Summer of 1993
Chapter 3--Price and Co.
I returned to my room finding
that my roommate had arisen from his slumber. Edward Price Roberts
III is a very average looking person. He stands about 5'11", has
blond hair, pale skin, and is average weight. However, Price will
always stand out in my mind and heart as being a great symbol of Yellowstone.
The dynamics and twists and turns of his life resemble the diversity of
the Yellowstone experience. When I met Price that afternoon in 1993
to the last time we hugged the following summer, his life barely resembled
the life he was living that day. Nevertheless, there was something
always attractive and beautiful in his personality from the very beginning.
Yellowstone, with its endless thermal activity, its earthquakes, its diversity
of landscape always retains its beauty throughout. Although Price
appears to be your average guy and nothing appears average about Yellowstone,
there is no separating Yellowstone from Price nor Price from Yellowstone
in my concept of the park. Furthermore, I could not conceive of Yellowstone
without the many other people whom I loved and did not love. It is
not too wishy-washy of me to broaden my definition of Yellowstone to include
those relationships, and it would certainly be too narrow for any understanding
of Yellowstone to leave out those relationships which consume one's life.
More than looking at a mountain is seeing that mountain in the eyes of
another. More than adoring a sunrise is to hear about that sunrise
from the lips of another. We may not always like it, but part of
the beauty of Yellowstone is Price. It is that human Yellowstone.
I began unpacking some of my things when Price
and I introduced ourselves to each other. I have no recollection
as to how we started talking. I know that he intimidated me.
As it turns out, in talking to him later on the subject, I intimidated
him. What bothered him about me was simply the mere fact of his humanity
and that I did not know what to expect. I have heard that we form
our judgments about people within ten seconds of meeting them, and Price
seemed to me to be something of a loser. How else is one to look
when one's first impression of you is while you are asleep and look your
very worst? However, he had slept until almost noon, did not answer
the door when it was knocked, and his voice did not seem to me to exude
intelligence. Yet, at the same time, something comforting was found
in such a seen. I, too, liked to sleep until all hours of the afternoon
and would rather let a knock at the door go unanswered. However,
it was still more disturbing than comforting. I had heard tales at
Ohio Northern from a friend whose brother had worked in Yellowstone.
This friend told me that his brother's experience of Yellowstone was one
where everyone was on drugs and partied a lot. Coming from the background
I did, I was not scared but did not find it appealing. This is how
Price seemed to me in light of this preconception I had of Yellowstone.
Of course, in many ways, my preconception turned out to be right!
Price had heard that I was a member of A Christian
Ministry in the National Parks, and this did not instantly endear him to
me. He had been raised a Catholic but had not been to mass in years.
In the meantime, he explained that he had spent the past year experimenting
in eastern religion. He had the Tao te Piglet with him, I
believe. Anyhow, he said he was now not so sure that Taoism was for
him. He stood apparently as a man without beliefs nor the slightest
direction in the world. Now, here I was, something of a Christian
missionary. His idea of Christianity at that time was typical of
those who were not Christians. He found the religion too narrow-minded
and unopen to other beliefs. Furthermore, he thought that most Christians
believed because that was how they were raised and that he had never had
a discussion with anyone that spelled out the reasons for the faith in
a way that said, "Out of all the many beliefs that people have, and out
of all the possibilities for the one true religion, this is why this one
religion stands out." He asked me often early on whether I thought
if I was raised in a non-Christian household in the Middle East whether
I would be a Christian or not. Price had many very honest and sincere
questions, but he could not settle on the answers.
I do not know how much we got into the religious
discussions that first day, but I know they came up nearly immediately.
The spiritual questions were the one nearest to both of our hearts, and
it took less than an hour for ten seconds of prejudice to turn into the
feeling that I had found a potentially good roommate. I discovered
that he was strongly considering studying philosophy at the University
of Montana in the fall, and this raised my image of him tenfold more.
How often does a philosophy major run into another philosophy major as
a roommate? In Yellowstone, it turns out that such things are not
While Price remained wary of his Christian roommate,
I was excited to discover a roommate with whom I could talk about things
near to my heart. You see, I was not Price's image of a Christian.
