Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Summer of a Hundred Bears

The transition has officially come to pass. I write to you this morning from my new home in McLean, VA having departed from Shenandoah National Park for the last time. I am once again officially unemployed, and am scheduled to depart for Thanksgiving in Arizona later today. When I return to Virginia on November 30 I return in hope that congress will have done something about the budget and that progress will have been made to bring me back into the folds of the park service. I also return to enter into the final 45 day countdown before the wedding. The pieces continue to fall into place to bring that day into reality and now that I am back in civilization it will make it significantly easier to finish the puzzle of wedding preparation.

I am certainly in quite a different place now than I was a year ago as I prepared to finish the last few weeks on the National Mall. Life can change pretty fast.

The eight months I spent in Shenandoah were filled with adventure, exploration, disturbingly stupid and odd questions from visitors, and quite a lot of hiking and American Black Bears.

I learned a great deal about Black Bears this summer as they were one of the most common subjects of questions from visitors as well as the centerpoint of one of the terrace talks I developed. But I did more than simply learn about them. I also had the wonderful opportunity to observe them in the wild in a myriad of different situations. I saw young bears, old bears, male bears, baby bears, mother bears, and Smokey Bear (okay, that was in a video, but I did see him in the park!) All told it was a rather productive bear summer.

Prior to this year I had never had a confirmed bear sighting in the wild. In the eight months that I spent in Shenandoah National Park I spotted a total of 102 bears in all sorts of different situations. Amongst my favorite sightings was the mother bear descending a tree holding her four cubs to chase away a juvenile bear, a bear flipping rocks to search for food in a stream, a bear up in a giant oak tree out on tiny limbs in pursuit of acorns, and the bear I saw traipsing through my "backyard" out my bathroom window. I'd say I improved my bear average a bit this summer!

I also did a great deal of hiking. My most notable accomplishment was completing the 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail that lie within Shenandoah National Park. It was in a lot of sections, but I officially traversed every inch of those 101 miles. I added to that an additional 241 miles of different trails within the park for a total of 342 of the 516 miles of hiking trails that lie within the park. I also doubled up on a lot of the trails and hiked several of them several times. The total mileage that I hiked in Shenandoah this summer comes out at greater than 485 miles.

It was a wonderful opportunity to see and experience the backcountry of the park in a manner unprecedented in my life up to this point. I backpacked in for an overnight trip three different times and spent countless hours on the trails, sometimes in an official ranger capacity, but much more often in my off hours. Considering that nearly every weekend was spent traveling to DC or elsewhere with Alison I feel pretty good about my final tally for the summer!

It is amazing how much things change in a relatively short distance. Last Saturday I made the final trip from Shenandoah back to the DC area and the very next morning I drove from our new home in McLean in to Alison's house in order to go to church. In a matter of a couple of hours I had traveled from a wilderness park to our nation's capitol.
It takes about 25 minutes to drive from McLean to Alison's house on Capitol Hill in DC. That journey takes me along the Potomac River on the George Washington Memorial Parkway (itself a national park unit) and passes within sight of memorials to seven US presidents (Theodore Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, John Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson),  Robert E. Lee, and (now) Martin Luther King Jr. Also viewable
(amongst others) are Arlington National Cemetery, the National Cathedral (still being repaired after the August earthquake), memorials to the Navy, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, and Air force, the Pentagon, the Supreme Court building, the Library of Congress, and the United States Capitol. Those are some rather significant sights along the route to church!

We know not what the days ahead will hold, but we know that we are living our lives to the full, in humble thanksgiving for the many blessings that the Lord has lavished upon us.

Celebrate this Thanksgiving holiday in dangerous wonder!

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