Road Report: Yellowstone at 60

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. 



Countering Fear With Love and Food (Recipes Included)

Where love flourishes, hatred withers.

Perhaps I am a naive, but my response to the recent shootings in Colorado Springs and San Bernadino was not to curl up in terror and lock my doors, or go out and buy a gun, or engage in hating anyone. I do not believe in letting fear and hatred get the best of me, of my culture or my country, or the world, for that matter. 

So I reminded myself of the resolve I adopted some years back to guide my daily life, words I turn to whenever I need to right myself, a motto adapted from a line in Mary Chapin Carpenter’s, “Goodnight America”: My aim is to live every day–every moment if I can–with my heart outstretched as if it were my hand. 

I believe that my best response to terrorism, whatever the flavor, is to nurture love and kindness in the world around me, starting with my own attitude and actions. For me, the way to keep hatred and violence from flourishing is to refuse to participate. To grow generosity and compassion instead.

I think of love–in the sense of behaving with lovingkindness to others–as the light that keeps the darkness we humans are capable of from taking over. Where love flourishes, hatred does not. 

One way I express that love is by cooking. In my thinking, food (the kind of made of healthy, local, carefully raised ingredients) translates as love.

No surprise then that this week I’ve cooked more than usual. Thursday night, my friends Maggie and Tony came over for dinner, and I gave myself part of the afternoon off to immerse myself in preparing a beautiful and delicious food.

Here are two of the recipes from the dinner, my gift of love to you. The first is adapted from Melissa Clark’s recipe in the New York Times. (Watch the video to see how spectacular this savory and puffy pancake can look in the hands of a superb cook.) The second was inspired by receiving several quarts of sour cherries from my friend Louise’s nearby tree (thank you, Louise!). 

Savory Dutch Baby Pancake 

1 cup plus 2 T all-purpose flour (gluten-free flour works too)

1/2 tsp kosher salt (or coarse-ground sea salt)

fresh-ground pepper to taste (I used a five-pepper blend, and gave the grinder three healthy turns)

8 large eggs (the deep gold yolks of free-range eggs that eat bugs lend a lovely color)

3/4 cup skim milk

a splash of half-n-half

2 T chopped fresh thyme (it’s worth the effort to use fresh thyme for the rich flavor and fragrance)

2 T chopped chives (or basil, or minced tops of green onion)

4 T unsalted butter

1/2 cup Gruyére cheese or another nutty aged cheese

sea salt for sprinkling (any coarse salt will do)

Heat oven to 425 degrees and position a rack in the middle. Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl, then whisk the eggs with the milk/cream mixture in another bowl. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and whisk until they are barely combined (no big lumps, but it doesn’t need to be perfectly smooth). Add the herbs. 

Melt the butter in a heavy, 10 to 12-inch skillet with high sides. Cook the butter over medium heat until it smells nutty and is brown–not black! Swirl the pan so the butter coats the sides. Then quickly pour the batter into the pan, and sprinkle cheese and salt over the top. Put the pan in the oven on that middle shelf and bake 20-25 minutes or until puffed and golden brown. Serve while still warm, cutting the puffy panckae into wedges. 

Sour Cherry-Ginger Tarts

4 cups sour (pie) cherries, pitted

1 cup sugar

1/4 cup cornstarch

pinch salt

1/2 cup water

2 T unsalted butter, chopped into pieces

1-1/2 T chopped candied ginger (reserve 1/2 T for sprinkling on filling in shells)

pre-baked tart shells (I used phyllo dough shells from the grocery store–they were okay, but next time I’ll make my own)

Puree half of the cherries in a blender or food processor and set the other half aside. Whisk sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a small saucepan, then whisk in water until smooth. Stir in the pureed berries along with the chopped ginger (reserving some for sprinkling) and the butter. Simmer the sauce over medium heat, stirring constantly. Cook until thickened (about a minute). To fill tart shells, start with a layer of whole cherries, then pour over enough sauce to hold the cherries together, then top with more whole cherries.

You can also use this sauce for ice cream topping. In that case, stir whole cherries into sauce as it begins to thicken. 

Both dishes are best shared, as a way to nurture friendships and connections of the heart. Enjoy!

Where love flourishes, hatred withers.