Guest Blog Post: Yellowstone as a Winter Wonderland

This blog entry was written by Kelsey, a student at Syringa Middle School in Caldwell, Idaho. Recently, she spent a weekend exploring the great outdoors of Yellowstone National Park on a science trip with some of her classmates. Here are her thoughts after returning home, frozen, but full of new ideas!


Before Yellowstone became a state park, Ferdinand V. Hayden gathered a group of explorers to take a “professional look” at the park. Among these men, were old and young , tall and short. None of the men had spent much time together, they knew each other vaguely. This trek to the park brought them closer and they acted just like old friends. As their last night on their trek neared, the men dreaded going home. After they got to know each other, they never wanted to leave.

On the last night of their adventures, the comrades sat in a circle around their final campfire together. Around this campfire, they conveyed their thoughts and feelings to one another. They admitted their thoughts on the beauty of the area and their wishes of staying there. Alvred Bayard Nettleton, the youngest of the explorers, granted the men’s minds an idea to stew on. Alvred thought that preserving the area would allow them to come back and show their families and allow others to see the stunning beauty of this area. Most of the men disagreed or thought it was impossible, and continued their conversations. That night all that was on those men’s minds was going home to their families.

In the morning they left each other’s company, few tears were shed and they were on their ways. The men all lived in different places, they took trains and cars to their destinations.  The only thing on their minds, the idea that came about in conversation the night before. As each of the men continued their lives, they still thought about this idea long and hard. The men finally came together and followed up on it. The law stating that the Yellowstone area was now considered a state park, was signed by Ulysses S. Grant on March 1, 1872.

This is how Yellowstone National Park came to be.

This last weekend, I spent a weekend in the first national park, Yellowstone. This story, matches the one my classmates and I created last weekend. Just as the men did, we explored and created memories in our adventures. The rangers, that led us through these adventures told us this story.  I matched our adventures to ones that these men had back in 1870.

Although, these first men spent a year, we only spent a weekend. This weekend felt almost too short. Each and everything we did just seemed to end so soon. These moments let me get closer to people I didn’t talk to much. Just like these men, I went into the trip vaguely knowing everyone. And without technology, and only our personalities to sustain us, I got to know a great group of people. I just wished that we can stay this good of friends after our expedition.

This expedition, also allowed us to understand and witness the beauty of one of the last places in America that isn’t totally over run by urbanization. The views from every point in each of our hikes were gorgeous. Down to every tree branch, were little quirks and kinks that made Yellowstone, just an amazing place to be. The weather that we experienced might not have been traditional weather for Yellowstone, but it still made me appreciate everything there. Each and every animals’ path that we crossed was a fantastic experience. Even if we did just see tracks of an animal, I still felt as if that animal was there. The ones we did see in the flesh, were calm and allowed us to see their habitat as they did.

The first day we were there we focused on the geology of the area. We took samples of the water in several of the hot springs. By doing this we could test the pH of the water, along with using a heat gun to determine how hot these hot springs actually were. This day we didn’t see many animals, but we did see a lot of people. The boardwalks were covered with people, we didn’t let that stop us from being scientists. This was overall a sort of laid back day.

The second and final day was by far my favorite day of our “trek”. On that day we drove out about 30 minutes away from where we were staying and just hiked. We focused on ecology that day. The rangers took us out to the wilderness. I would have never seen myself as an outdoors person, but I felt at home. We took a path that was made just the week before, that the public didn’t use. The rangers took us out snowshoeing across the beauty and vastness of Yellowstone. At one point we walked up a hill, at the top I could see everything. I could tell how just breathless I was, it made me forget this was real life. Everything I was thinking just went out my ears and all I thought was that there was no way to describe what I was seeing.  It made me think, this is really what the world should look like. It made me sad to have to leave that lookout, and the bison friends we hung out with while we were up there. I didn’t take a picture, because I figured if someone really wanted to see it they would want the same experience up on that hill.

That night all of us explorers, tired and wanting to go home, came together in a circle. We sat there at the last campfire of our expedition. We told legends about each of our totem animals and heard a legend or two from our rangers. There, sitting in that circle around our “campfire” I felt close, personal with each and everyone of those kids. I felt that I had gotten to know them so well after the seemingly shortest weekend ever. I looked around and thought “ Man would I love to stay here and make memories with everyone here”.  I just enjoyed it so much. With the use of an old bison horn, we all said something we learned or did this weekend that we enjoyed. Everyone talked of how beautiful Yellowstone is and how we all loved the chance to get to know each other. We all enjoyed each other company and were good friends. Tears we shed, songs were sung, then we blew out the “campfire”. We then packed and went to sleep.

The next morning, we cleaned our dorms and headed on our way. We got on the bus, each and everyone of us dwelt on the the thoughts of our friendships and  the scenery. We enjoyed each others’ company for the rest of the bus ride.

The next day at school, everyone went back to their normal friends. I felt like we repeated the same thing that happened with those explorers. They discovered things, and became good friends, but without the beautiful park to keep them together they lacked that friendship. That is why I wish that everywhere was much like that park, because beautiful scenery brings people together.

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In the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures. For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.

