Taking a break from my daily schedule of interviewing, hiking, and exploring, today seemed like a good day to check in. Having been out here in the GYE for a little while now, I'm amazed that I still find myself surprised and elated with what I encounter on my various travels. I've been bouncing from town to town doing interviews with people from different backgrounds, trying to make sure I hear from as many different perspectives as possible. It's certainly a challenge for me to constantly put myself out there. As a bit of an introvert who draws energy from time alone every now and then, I've had to step outside myself and really make sure that I devote 100 percent of my attention to every person or critter I encounter. It matters to me that I do this because I care quite a bit about these challenges and conflicts over human-nonhuman predator coexistence. I think the most striking thing that I've had come out of my interviews so far is the importance of building relationships with the people I speak to. So often politics, science, and power dynamics prevent or mar relationships, so the very least I can do is attempt to genuinely connect with my participants. These people know far more than I do about these issues, so it's in my best interest to listen closely. More times than not I end up leaving an interview buzzing with an energy about everything I've just heard. Add to the fact that every day I'm here is better than the last, and you'll be unsurprised to hear that I'm head over heels for this place. I can't think of anything better than spending my time with remarkable people, carrying out my research, and exploring an area that is home to magnetic wildlife. Someone is going to have to push me back on the plane at the end of the summer, because I'm unlikely to leave willingly.
It's not been all work and no play, though I don't feel like what I've been doing can be considered 'work' since I enjoy it too much. My first weekend in Bozeman, my housemate (or friend putting up with me for the summer while I couch surf) took me and a bunch of others up to Lava Lake for a hike on a sunny and clear day. We made our way over there early in the morning and hiked our way up the mountain while playing movie pong. My cultural references of Twilight and She's All That allowed me to secure my place as a total loon, and we made it to the lake by lunch time. Being a total wuss, I crawled (actually, fell) into the lake while the rest of the crew jumped off the cliffs above me. It was cold, so my swim lasted a total of 30 seconds. We dried off and ate our lunches, looking out at the lake nestled in the evergreen forest around us. It was a beautiful day, made better by our quick hike back down and leisurely night on the roof of the Crystal Bar in Bozeman, watching the sunset.
I spent the rest of the week doing interviews and observations, having dinner with friends, and adventuring around Bozeman. I managed to catch an old John Wayne movie at the Ellen in town on its weekly 'Wild West Wednesdays,' go to a bonfire, and catch up with some old friends from my fieldwork last summer when I was in Jackson Hole, in between interviews and research of course. On a whim, I ended up getting to go to Yellowstone on Sunday to go for a hike at Mount Washburn. It was a long day, but one of the best. I woke up early and we made it to the Roosevelt Arch at the northern entrance of Yellowstone by around 9:30 am. We stopped briefly in Gardiner to take a look at the old western town, and we played tourist by taking a bunch of photos by the Arch. We then made our way past Mammoth Hot Springs and dove further into the Park. We had planned to go to see the Petrified Tree near the Lost Lake Trail Head, but we noticed a bunch of people stopped along the side of the road. So, we pulled over and got out to stretch our legs and see what was up. To our surprise, there was a black bear breaking apart a sizable tree trunk in search of some food. Tucked in the valley near the trail head, we watched as the bear leisurely cracked open the trunk (something that a human would need an axe to even make a dent in) and ate. It was a quite the juxtaposition- a black bear breaking open a dead tree, while reclining in a field of purple wildflowers. Having such an exciting start to the day, we were even more pleased to come across a coyote on our way up Mount Washburn. We were probably less than half a mile from the observation deck (10,000+ feet up), and suddenly a coyote walks out onto the trail about 40 yards in front of us. Then it was 30. Then 20. Then a few feet. I was so struck by the animal's attention to whatever it was stalking, that I didn't think to move out of its way until it was right next to me. Thankfully, the coyote just kept on going, unconcerned with the tall creature with the blue hat and long braid snapping a picture and jumping out of the way at the last second. We reached the top, taking a break to look out and see the entirety of Yellowstone and then some (from the Thunderer to Grand Teton National Park to a far off forest fire 50 miles away from Mount Washburn). Tired, dusty, and hungry, we made our way back down and wove through the park as the sun was starting to set. We didn't make it to Boiling Springs this time for a swim in the river, but all the more reason for me to go back (and get more field observations in too!). Passing back through the Arch, I thought about my own research and what was to come next. Yellowstone has an electric quality about it. You can't go there and be unaffected. In one day, I had seen more than I had anticipated, and it left me wanting more.