Five days paddling around Shoshone Lake in the backcountry of Yellowstone National Park. Warm, mostly sunny, days and cool nights with occasional passing showers. No bugs of any significance. It was, as you might assume, sublime. Best of all, it was time spent with my two sons and an old friend, untethered from the grid.
For Jess and Sean, it was their first time on Shoshone, and provided us with a tremendous opportunity to connect not just with nature, but with each other, away from jobs and college grinds. Though the Perseid Showers didn't perform as billed, at least not before midnight, the time spent paddling and sitting in camp around meals in the backcountry quiet was rich for us all, and no doubt a little insightful in regards to what makes each of us tick these days.
For a week at least, Cat's In The Cradle was put off.
Bob and I were off on our annual getaway in the parks, a time to connect face-to-face, not over a long-distance line, to check in to measure, and compare, the passing years. A time, indeed, to turn back the calendars to the days of hiking in the Long Trail in Vermont or through the Presidential Range of New Hampshire or the Appalachian Trail in New Jersey.
Through it all there were no buzzing cellphones, no texting, no grid. No television, no radio. Just personal reconnections, measuring currents and jockeying with winds, dipping the paddles again and again, setting up camp and breaking it back down. Carrying all that mattered in two vessels powered only by muscles and experience.
The days in the backcountry -- plus one at Colter Bay in Grand Teton National Park before we paddling out across Lewis Lake and one afterwards in the Old Faithful Inn -- also provided an opportunity to test gear. In the weeks to come I'll share my thoughts on items ranging from group cook kits and packable canoes to beef stroganoff.
We also had some meals at Colter Bay in Grand Teton-- they need to work a bit more with their breakfast cooks -- and the Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone -- the dinner staff, from waiters to chefs, performed quite well, though the wait for breakfast after ordering seemed a tad long considering the much-less-than-full dining room.
Sequestration impacts in the parks were, for the most part, unnoticeable. The greatest indication of budget cuts was at the South Entrance Ranger Station, which closed at 4 p.m., a half-hour before we expected it to close, a closure that delayed our departure the next morning only slightly. There also was no sign of any backcountry rangers on Shoshone Lake, though that might have just been a hit-and-miss situation.
Entrance stations were a bit backed up, but in August you should expect that. We did encounter a ranger on the boardwalk around the West Thumb Geyser Basin who took time to explain the rerouting of a stretch of boardwalk necessitated by shifting flows of thermal runoff in the basin.
What impacts are ongoing behind the scenes remains largely a mystery. Whether Congress continues the cuts later this fall when it works on the FY14 budget remains to be seen, as does how the National Park Service might react to extended reductions. On the ground, though, the parks seem to be holding up fine, and they continue to be one of the best recreation bargains for those who like to camp, hike, or fish, take photographs or daub paint on palettes, or simply admire the vistas or soak in the history.
What we can't lose going forward is the incredible value these places play in not just preserving incredible landscapes and history, but also in the space they offer for reconnecting with one another, father and sons, friends and family.
We shouldn't let these places "just get by," but strive even harder to figure out how best to see that they stand the test of time “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations."
These settings -- lakes and mountains, forests and meadows -- without the 21st Century's bombardment of information that can leave you shell-shocked, are invaluable.
Take the time to reconnect.