Khalil Gibran

I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had by Tony Danza

I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had by Tony Danza

Schools and teachers are a hot topic in Idaho right now, as the November ballot includes Propositions 1, 2, and 3, which deal with a variety of education related issues. As a registered Idaho voter, former teacher (although hopefully I’ll be back in the game at Thad’s next posting) and concerned constituent, I’ve been watching the battle between the sides rage this entire fall. (You would think being in China would put me out of that loop a bit, but at least the Pro-Props 1,2 and 3 side seem to have found me. In the last three weeks, I’ve gotten nine of the exact same flyer from their group. Nine! The same flyer! My goodness. Whether I agree with the position or not, sending me nine of the exact same piece of literature is going to do little to change my mind folks.)  With schools being on the forefront in many states this season,  I thought it would only be appropriate that I jump back on the book review bandwagon with an education-related review. (It has been a while since I’ve added to my Book Musings category, not because I haven’t been reading, but it has just fallen to the wayside between the move to the other side of the world, a new job, and finding my place in a new community. But, I hereby declare that book reviews, shell-rated and all, are back!)

Tony Danza is not someone I would expect to turn to for insightful thoughts on education reform and the realities of classroom life for teachers, and yet, like with so many things in life, I was pleasantly surprised. In his new book, I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had, he takes on the role of a teacher in a tough, urban school in downtown Philadelphia. After being fired from his latest Hollywood role, that of a daytime talk show host, he was looking for a way to give back to his community and seriously considered the Teach for America program. But, I think the limelight is just bred in to some, and he found a way to mesh his California-career with his Philadelphia upbringing, in the form of a documentary that is filmed over the course of a year teaching high school English.

Skeptical yet? I was at this point! I imagined him going in for a few weeks, doing bit parts and then moving on to the production and selling of his latest film-creation. But, while I do take issue with parts of the gig, after reading the book, I can see how genuinely dedicated he was to his role as a teacher and how touched he was by his students. (He taught a single English class, granted, it was a double period, for a year. He also did some other duties around the school, but the strain that shows from his single class of students needs to be multiplied, as teachers don’t get to plan for, teach and review work for a single class a day.)

Danza faces the realities of many teachers in America today. He must find a way to get his students to embrace great literature when they prefer the crass rhymes of less-than-stellar role models they hear on the radio. He must teach his high school students to communicate effectively, through written and spoken word, when they constantly revert to the LOLs and OMGs of modern-text-talk. On top of this, he learns that teaching a subject area is only half of the battle educators face each day. He soon sees that his kids are lacking in positive role models at home, that they are coming to school hungry and tired and that they don’t dare dream, as they’ve seen too many dreams crash to the ground and die.

I am probably partial to Danza’s newest work because he spends his year in an English classroom, something I am missing right now. But, his book is full of touching moments, but also very real, tough moments. I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had should be on the top of Christmas lists for all the teachers in your life (they will understand and appreciate his perspective),  as well as all of those folks who think a few laptops and online classes are the solution to crowded classrooms and not hiring enough trained, certified and experienced teachers.  I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had  by Tony Danza earns a solid:

Building A Mystery (or Resume as the Case May Be)

As a fan of all things pop-rock, I can’t help but think of Sarah McLachlan’s 1997 hit “Building a Mystery” as I pour over my resume this evening. (Yes, I’m a sucker for pop music. I don’t need quality music, just fun music. If the song has a good beat and a catchy chorus, it wins a not-so-coveted spot on my MP3 player. In fact, the music collection on my player is so horrible, it is embarrassing. This winter, I was having a baby shower at the mo-partment and couldn’t get our internet-TV’s Pandora application to work. Thad had run away, hoping to avoid all things baby, so I had to call him for advice. When he couldn’t fix it via our phone conversation- probably because I had no idea what he was talking about with his technical cord names- he suggested I just plug my Walkman into the TV and play that as background music. Uh, no! I don’t need everyone to know that my shuffle mode goes from Britney Spears to Shaggy to The Black-Eyed Peas, with a little Ricky Martin and Beyonce thrown in there. Needless to say, that baby shower was music-less and my horrible taste in music remained between me and my player.)

But back to Sarah McLachlan and my resume. In what way could music from the mid-nineties and a curriculum vitae turn into a viable Venn Diagram? It isn’t as far-fetched as you might think, because the last time I had to make a resume and prepare for a job interview was in 2000. That’s right. I haven’t had to go through the job-search process in twelve years. Needless to say, making my resume feels like building a mystery.

I taught in Marsing for nine years, covering everything from normal English and reading classes, to electives in poetry and creative writing. Basically, if it was English-y, I was there! But, the jobs I am applying for are not traditional teaching positions. While both have education-related elements to them, they are not ones that will require me to stand in front of thirty eighth graders and get them to love “Annabel Lee” as much as I do, or care that “a lot” is ALWAYS two words! (Seriously, people! You would never write “alittle” or “abit,” so why “alot”??? ) This has meant taking stock of my skills and finding ways that those abilities can translate to new positions.  Again, Sarah MaLachlan puts it well when she sings, “Building a mystery/And choosing so carefully.”  I know I have the skills for these positions; it is just a matter of selling myself on paper (and interviews) so that I am given the chance to show my awesomeness!

My year of self-selected retirement has been great. I’ve gotten to do things that I wouldn’t necessarily have done in Idaho, like motorcycle classes and a field trip to the morgue, but it is time to get back in the saddle again and have a real job.  I am hoping that by the time we board the plane for the oh-so-long flight to China, that carefully crafted resume will have landed me a job, just waiting there for my plane to touch down.

(PS- While I may not live in a church and sleep with voodoo dolls, I do wear sandals in the snow, so maybe the song applies to my life in more ways than one!)