Today is my last Friday at the Grant Village Post Office. In a few days this station will close down for the season. Our general store is already operating with shortened hours, and within another week or two, everything—the campground, both restaurants*, the visitor’s center, gas station, and general store—will all close their doors. One by one, all non-permanent employees will vacate for the winter. We are scheduled to be here until October 31, just moments before they close the roads and all transportation will be done by snowmobile. We will be among the very last non-winter employees to leave.
[*There are two restaurants here in Grant Village, and I have not mentioned them prior to now. This is because I tend to ignore their existence. It is the opinion of everyone I have spoken to—guests and residents alike—that both the Grant Village Restaurant and the Lake House offer terrible food at offensive prices. As such, I have never eaten at either. We also possess an employee pub hidden somewhere in the woods. I’ve never even laid eyes on it. In addition to pouring cheap whiskey shots, the pub also serves pizza. But since they don’t open until 8pm, and since Rafal and I usually eat dinner at 5 like a couple of old farts, we hadn’t had a chance to try it. Then, a few weeks ago, we were getting back from Jackson much later than usual. So Rafal dropped me off at home to load in the baby and supplies, and he headed to the pub to order a pizza. They informed him that their oven was broken and it would not be fixed this season.]
Grant Village is deep in the interior of the Park, it is up very high (nearly 8000 feet), and it is ultimately expendable. As such, our meager amenities begin evaporating sooner than they do in other locations. The Old Faithful area, for example, will stay active for another month or so, and Mammoth Hotsprings (which holds Park Headquarters) will remain open and plowed throughout the winter. Mammoth has all sorts of year-round accommodations—including, but not limited to, a daycare center—that silly little Grant could never dream of. Mammoth Hotsprings is the New York City of Yellowstone Park, Old Faithful is Chicago, and Grant Village is a small town in Nebraska. (It’s pretty, but there’s not much to do). As James Perry puts it:
“Grant Village is the most hated location in Yellowstone. It’s situated on a beautiful curve of Yellowstone Lake known as West Thumb, close to thermal features and sporting a sublime view of unspoiled shoreline and mountains. It was also built in the middle of some of the most sensitive grizzly habitat in Yellowstone, close to several important cutthroat trout spawning streams where grizzlies take much of their spring nourishment, and only two miles from an already developed area. Grant Village was built with the understanding that another location, Fishing Bridge, would be closed. The idea being that there would be zero net growth as far as development in the Park was concerned. But Fishing Bridge never did close and Grant Village simply took its place among the Park villages like an obnoxious, uninvited guest. Thus its moniker – The Mistake on the Lake.” (14)
I can’t be too hard on Grant Village, though. I feel most comfortable when the place I live is just slightly shitty.
Although I am counting down the weeks until I can get a much needed pedicure, living deep within the interior is one of my favorite parts of this experience. Removing the ability to “run to the store” makes me so much more resourceful, and causes me to reflect on what I truly need. We almost never waste food. We can’t purchase things on impulse. The fact that we need to pack everything back into our 5×8 storage trailer before we leave here means we can’t accumulate additional mass: anything we gain means something else will stay behind. And being entirely removed from the commercial sphere for 13 out of every 14 days is just plain good for the spirit. We keep a running list, plan out all our meals, and do our bi-weekly shopping in one big burst. This means only one instance of standing in line at the store; only one experience of loading in groceries; only one encounter with the malaise of capitalist indecision every two weeks. Plus, it gives us a visceral grasp on what we eat, what we buy, and how much money we spend.
(Full disclosure: Amazon Prime has been pretty helpful for really important things—car parts or baby supplies—that we need in kind of a hurry. We have only another week or so of this luxurious service, so I am stocking up on diapers and treating myself to a couple of books.)
I do miss many things about Babylon. I miss ordering Thai food. I miss making small talk at the health food store. I really miss coffee shops. But I also like being removed from all that noise.
On Friday mornings I walk to work. The air is cool, the sun has just settled into its morning position, and everything smells fresh. I take a short, unofficial trail that cuts through the forest from the NPS housing area to the center of Grant Village, and particularly in the early morning, I keep my bear spray ready-to-hand. (I haven’t yet crossed paths with the infamous grizzly who’s spending this season in Grant, but rumor has it he takes this trail from time to time.) I love these morning walks, but this was the first one that really felt cold. For weeks now, mornings have been in the upper 30s, but with the sun shining and a jacket on, this has been welcome and exhilarating. This week, however, temperatures have started dipping into the 20s, and walking to work with a cup of coffee in my hand, I wished I had worn gloves. Winter is coming, whispered the wind. Snow will be here any day now. I have already stocked my pantry in case of blizzard; I have already pulled out our winter clothes; there is nothing else to do but wait.
I know the next seven weeks will pass quickly. Rafal is entering a grueling month of overtime hours (which means overtime baby rearing for me), and I will be working the next four Saturdays at the Old Faithful Post Office (with Lyd in tow), filling in for another employee who has already flown the seasonal coop. In other words, the next month will be full of work, and should leave us flush with a little extra cash. Meanwhile, we will be exploiting every available moment to experience the Park, fitting in the lower-elevation hikes we’ve been saving for these colder days. After we survive this month, it will be time to begin packing, and before you know it we’ll be on the road.
These words of Crow Chief Arapoorish are stenciled on a wall in Gardiner, Montana (near the north entrance to the Park): “Yellowstone is good country. The Great Spirit has put it exactly in the right place; while you are in it you fare well; whenever you go out of it, whichever way you go, you fare worse” (qtd. in Perry p. 2).
I hope that our winter months are spent happy and cozy, traveling to new places and visiting with old family and friends. I hope that we fare very well, indeed. And yet, before we have even left the Park, I am already looking forward to coming back.