Cabin fever (Vacation saga 3)

Peering through a wiper-swept windshield, David and I drove out of Yellowstone National Park one dim evening of our honeymoon 40 years ago. Tenting was out for that night. We drove what seemed a very long way until, in the gleam from our headlights, we saw a sign with an arrow pointing west and the word: CABINS.

The winding unpaved road led through stands of tall lodgepole pines until we eventually arrived at a log office with a VACANCY sign shining like a beacon in the night. Our cabin was small, but we immediately fell in love with its rustic wood furniture made from logs and bent branches.

When we woke in the morning and walked out on the porch, we were astounded. We faced a majestic mountain, towering above a placid lake, its flanks wreathed in a gray cloud. We watched the rising sun touch the mountain’s tip with golden fire that descended to dispel the cloud. We were amazed by God’s grace.

Over the next 40 years, we tried to find that cabin whenever we vacationed in the area. I searched on maps to try to pinpoint the location. All without success.

When David and I left Yellowstone this year, we checked into a camping cabin just a few miles south of the Park. We’d opted for the overpriced cabin instead of using our tent because when we made our reservations, our website research indicated a bear alert for that area.

Sure enough, the woman who registered us said, “Now be sure to obey the food rules because we do have an 800-lb. grizzly who comes through the campground.” Forty extra dollars for four wooden walls instead of a sheer nylon shell suddenly seemed reasonable.

After unloading some camping gear from the van into the cabin, we headed out on our quest. We wanted to see the Tetons. And we hoped to find that elusive honeymoon cabin.

We drove into every road that went west, but no view seemed quite right. When we arrived at Colter Bay, we knew from the mountain view that we were close…very, very close. We walked into the visitor’s center. The Park Ranger behind the desk, in contrast to the usual young whippersnapper, was an older gentleman…about our age actually. We told him our story.

“Well, I’ve been working here thirty years,” he said, “and the only place I can think of would be here.” He pointed to a spot on the desk map in front of him. “There used to be a place called Leek’s Lodge right here.” Immediately I recalled a wooden sign under a yellow light-bulb, swinging in the rain and wind, its grooved words proclaiming, “Leek’s Lodge.”

“The cabins are gone,” the Ranger continued. “The only thing left is the stone fireplace from the owner’s home. There’s a marina and pizzeria there now. And there’s a road that runs beside the restaurant that goes to a research station. You can drive up there if you like. It’s open to the public.”

When we drove up to the research station and looked at the mountain, we knew we were a little too far north. But when we went back down to the hill behind the pizzeria we knew we’d found the spot. We also found the fireplace. We took pictures of the fireplace and the mountain. We went inside the pizzeria and ordered garlic bread, telling our story to the person behind us in line and to the clerk. The restaurant had tables inside, but also picnic tables outside on a deck that wrapped around two sides of the building, facing the mountain. Of course, we wanted to eat outside and enjoy the view. But all the tables were occupied. I noticed that one family appeared to be almost finished, so David and I huddled at the corner and tried to decide if we should just stand there and wait for them to leave.

A couple sitting at a table in front of us caught our attention. “You can share our table, if you like.” The woman gestured to the empty bench across from them. “We’re about finished.”

We had a wonderful conversation with this kind couple from Caspar. I believe they were only a little younger than us. She had grown up in Caspar, often visiting Yellowstone with her family, especially during the years her sister worked there as a teen. He was from Ohio and now worked in the oil industry. Every August they stay in a cabin on Colter Bay and visit Yellowstone. They have a tradition of eating at the pizzeria one evening during their vacation. We were fortunate enough to enjoy their company on that one evening.

After we ate, David and I walked up the slope behind the building. It was clear to us that this was where our honeymoon cabin had once stood. Then we walked along the rock beach and took about a hundred pictures while the sun set behind the mountains. It was a great ending to a wonderful day filled with blessings.

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Thin skin (Vacation saga 2)

At Yellowstone, the earth’s skin is thin.

Parked atop a massive volcano, the Park’s thermal features include colorful pools, spouting geysers, and bubbling mud pots. Visitors can explore the Park’s over 2 million acres via the 144-miles figure eight-shaped Grand Loop, stopping to hike any of the more than 1,100 miles of trails. In most prime viewing areas, boardwalks protect hikers from breaking through the earth’s thin crust.

