life in Yellowstone was conceived on a winter day in Ada, Ohio, in 1993.
I know the day was a Thursday because I attended chapel that day with my
friend Rob Milliner. I was a freshman in college at Ohio Northern
University, studying philosophy, and sitting in chapel with Rob.
The chaplain, Rev. Hal Hartley, introduced a man from A Christian Ministry
in the National Parks (ACMNP) to give a pitch as to why college students
should spend a summer in the national parks working and ministering.
Rev. Hartley, an ACMNP alumnus himself, further encouraged us and announced
that the ACMNP representative, whose name was Chris, would be talking to
people outside the cafeteria after chapel.
Although Rob and I thought
the idea intriguing and Rob suggested that we speak with the man, I had
little intention of pursuing anything ambitious. I had been raised
in Ohio, had rarely left the state, had barely worked a job in my life,
and I had only a passing interest in spending time in nature. Certainly,
the idea of roughing it appealed to me about as much as a cold shower in
the middle of January. I liked to walk in the woods, but I was scared
of animals. Luckily, Ohio has very few scary animals, and so I was
content with the nature of the Buckeye State. Inspite of this, the
idea was intriguing. Ministry was something I felt confident I could
do being the son of a United Methodist minister with a love for the stage.
I dearly wanted a way to share my Christian faith. This sounded like
a wonderful way. However, as I said, intriguing as it was, the intrigue
did not even last until the end of the service as I had already forgotten
that Chris was here.
Rob and I raced to lunch.
At Ohio Northern, if one fails to leave chapel in a bolt, one fails to
have a timely lunch. The immediate thought on my mind was filling
my stomach. Who can begin to dream of natural wonders one has never
imagined when the glories of an all-you-can-eat buffet lays before you?
For instance, today as I share the spectacle of Yellowstone, a robotic
rover prepares to photograph and "discover" the Martian surface.
As enticing as that may be, Yellowstone remains that all-you-can-eat buffet
in my life. Amazingly, a literal buffet once held the place Yellowstone
now does, the difference being my life is enormously richer now than then.
Without Rob, a person who
has never seen Yellowstone, I never would have taken the steps toward Wonderland.
That is not to say that Rob is the cause of this autobiography, but it
is to say that my free choice to visit the ACMNP table was a result of
my free choice to follow Rob. If Rob had decided to return directly
to the residence halls, I would have followed. Rob, however, went
to the table.
At this table, Chris stood
talking to interested students. He had with him pictures. I
gazed in awe at his pictures of Glacier National Park. As I saw the
mountains and lakes, the vast wilderness of his photos, I kept saying,
"What if I spent an entire summer here?" The thought, strange as
it may seem considering my attitude toward nature, did nothing short of
thrill me. Nature had won. Before I knew it, I found myself
doing what was for me unthinkable--filling out an application for A Christian
Ministry in the National Parks. Being someone who rarely signed up
for anything and who was (and is) enormously shy, I could not explain why
I filled out that application. Maybe, I thought the national parks
would be a lot like a more beautiful church camp. Maybe, I really
did not believe that there was much chance that I would be accepted.
I do not know. All I can remember thinking of were the pictures and
seeing myself in them.
Naturally, I did not think
ACMNP would pan out. First, I needed the permission of my parents.
Then, I needed to be accepted. Then, I needed to be hired by the
place of employment that ACMNP found for me. Finally, I needed transportation.
Nevertheless, I was excited and firmly believed that if God meant for it
to happen, it would. If it did not happen, that would be okay, too.
Well, obviously, it worked
out. So many things worked out. First off, my parents were
completely supportive. This did not surprise me, although I believe
I had the nagging thought in my mind that my dad would whine that it would
cost far too much to get me to Yellowstone. He did not. They
wanted me out of the house and with a job and were very happy that I had
found one. They promised to get me to where I needed to be.
Soon after, I received a letter from ACMNP accepting me for Grant Village,
Yellowstone National Park. This shocked me. I could not believe
that I had been accepted to work in the most famous of national parks.
I felt enormously lucky. Then, Hamilton Sores hired me to work in
food service. I did not like the sound of food service, but at least
I was set to work. Finally, I had the excellent fortune that ACMNP's
required regional orientation was in a town twenty minutes from Ada.
This was most fortunate in that I had no car. Some people, for instance,
made eight hour drives to be at this orientation. If I had to make
such a drive, I think I would have had to decline.
The wheels set in motion
by that Thursday in Ada, Ohio, arrived at the East Entrance of Yellowstone,
Wednesday, June 9, 1993. My mom, sister Gloria, and brother Alex,
joined me as we ventured across the country to arrive at the gates of Wonderland
(not in the least aware that such was Yellowstone's nickname). Already,
we had been wooed by the mighty Mississippi and the most powerful thunderstorm
I had ever driven through. We were impressed with the little bumpy
hills of Iowa, the vastness of South Dakota and her Black Hills with Mount
Rushmore among them, the beautiful desolation of Eastern Wyoming and Devils
Tower miles in the distance, the majesty of the Bighorns and snow in June,
and the unmistakable beauty of the Shoshone National Forest. Indeed,
Yellowstone undoubtedly began in Shoshone. Already charmed, I was
about to be irreversibly seduced.
Our car entered the gates,
and this drama began.
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