Yellowstone Lunch

English: Morning Glory Pool, Upper Geyser Basi...

Image via Wikipedia - Morning Glory Pool

I wrote this essay during the summer season (my last, as it would turn out, because Jeremiah was born the following one), for the Employees’s Rec Co-op Writing Contest.  I believe the theme was something along the lines of Everyday Yellowstone;

This piece won my $25!

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I smile as I approach the table. “Hello. My name is Shannon, and I’ll be your server. How are you today?” The spiel is mostly automatic, but through long practice I manage to make my voice livelier than I feel.

They chuckle, and I start to enjoy myself, forgetting for a moment how sore my feet are.I tell them today’s special, then finish by asking, “ Where are you from?”

“Texas,” the man answers. We chat for a few moments more before I take their order and move to the computer to ring it in. Too often, this is the only Yellowstone I can find the time to experience.

The chirping of the computer replaces birdsong in my ears, and the hypnotic rhythms of the guests’ conversations fills in for the rushing of waterfalls. The grazing elk framed in the large windows remind me that I’m stuck in this dining room, earning my right to be here.

I go to the kitchen to fix their drinks.  Fill the glasses with clinking ice, add the freshly-brewed tea, slice two lemons along the peel to prop on the lips of the glasses, grab two long-handled iced tea spoons. I’ve done it thousands of times before. There’s no thought involved.

I place the glasses on my tray. Balancing the tray on my fingertips, I carry it back to my table. “Here we go. Now, let’s see if I can get this straight,” I joke.   “Uh – an iced tea for the lady. . . and one for the gentleman. Your lunch should be ready in a few minutes.”

“Let me ask you something,” says the woman. “How did you come to be working here?”

“It was my husband’s childhood dream. We came for ten weeks three years ago, and we just keep coming back. This place has a very strong pull.”

They look out the window, where the elk graze placidly, ignoring the hundreds of amateur photographers all seeking the perfect shot, and the magpies zipping about in their striking black-and-white plumage. “We’ve only been here a day, and we’re already planning to come back next year. It’s magical here.”

Old Faithful Inn

Old Faithful Inn (Photo credit: Mike Miley)

 

I nod, understanding exactly what they are feeling.   “To the Indians, Yellowstone is sacred ground. The first pioneers called it, ‘the place where hell bubbled up’, and no one would believe their stories. But I worked my first two seasons at Old Faithful, and, if you’re walking alone through the steam, you can almost imagine how they must’ve felt. The world vanishes, and all that’s left is the sound of the geysers and the smell of sulfur. “

“We’re going to Old Faithful tomorrow,” the man tells me, and I can read the excitement in his eyes. It makes me feel again as I did the first time I witnessed a geyser’s eruption, with the deep, belching roar vibrating in my soul as the boiling water escaped from the earth that had imprisoned it.

Then I think of Old Faithful – the overcrowded boardwalks, the hype over a geyser that is neither the biggest nor the most beautiful the park has to offer. They probably won’t listen, but I feel I must try to make them aware of their options.

 

Firehole River on the trail to Lone Star Geyser

Firehole River on the trail to Lone Star Geyser (Photo credit: Steve Selwood)

 

“Old Faithful is nice, but very crowded. If you don’t mind hiking a few miles, you can go to Lone Star Geyser instead. It’s off the main road, and very quiet.”

As I suspected, they groan at the mention of a hike. “What else is there to do down there?” I can tell that they mean ‘what else is there to do that won’t take us too far from our car or our hotel?’.

Though disappointed for all they’ll miss, I give them the best information I can. “The bison are usually close by, this time of year. You’re very likely to see a few if you tour the boardwalk. Morning Glory Pool is just a short walk, and well worth it. My favorite geyser is in Black Sand Basin. It’s called Cliff. It’s little, but it goes off every ten or fifteen minutes, it’s right next to the parking lot, and, when the sun hits it right, it looks like falling diamonds.”

English: Cliff geyser and Firehole river at Bl...

“That sounds wonderful.”

“It is. Well, I need to go check on your lunch.”

Soon they’re eating quietly. I leave them alone, since it is hard to eat and talk at the same time. Instead, I head back into the kitchen, musing about my own Yellowstone experiences as I half-listen to the chattering of my coworkers.

I’ve seen a herd of perhaps a hundred bison, snow blanketing their humped shoulders as they breathed the icy air which frosted their beards; their horns glittered silver in the moonlight. I’ve seen a green blanket of baby lodgepole pines, lovingly guarded by the charred remains of their perished parents.

I’ve heard the pure lust in a bull elk’s September bugle, and felt the nearly soundless whoosh of a great horned owl’s wings as she soared two feet over my head.

Those same elk calves that graze calmly beside their mothers today were newborns only a month ago.   They looked like they were being controlled by a mad puppeteer who didn’t care where their spindly legs landed.

I have met the fearless yellow gaze of a bald eagle as he emerged from the center of the Firehole River. Droplets of water sprayed rainbows as he flew off with a fish in his talons, crying out his victory to his waiting mate.

These are the chance moments I long for and live for, the reason for the routine drudgery that must be a part of every life, even this one.

I go back to check on my table. They’re ready to talk some more. Like many tourists, they seem fascinated with the life I lead here.

“What’s your favorite thing about working here?” asks the man.

“Besides days off?” I’m rewarded by more laughter. “I love times like this, when I can talk to people. I love being a part of your vacation, maybe even being someone you’ll remember when you get home. I love how some people come back to work here year after year. It’s almost like having a second family.

“We’ve all left the ordinary world to live in this extraordinary one. I love getting away from everyone – in a place where, if I sit still, I can’t see or hear any sign of man, just nature everywhere. I love the way the wind blows here, and how fast the weather can change.

“But most of all, I love having Yellowstone National Park as my backyard.”

And, as they leave, I realize that I also love the way a simple interaction can spring me from the routine and make me once again fully aware of the amazing aspects of my own life.