During our 40th anniversary trip, David and I took time to stop and smell the sulfur. On our honeymoon 40 years ago, we were one of the young couples rushing through the Park, racing over the boardwalks and zipping past old folks. This time we were the old folks. But we saw more of the Park and enjoyed it more than ever before. We took time to take pictures of other people for them, and sometimes they reciprocated. We talked to the occasional other English-speaking tourist (on nearly every walk, we heard three or four different languages).

On a day when we visited the geyser basins between Old Faithful Inn and Norris, we spoke with a pleasant woman who was also marking 40 years of marriage. But she walked the trails alone. Her husband sat in the car, suffering from dementia, and her twenty-something grandson, who accompanied them, conveyed through every word and action how little he wanted to be there.

“You are so blessed,” she told us. “Be thankful. Appreciate every moment you have together.”

David and I had been having an enjoyable time together, but after speaking with her we were overwhelmed by our awareness of God’s abundant blessings.

How many of us, like the earth at Yellowstone, have thin skin? We are too sensitive to perceived slights or criticism. We too easily allow hot anger to erupt, scalding others. How thin is your skin?

Mourning into dancing (Vacation saga 1)

On our honeymoon 40 years ago, David and I tented in Yellowstone National Park. When we walked into Old Faithful Inn, we were so struck by its rustic architecture and unique beauty that we said, “We’re going to come back and stay here some day.”

We vaguely thought “some day” would be when we were old and rich, maybe our 25th anniversary. By the time our 25th anniversary arrived, we joked that we were halfway there: we were old. But we were so poor that we didn’t trust our old vehicle and borrowed our son’s, which blew a head gasket in South Dakota. Although the trip was marred by time-consuming and expensive vehicle problems, we rented a van and made it to Old Faithful Inn to spend our reserved night in the newest part of the building. We sat on a balcony and watched people come and go on our one wonderful evening. As soon as we slept in the rented van on our way back to pick up the repaired vehicle, that relaxing evening seemed like a distant dream.

David and I talked in January about how we’d like to celebrate our 40th anniversary, and we thought there was no place we’d rather visit than Old Faithful Inn. We made reservations for three August nights in the “Old House,” where rooms are really not all that expensive if you don’t mind walking down the hall to a shared bathroom. We set aside some money for the trip.

Then David had rotator cuff surgery, and by now he’s been off work for five months. Having exhausted his sick leave, he began using annual leave. When August arrived, we asked, “Can we afford to go to Yellowstone?” In addition to the financial question, other burdens made us wonder about the wisdom of  such a lengthy and expensive vacation. But David was off work anyway and we had some money set aside, so after much prayer and discussion, we decided to go. We did, however, implement economy measures: we packed two coolers with food, a crate with canned goods, and took along lots of camping gear and a very small tent.

We spent three nights in the tent and two nights in camping cabins (providentially one blustery night in Cody, WY, and the other in a campground where an 800-lb grizzly roamed). We stayed our two Saturday nights in hotels so we could use a private bathroom to shower before Sunday worship. And we spent three nights at Old Faithful Inn!

Walking on the Inn’s balconies is like stepping out of time into a more relaxed era. Sitting or writing on original furniture transports your mind and spirit from modern mundane into timeless treasure.

Our time at Old Faithful Inn was so precious that we postponed checking out as long as we could. We truly grieved the prospect of leaving.

Finally picking up the last of our luggage and our metal keys, we went downstairs to check out. The clerk typed on her keyboard and scanned her screen. “Your balance has been paid by your children.”

“What?” I couldn’t process what she’d just said. I thought I heard David crying beside me, but he claims I was the first to cry. The clerk smiled at us while she repeated, “Your balance has been paid by your children.” She passed us a box of tissues. The woman working beside her began to cry. The gal in the office behind them stood up and asked, “What’s wrong?” When they told her, she began to cry.

Our clerk dabbed her eyes. “Excuse me a moment.” She came back with a wooden box of Yellowstone wild huckleberry cordials that she presented to us as a gift from the Inn. God had turned our mourning into dancing (Psalm 30:11).

Isn’t that what he does so often? We view something as negative or distressing until we see how he is using it as a positive and helpful experience, even a great gift. In what ways have you seen God turn your mourning into dancing?

May you see such gifts in your life today! And may he help you pull mourners to their feet and begin dancing!

[Photos and text property of Glenda Mathes.]