A comic strip in my morning newspaper offered an amusing explanation about the Theory of Relativity, and it has a definite application to life in a park: "If you put in a swimming pool...you'll discover relatives you never knew you had." It's a concept that is easily understood by anyone who has ever lived in or near a national park!
In the winter of 1978 I was in the first decade of my NPS career when I received one of those dream offers for a ranger—a chance to work and live at Glacier National Park. A move to the northern Montana mountains in February included a few adventures of its own, but we were soon settled into our new home in the small village of East Glacier Park, right on the southeastern corner of this spectacular park.
Shortly after our move we decided to share our good fortune—and our new address—with some friends and family members, a decision which allowed us to unwittingly test this application of the Theory of Relativity. In 1978 there was no Internet, e-mail or social media, but even in the days when the grapevine relied upon rotary dial phones and the U. S. Mail, news of a relative living on the edge of a mountain paradise was a powerful lure indeed.
We soon discovered that our new location would put us back in touch with both friends and kin we hadn’t heard from in years—along with a few we couldn’t really place when they arrived at our door. One of these days I'm going to sort out that thing about "cousins twice removed"... but we enjoyed them all.
Our household of three—myself, wife and a four-year-old daughter—expanded on June 1st with the birth of our son, and it's a good thing both my bride and newborn were of hardy stock. By mid-June the guests began arriving, and at summer's end, the count was pretty impressive: ten sets of company in twelve weeks!
I was at work at least five days a week during the busy summer season, so most of the opportunities to share our new surroundings fell to my ever-patient spouse. It didn't take us long to develop the one-hour, one-day, and one-week guided tour options for our guests, and our newborn spent so much time in the car during his first three months on earth that he's still a great traveler to this day.
Glacier isn't exactly "right on the way" to many places, so almost all of our guests had the grace to write or phone ahead of time, although we did have one or two of those phone calls that anyone living in a prime locale such as a national park will recognize. It begins something like this: "Hey, we're going to be passing through your area tomorrow, and we were just wondering...."
Those spontaneous visits did give us the chance for some family bonding and team building. On at least one occasion my wife gently eased one set of company out the back door and then changed the guest room bed in record time, while I cheerfully stalled the incoming company on the front porch.
As to that bonding thing...our rented quarters managed to squeeze three bedrooms, a single bath, a small living room and a tiny kitchen/dining nook into about 850 square feet. It was what a real estate ad would describe as "cozy," and with one of those bedrooms dedicated to guests and everyone sharing that single bathroom, our family of four plus "company" was a close-knit group indeed by summer's end!
If you've ever considered a future in the bed-and-breakfast business, I’d suggest you first try renting a place adjoining a popular national park for a summer, and then spread the word among your extended family that the welcome mat is out. We found it to be a lot of fun, but you may discover that the term "relatives" can be a bit...relative.
This story is adapted from the book Hey Ranger! True Tales of Humor and Misadventure from America's National Parks. © Jim Burnett and Taylor Trade Publishing, used by permission.