The US National Park Service turned 100 this year, celebrating its centennial in various ways at different parks throughout the country. I turned 60 last Sunday, and I decided to celebrate that personal milestone in Yellowstone National Park, our nation’s first park, established in 1872, forty-four years before the park service was established. (The photo above is the Gardiner River near the north edge of Yellowstone.)
Yellowstone is my favorite park and the place I began the work that still inspires me today, researching and restoring ecosystems. Back then, plant ecology was my career and my living; now I’m a writer, teacher and speaker. Ecological restoration is still my passion, but I mostly work as a volunteer.
Working along the Old Gardiner Road in Yellowstone…
I spent two weeks on a working vacation in Yellowstone in June, doing just that: digging out invasive weeds by hand to help heal degraded areas around Mammoth Hot Springs, my “home” in the park. It was a rewarding time in terms of how much I accomplished, and how good it felt to be giving back to a place I love.
So when Rocky Mountain Gardening Magazine invited me to speak as part of their annual “Live!” garden inspiration event at Chico Hot Springs Resort, just north of Yellowstone, on the day after my birthday (thank you, Dan and Andra!), I decided to make that an excuse to return to the park, and celebrate my birthday by continuing my weed-eradication work there.
Why spend my birthday doing hard labor grubbing out knapweed and houndstongue, two species of persistent and seriously disruptive perennial weeds?
For the same reasons I cited in my Why Garden? talk at the “Live!” event:
- To preserve biodiversity by improving habitat for wild species
- Help counteract climate change by promoting ecosystem health
- To get a serious dose of Vitamin N–nature–and its physical, physiological, and mental-health benefits
- And not least, to provide succor for my soul.
Sixty is a major milestone for me for a number of reasons, most importantly because it’s the age my love, Richard Cabe, was when we learned his brain cancer had returned with a vengeance. He had just celebrated his 60th birthday by attending a sculpture conference and swimming in the Arkansas River, and was feeling great. Then came the news of the new tumors, and the realization that he might not survive.
He died five years ago come November, a few months after he turned 61, leaving me a widow at 55.
Richard after brain surgery number three, stapled scalp and all…
So I’m now reaching the fifth anniversary of the ending of his life, and am thinking seriously about what I will do with whatever remains of my life.
We truly don’t know what’s ahead–a lesson I know only too well after helping my rudely healthy husband live as well as possible through chemo and radiation, four brain surgeries, chemo again, and finally having to learn to let go of life after the glioblastoma commandeered his entire right brain.
I had assumed I would just continue on as I have been without Richard, but now I am rethinking the form and shape of my days as “Woman Alone.” I’ve decided to throw the possibilities wide open and re-evaluate all of my assumptions: where I will live, what work I want to do in my 60s and beyond, how my life will look.
I don’t have any answers yet, but I have some ideas.
The North Fork of the Shoshone River, as Red and I headed upstream into Yellowstone on Saturday.
Which I’m going to consider in the next few days, as I start the long drive home from Montana tomorrow with my friend and fellow passionate plantswoman and speaker, Lauren Springer Ogden. I’ll continue to let those possibilities “compost” in the back of my mind over the coming weeks as I catch up on writing and teaching work, including preparing for a memoir-writing workshop I’m teaching Colorado Springs, and then the Women Writing the West Conference in Santa Fe in mid-October.
And I’ll continue to live with my heart outstretched as if it was my hand, because I believe that living with love and compassion is the best we gift we humans can give each other, especially now.
Bless you all for being who you are, and giving this life your best each day.