After approximately six years of living in the Greater Yellowstone and taking in each season's unique presence, I have decided to spend a winter in its heart.... Here, at the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, the cold is sharp, the snow is thick, and life seems to just barely get by.
Two coyotes, six ravens, and an immature bald eagle nervously gorge themselves on the leftovers of a wolf kill. Across a satin-blue Gibbon River they timidly pick at the deceased bison calf, constantly wary of returning wolves. Here, the Gallatin mountains rise high above a lodgepole carpet, and a northerly wind rips down from the highlands with such ferocity that it makes all of my sensory organs sting. I can hear the ancient ones... The Sheep-eaters, the Absarokees. Chimes, flutes, howling voices.... It's inescapable. How they lived here, amongst the fumaroles and the wolves and the sharp winter wind, is humbling. How they must have looked to this caldera in the snowless seasons, with such reverence... So much game, so much heat, so many perfect creeks and rivers emanating from its center. I sense the loneliness of John Colter as he endured a winter deep in this unknown and unforgiving space. "Colter's Hell," they called it... A place where heat explodes from the earth, and everything bites.
The writings of Robert service fall nicely here. Like the Yukon, Yellowstone in winter brings to light the remarkable resilience and perseverance of animals and people.
Men of the High North, the wild sky is blazing; Islands of opal float on silver seas; Swift splendors kindle, barbaric, amazing; Pale ports of amber, golden argosies. Ringed all around us the proud peaks are glowing; Fierce chiefs in council, their wigwam the sky; Far, far below us the big Yukon flowing, Like threaded quicksilver, gleams to the eye. Men of the High North, you who have known it; You in whose hearts its splendors have abode; Can you renounce it, can you disown it? Can you forget it, its glory and its goad? Where is the hardship, where is the pain of it? Lost in the limbo of things you've forgot; Only remain the guerdon and gain of it; Zest of the foray, and God, how you fought! You who have made good, you foreign faring; You money magic to far lands has whirled; Can you forget those days of vast daring, There with your soul on the Top o' the World? Nights when no peril could keep you awake on Spruce boughs you spread for your couch in the snow; Taste all your feasts like the beans and the bacon Fried at the camp-fire at forty below? Can you remember your huskies all going, Barking with joy and their brushes in air; You in your parka, glad-eyed and glowing, Monarch, your subjects the wolf and the bear? Monarch, your kingdom unravisht and gleaming; Mountains your throne, and a river your car; Crash of a bull moose to rouse you from dreaming; Forest your couch, and your candle a star. You who this faint day the High North is luring Unto her vastness, taintlessly sweet; You who are steel-braced, straight-lipped, enduring, Dreadless in danger and dire in defeat: Honor the High North ever and ever, Whether she crown you, or whether she slay; Suffer her fury, cherish and love her-- He who would rule he must learn to obey. Men of the High North, fierce mountains love you; Proud rivers leap when you ride on their breast. See, the austere sky, pensive above you, Dons all her jewels to smile on your rest. Children of Freedom, scornful of frontiers, We who are weaklings honor your worth. Lords of the wilderness, Princes of Pioneers, Let's have a rouse that will ring round the earth.