local gossip. We strolled around town while we waited for our room at the hotel to be ready. We ran into several people that we knew who were also there for the conference. We had gotten unpacked and I was just finishing putting a new set of strings on my guitar when Lynn's phone rang. She saw that it was her dad, and we knew what that meant. She talked with him for a few minutes and told him we'd get to Little Rock the next day, and then we got on the phones to go through the tedious process of getting our flights rearranged.
We spent the evening with good friends, slept for a few hours, and caught an early flight out of Cody, going through Salt Lake City and Dallas before finally getting to Little Rock late in the afternoon. Lynn's dad was there to meet us, and her brother was at the house when we got there. Marian and Josie would arrive the next day.
No one was in shock, it had been long enough in coming. Grief showed up in various ways. Preparations and planning kept the family busy. Marian was a tremendous help to her mom, and I tended to Josephine (who behaved marvelously). The eulogy was one of the best I've ever heard, and there were many longtime friends there to give comfort to her dad.
At night, back at our hotel, Lynn and I would have a drink before bed and talk a little bit about Yellowstone, and how grateful we were that we'd had that time. We are walking in mystery.