At Ohio Northern, I felt like a great outsider to the Christian community.
I am by-and-large politically liberal, I am not only a philosopher but
very proud of it, and I could identify with Price's image of the judgmental
Christian who has no idea what he/she is talking about. Of course,
I was an outsider to the secular, liberal college community as well.
Afterall, I am a Christian who is quite conservative not only in manner
of living but in the fundamental principles of the faith. I might
dare say that I thought someone else's whole way of living was wrong.
When I often said in class that the only world that is a good world is
one governed by love and worship, most people had me pegged as a religious
fanatic. How often did I find myself in a philosophy class with fundamentalists
joined hand-and-hand with Satanists denouncing my ideas as too extreme?!
While I appear to be the quiet, shy conservative kid on the streets, those
who know the way I think know that I'm something of an extremist radical.
When I discovered that Price felt like an outcast to the ideas of the world,
I felt that I had found the potentiality for a friendship. I discovered
it that first day. We spent many nights talking about the ways of
the universe and about our lives in it.
After talking a bit, Price asked me if I wanted
to walk with him to lunch. Being hungry, I was eager to eat.
I no longer felt as nervous with my twenty-three-year-old roommate.
We walked the quarter-mile boardwalk path to the back entrance of Hamilton
Stores, down the stairs, into the basement and into the employee dining
room. This is where I met my first ACMNP colleague. Price introduced
me to the dishwasher, Dan Wesbrook. Dan was a short man, with light
brown hair and a mustache. He was exceedingly friendly, though in
a quiet sort of way. He asked me if I had met Matt. When I
told him that I hadn't, he told me something to the effect of that he was
interested in what I thought of him when I did. He said that there
was a meeting the next night at Matt's cabin and that the first service
would be Sunday. By Matt, he meant Matt Perkins, the head minister
for Grant Village. Dan was a minister, too. I was a student
worker whose main job was supposed to be leading Sunday School. Anyhow,
Dan seemed pleasant enough and I looked forward to talking to him more.
Price and I went through the cafeteria line and
I met Maria. Maria Holder, the wife of the manager of the Employee
Dining Room (EDR) was an older Puerto Rican woman with a very boisterous
personality. Her passionate attempts at feeding us reminded me of
my Greek great grandmother who would never let us out of her house until
our stomachs were on the point of rupturing. She was so outgoing
and so passionate about getting food down our throats that I found myself
scared to refuse her. I often took food I did not want just to please
Maria. In turn, my quiet ways pleased her, and we were always on
good terms. As I got through she said, "We've got tuna fish" in her
Puerto Rican accent. She must have said it a dozen times to people
as they went through the line. It not only seemed to be her favorite
thing to push on us, it also served as the EDR's vegetarian substitute.
No one at the EDR seemed to realize that tuna fish was not vegetarian,
and yet hungry vegetarians often found themselves having tuna fish four
or five times a week. The "tuna fish!" became derided over my summers
in Yellowstone as a symbol of what was wrong with the employee food selections
offered by Hamilton Stores. Yet, in all fairness, I for one liked
the food, but I'm not too picky.
Price and I sat down and were soon joined by
a man who was younger than the vast majority of people who worked there
but quite a bit older than us. This was Jay Clayton, an art teacher
in his late forties from Hillsboro, Missouri, a town just south of St.
Louis. He was short but fairly well-built. He came across as
slightly effeminate, but he was once a state record holder in his age and
weight class for weightlifting. On the other hand, Jay was exceedingly
tidy, had a lot of little gadgets to make his life easier on the trail,
and his Missouri accent was not the most manly sounding accent in the world.
He was single and was spending his third summer employed in the parks.
He loved Yellowstone so much that he had a calendar counting down the days
when he could return. Furthermore, his greatest wish was to retire
from teaching so that he could come out here for good. Jay loved
to hike, and that is how he spent most of his free time. He also
seemed to be more comfortable sitting with Price and I than with the older
majority of workers. Maybe, it was from years of teaching.
