Wednesday, May 13, 2015

 Has any of you really done it? Be completely alone? I didn’t say be lonely but be at peace with yourself and be alone. There is someone who found a place where it is even possible to be completely alone and it does involve severe weather where most people would avoid but I think it is nice and would be a great adventure. It would be winter in southwestern Wyoming.  The man lucky enough to be completely alone for winters is Steve Fuller, the winter Groundskeeper at Yellowstone National Park.

He gets to see an extraordinary landscape covered in white snow all winter all by himself. The elk and herds of bison come out in winter and take over where campers lived all summer. To understand Steve Fuller’s passion for solitude, you have to understand his job. He is the winter caretaker of Yellowstone National Park. He is one of just a handful of workers who remain in the acres of wilderness after the summer tourists have gone and the park is closed. The lodge is deserted and everything touristy is bordered up and packed away for a long snowy winter.  He gets to be snowed in till one day he gets plowed out. It takes 2 hours by snow coach to get to him deep in the park. His job is not by the calendar or by the clock. He works with Mother Nature and when it is kind he gets to survey damage to buildings and clear roofs of heavy snow and find roads again that are now invisible.

The Parks Department provides him a cabin on a hill with enough food to last a winter and the lights in his cabin are the only lights for miles. In the cabin the walls are lined with books. He prefers a good book to any TV show and doesn’t own a television.  At night the temperatures can dip to 20 degrees below but he has never been cold. He does have 2 cats to keep him busy but is never lonely. What value can you place on solitude? He finds it an opportunity for self- knowledge and reflection.  Most Yellowstone winter keepers last only a few seasons before they quit. Steve has stuck out this solitary existence for 42 years, ever since the winter of 1973.
At the time he was the only applicant and therefore got the job. He was paid $13.25 per day. Even the meager pay did not deter him. He raised a family there by homeschooling his 2 daughters and taught them the ways of nature. They have gone to live their own lives as well as his wife leaving him. He fits best staying put with nature. Is her a hermit or an eccentric? I don’t know but somehow I envy his life.  In an elevation of more than 7,000 feet, transition from summer to winter can be fast so he is always busy.  In a matter of days with a good storm there are no roads and no parking lots visible to the naked eye. He erects markers to see what is below feet of snow.

He maintains about 100 buildings for the winter. He in his seventies will saw off sections of roof snow and watch it all avalanche off a roof. He has a method and a science to his work now. It is not all work. Every winter he captures the winter’s crystals of ice in the sun with his camera. His photos are breathtaking examples of what our earth should look like devoid of angry never happy people never at peace with anyone and never at peace with themselves.  I think he has the best of live sometimes. All of the steam and moisture there becomes super cooled so anytime they touch something they flash freeze. Frost and ice crystals are light catchers like jewels. National Geographic Magazine has featured some of his photographs.

About 3 Million people visit Yellowstone National Park each year. Now in spring the great primate migration is descending on the park again as he describes it.

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