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Friday, February 14, 2014

Happy Anti-Valentine's Day

It's Valentine's Day ... again ... a made-up 'holiday' devoted to sappy cards, overpriced flowers and candy, and high expectations.

For me, Valentine's Day is akin to Christmas in its commercialism and hype. The airwaves and newspapers are filled with gushing ads for cards, flowers, jewelry and candy. These adds imply that if we don't get a huge bunch of red roses, or an expensive piece of jewelry, or a fancy dinner, we aren't loved. There must be something wrong with us. We must be a bunch of losers. Since when is love measured or determined by how expensive a gift someone gives us? Is our value or worthiness really dependent on what kind of, and how expensive, the gifts we receive on this made-up holiday?

I never went in for Valentine's Day, even when I was married. It just seems stupid to make such a big deal of one day of the year. Should we not be letting those we love know that we love them every day of the year? What is the point of this made-up holiday, except to those who sell cards, candy, flowers and jewelry to make a bigger profit?

I love my daughter, and I try to show my love throughout the year. I don't buy her a card or chocolates for Valentine's Day. But I do show my love through little things -- taking her out for dinner, picking up a favorite food at the grocery store, being supportive and available to listen when she needs to talk, buying her a voucher for a massage, driving to the restaurant where she works to provide change for the cash register. Bet you won't see a $5 Hallmark card gushing about these things. 

I also love my dog. I don't need to buy anything special for her to show my love. I do that every day, by taking her for a walk, by giving her the special food she needs, by providing the medication she needs to keep her free of seizures, and by spending time with her.

I am tired of the commercialism that is rampant in our society, as exemplified by the constant harping about finding "the perfect gift" at Christmas or "He went to Jared" for that expensive piece of jewelry for Valentine's Day. And apparently I'm not the only person fed up with this so-called holiday. There is an anti-Valentine's Day movement, complete with anti-Valentine's Day cards ("Cupid rhymes with stupid" is just one example) and quotes (“Happy phony, romanticized, overly commercial, sucks to be single, pretend that it's love, day!”)

What this day really needs is an expression similar to Bah Humbug!  Until somebody comes up with such an expression, I will close with this anonymous quote:

“I wish that Valentine's Day came with a fast-forward button...”

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Wolf Wisdom

Recently, I flew home from the airport in Bozeman, Mont., after a six-day wildlife-watching visit to Yellowstone National Park.

I collect coffee cups from my travels, as they are inexpensive, useful souvenirs of the places I visit. So I am always looking for an interesting addition to my collection. As I browsed the selections in a Bozeman airport gift shop, a coffee cup with wolves on it caught my eye. On one side of this particular cup are sketches of wolves, with the words 'Stay on track.'

On the other:

Trust your instincts.
Be at home in nature.
Keep your den clean.
Howl with your friends.
Be a leader.
Pack life with good memories.

Wolves do these things naturally. For many of us so-called higher animals, following these guidelines takes a bit more work. I think these are pretty good pieces of advice, for both wolves and for us humans.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Winter Wildlife in Yellowstone

Recently, I had the opportunity to spend several days in Montana's Yellowstone National Park on a wildlife viewing trip.

Although I really dislike cold weather and snow, this trip was so amazing that I wasn't at all bothered by the cold. Much of the park, including the very popular Old Faithful geyser area, was closed to all vehicle traffic except for escorted snow machine tours and special vehicles known as snow coaches. These machines come in two varieties. One has treads and several small wheels on both the front and back; the other has treads in back and skis on the front. Regular vehicles, even those with four-wheel drive, would not be able to navigate the groomed but unplowed roads.

As a result of the road closures, the crowds that typically flood the park during the summer were absent. One morning, as I walked near Old Faithful, I realized that I could neither see nor hear another person. It was as if I had the park to myself.

We were blessed with clear skies, calm winds and not-too-cold temperatures during the majority of our trip. Unfortunately, our time at Old Faithful was marked by overcast weather, which made photographing the geyser's eruptions of gray steam against a gray sky less dramatic than hoped. But the scenery of the park is magnificent: snow-capped mountains; ice-covered trees; bubbling, boiling pools of water and mud; pristine snow; frozen rivers, and of course, the wildlife. We saw herds of bison, some clearing snow with their massive, 250-pound heads, to get to the grass beneath. We spotted bald and golden eagles, numerous pronghorn antelope, big horn sheep, elk, coyotes, red fox, mule deer and, far in the distance, a couple of wolves feeding on an animal carcass.

I also was blessed to travel with a dozen wonderful people. There were two couples from Australia, an 88-year-old retired accountant with her attorney daughter, a young widower from Miami (born in Argentina), a retired Navy meteorologist, and other couples and solo travelers. It was a delightful group of travelers. And our group leaders were experts in the biology, geology and history of Yellowstone and its inhabitants.

I am so glad I got to experience Yellowstone in winter. We were treated to video of the park's wolves shot by a wonderful filmmaker, as well as photos taken by the park's original winter-keeper over his 40 years of living in the park. And I tried snowshoeing for the first time. Although apprehensive at first, I just had to try my hand at this novel way of exploring some of the park's trails.
As the guy in the rental shop said, "If you can walk, you can snowshoe." And he was correct. It took just a few minutes to feel comfortable with a large plastic rectangle -- with what looked like saw blades on the bottom -- strapped to each foot. I also bought a pair of Yaktrax, removable devices that make it easier and safer to walk on packed snow and ice.

My biggest disappointment was not having been able to get a closer view of some of the park's wolves. They are reclusive by nature, but one of the guides has had a close encounter with a wolf in the past. Alas, that didn't happen during my trip. But just seeing them through a spotting scope was still a thrill.

This trip was sponsored by the National Geographic Society, and I definitely will look into future NatGeo-sponsored trips for future travels. Everything was well planned, and even a couple of mechanical problems with the snow coaches were handled promptly and with minimal inconvenience to the travelers. I would love to revisit Yellowstone during the spring and fall, when the park retains some of its serenity and visitors can experience a different view of this beautiful place.