Actually, I think it was because his interests, his politics, his heart
was more in tune with the younger workers. All of the young people
liked Jay, and he liked some of us, too. All-in-all, Jay Clayton
is a very complex individual and I could not really give you a sense of
him because I have trouble getting a good sense of him myself. I
liked Jay. He was friendly, was very frank in conversation, and did
not intimidate me in any way--at least not at the lunch table.
Soon, I would meet many more people. Even
though I can remember most all of them, it does not make for very good
reading to bring them all up now. However, it does serve to mention
a few of the younger people whom I soon met. The best looking person
working at Hamilton Stores was a waitress from Mississippi named Lynn McGraw.
Personally, I was not that attracted to her, but more than one person including
Price told me that they thought she was very good looking. She was,
but something did not sit right with me upon meeting her. Like me,
she was very quiet and I got the impression that she was someone who was
expressing bitterness. She did not necessarily come across as friendly,
and her deep Southern accent came off as rather unemotional. She
was that sort of person I found intimidating, and I do not think I ever
quite got over it. She was intimidating in a way that people have
told me that I eventually got to know that they found me intimidating.
Whereas in reality I am very shy but very interested in getting to know
people, I usually do not initiate any sort of conversation. I am
so scared of people that I often answer very simple questions in something
of a monotone. However, these people notice that I am not quite that
way with everyone and that I exhibit a witty sense of humor and am obviously
intelligent. This gets taken as signs of snobbery. Lynn to
some extent had that way about her. She was twenty-five, just graduated
with a degree in social work, seemed to have very strong opinions, was
very open and easy-going in some company, but I never got the sense that
she liked me very much. I may or may not have been wrong. I
think, by the time the summer was over, we respected each other but realized
that our personalities probably were not conducive to deep friendship.
Nevertheless, as the story will proceed, Lynn becomes a very important
element of my first summer in Yellowstone if only because she becomes a
very important part of Price's life.
Other people that I soon met were a couple of
guys from the same school in Kentucky named John and Patrick, a roamer
of sorts named Ben, a girl from Utah named Leigh Ann, a couple of people
from Kansas named Brandon and Julie, and a local girl named Mary Harris.
Brandon had worked with Price at Canyon the previous year and was heavily
influenced by eastern religion. Julie was always with Brandon although
I do not think they were a couple. Leigh Ann was a nice waitress
whom I never really felt comfortable around, either. Interestingly,
I wrote Leigh Ann recently after coming across her on the internet.
If she finds herself reading this autobiography, I hope she takes no offense
because she was nothing but nice to me. Yet, I never got the sense
that she was someone I could really know, someone who had a depth that
I could explore. It was no surprise, then, that we never spent that
much time with each other. Whenever she saw me, she seemed to ask
me, "Where's Price?" Or, "How is Price?" John Hyde was a hillbilly,
or at least that is how he came across. He had a love for the ladies
that produced a couple comical results that I will relate later.
He was also a very strong hiker. Jay used to refer to John as a "power
hiker." Patrick, unlike John, was from the Cincinnati suburbs, had
barely a hint of an accent, and was less outgoing and eccentric in his
personality and tastes. He, too, loved to hike, and he found himself
quite excited with the long adventures in backcountry. He was not
as athletic as John, but he prided himself at being able to complete the
long hikes into backcountry. Patrick and I never were close, but
we had moments of conversation over the summer. Deep down, I would
have to say that I remember Patrick as a romantic longing to be romantic.
I could understand in the depths of my soul that longing. Ben, as
I said was something of a roamer, and it would not be long until he roamed
right on out of Grant Village. Mary Harris was my stereotype of a
Montana girl. This Bozeman native was very tomboyish in her personality
and tastes. She was often at odds with another guy named Greg who
was something of a frat boy. She was down-to-earth, hated snobbery,
and was friendly to everyone who was friendly to her while Greg was to
himself and would sit by himself much of the summer finding that he did
not like the class of people who were his coworkers. Mary was engaged
to be married and often went home on weekends; and though she was not around
for some of the summer's adventures, she definitely was not insignificant
in my memories of the summer.
This was in itself a diverse group of people.
