Friday, January 29, 2010

Farewell 2010

And so we arrive once again at the point where I bid farewell to the NPS and Yellowstone. Travis has referred to this as my second annual going away. While there were some great experiences this summer, many things in the GYE have not changed for me (see my Farewell 2008 entry if you’re so inclined).

The summer of 2009 was . . . complicated. Given the impossibility of coherent explanation, I’ll simply say that I learned a lot about unexpected topics and surprisingly little about the subjects in which I‘d planned to immerse myself.

I was able to do things which, had I done them regularly in these past nine years, might have given me a different perspective on Yellowstone. Working for the affable Gunther, I squeezed out a few adventures and visited a few places in this park that not many people see. That ain’t bad for the last summer of my 30s.

The summer of 2009 was hard on my friends; much harder on some than I realized at the time. The winter has been hard on my family: deaths, Alzheimer’s, cancer. My friends and family have one big, fat, ugly thing in common this year: I wasn’t there for them.

I was considering my upcoming move, thinking that I would be so far away from everyone as to become irrelevant. As I passed for the last time (for a while at least) under the watchful, objective gaze of the Beartooths, I wonder if that’s already happened.

To say that I regret that possibility would be a colossal understatement. I’ve though a lot about the reasons, and come to the conclusion that the ‘why’ doesn’t really matter. I will either be forgiven or I won’t. I find that I have nothing in my heart but fervent hope that all those people who I care about will flourish in the days to come. I’d even go so far as to direct them to live long and prosper – but Jenny Jones would never let me live that one down.

Now then. Rumors are rampant, as if I would expect anything else from the YCR. Allow me to lay it down for those interested in the facts.

Yes, I did get into graduate school. No, I did not get into UM (Missoula) because I’m not smart enough. Well, really, I’m not the right kind of smart. I blow the top off the standardized testing charts in terms of verbal skills, something I was honestly surprised to learn is freakishly rare. It’s also spectacularly useless, especially in science. A mild, frustrating learning disability in the quantitative realm led many to doubt my fitness for higher education.

Despite all that, I’m headed off to school in Canada. And not just any whitebread school in British Columbia or Alberta, either – I’ll be attending Memorial University. MUN is located on the island of Newfoundland and is billed as the largest university in Atlantic Canada. Because of the absurd cost of a) Uhauling to Canada, b) shipping to Canada, and c) generally reaching Newfoundland, I’ve given away or sold everything that won’t fit in my truck and/or in the spiffy new huge-ass Rocketbox™ which I’ve bolted to the roof rack.

I’m praying for moderate weather through the Dakotas. It’s a straight shot to Minneapolis/St. Paul, where I will proceed to plunge through the dark forests of the UP (eh!) in Michigan to cross the world’s friendliest border at Sault Ste. Marie. An NPS friend from way back married a Canuck and lives there now. Once I’m done declaring all of my personal property, getting a permit for my bear spray and .22 rifle, and successfully convincing a border guard that I’ll leave when they tell me to, I can then proceed to apply for my student visa. After that wringer, I will head to Tina’s house where I plan to recover for a day or two before the ~1200 miles on the Trans-Canadian Highway to Nova Scotia.

Upon arriving in North Sydney, NS, I have to catch an apparently heroic ‘superferry’ for the six-hour ride which forms the penultimate leg of the trip, from NS to the western coast of Newfoundland. Then it’s 500 miles on winding roads to the island’s eastern coast and my final frikkin’ destination.

Memorial University is located in St. John's, the provincial capital of the single province with two names, Newfoundland and Labrador. St. John’s is the easternmost community in North America. It looks out over the North Atlantic to Greenland.

How did this come about? Well, I looked around and said, 'Where can I go to school that would make Gardiner look cosmopolitan?' Newfoundland came to mind. Seriously, I applied to a Masters’s project in NL, along with many others, some months ago. Every US project found a reason to decline my application, and just as I was poised to begin a career at WalMart, I got the call from Canada.

Gettin’ all lerned in Canada has advantages: I will have healthcare for a few years, something which my own country seems determined to deny to the outliers like me. As for Newfoundland, the entire island has about as many people as Wyoming (a hair over 500,000). St John's is a huge place that accounts for almost half of the economic activity of the entire province, and that single municipal area holds 25% of the province’s population.

Newfoundland has been historically isolated by distance, weather, and choice. Newfoundlanders consider themselves more European than Canadian - there are daily 2500-mile flights from NL to the UK; so NL is closer to London than to Wyoming. It's basically like Texas – a big nation-state where people who often talk funny have reluctantly joined a greater union but essentially want to be left the hell alone.

I'm supposed to trap and collar coyotes for this project, which others have failed to do, despite heroic efforts. If I also fail, then I have to start over with a Plan B for graduation. That nightmare is another posting entirely.

So there ya go. After 10 years in the intermountain west at 6300+ feet, I'm moving as far east as I go in North America, to live on a flat Canadian island which is only marginally Canadian in order to take on a graduate project with a major professor who is younger than I am and who has described the study as having 'a high probability of failure'.

Any questions?