Yet, by-and-large, we were college students or people who had completed
college, were from white lower middle class families, who were working
in Yellowstone simply as a summer job. The similarities seemed to
end there. In the case of Price and Ben, both had spent time working
seasonally in other tourist areas. Price had made it as far as the
Grand Canyon. Ben, unlike all of us, did nothing but move around
from place to place. While I grew up in the conservatism of Ohio
and had a greater love for the urban environment, Mary Harris saw no desire
at all to visit the cities of the world and thought Montana to be the greatest
place on the planet. Lynn was a realist, cynical about the world,
while I was cynical about the world but not to the point that I lost my
own personal idealism. Brandon, Julie, and Price dabbled in eastern
religion, I was a devout Christian, Lynn was a disgruntled ex-Pentecostal,
Leigh Ann was a Mormon who did not really know anything about Mormonism,
and John and Patrick rarely said a word about religion. I believe
Patrick was Catholic and John may have been Baptist.
It was not our similarly educated, poor backgrounds
which brought us together in the face of such diversity. I believe
it was the same thing that called Americans west in the nineteenth century.
People like us go to Yellowstone to find something, searching for something
we have not found in life. We do not know if we will find it in Yellowstone,
but we search nonetheless. I was looking for a place where I might
feel as though I belong. I was also looking for a soulmate, a way
to express my faith in ways I had not been able to before, confidence on
the job, and friends. Price was searching for his place in the universe.
Were the others searching, too? I believe so. I had too many
conversations with people suggesting that that was the case. The
tourist seeks to create memories for the future, or an escape from the
stresses of home and job. The ranger seeks to manage and explore
a region that fascinates his/her curiosity in a way that other things do
not. Some just come to dream and seek solitude in beauty. However,
few make Yellowstone a home. People COME to Yellowstone. The
frontier was vast one hundred fifty years ago, but it is crammed into places
like Yellowstone today. Where can we go to be a part of a community
that is better than the one from which we came? So many of us go
to Yellowstone. Maybe, too many of us go to Yellowstone rather than
search that inner Yellowstone of our soul. Yet, where is the Grand
Canyon of the Yellowstone in the soul? Where is Price in an exercise
of thought? Something for sure is to be said for the value of aesthetics.
All I say here is that maybe we become too dependent upon it. Yellowstone,
magical though it is, is not a cure. It is not a thing to be used
for our own advantage. Rather, it uses us, if we let it. Often
enough, it used me through Price and the other people with whom I knew
in Yellowstone. They gave me food for thought and a warmth in my
heart, but I had to take that and make it beautiful. And, to be beautiful
in Yellowstone certainly is to be used by it for its advantage.
Price Roberts introduced me to several people
that day, and I began to understand something of Yellowstone. However,
I could not understand the significance of it like I do now. If I
had written a journal of that time and published that, it would be remarkably
inept at capturing more accurately the experience of Friday, June 11.
Each day that goes by in which I give the day thought, a richer, more complete
picture is shown even though I forget some of the details. The Yellowstone
region is like this. No picture is able to capture the entire whole.
Every picture necessarily leaves something out. If we try to remember
all the details, we fail to remember everything that the camera can record.
Yet, our painting from memory is nevertheless more truthful in its account
because it alone can capture the essence of the detail. It alone
can put thought to detail, and understand how the parts fit together and
evoke it in a way that takes into account the passion of the moment.
This is only rational. That is, as we think on something, the more
we understand. I understand that meeting Price, though hardly as
dramatic as it may come across, was a dramatic event in my life.
Indeed, I spent more time sleeping that same day than talking to Price
or anyone else, but that day is not important for the time I spent sleeping.
Yet, if I wrote a journal of my thoughts on that day, sleep may have been
a pretty dominating thought.
That first day in Grant Village turned out to
be a better day than I expected or thought it was at the time. As
it proceeded, I realized that I liked Price and that the people I worked
with all seemed very nice. I did not know that I would change my
life as a result of thinking about the influence of these knew people in
my life. I did not know that what I was beginning to know in my co-workers
was something more to know of Yellowstone. I did not know that I
would say something so outlandish as "Yellowstone is Price." Yet,
this is just the light with which to see my life in Yellowstone.
I hope, now that you have learned of a new wonder
in Yellowstone, "Price and Co.," you will now see how this is just as wonderful
as any of the others you already knew. Let us move on.
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