Friday, December 12, 2008

First Snow

It snowed today and stuck on the ground a bit! The first snow this fall. Tomorrow we're supposed to get upwards of a foot. And it's supposed to be 13 degrees by Sunday! Here comes winter!

Friday, December 5, 2008

End of Semester

Well, it's the end of the semester out here in Idaho. People are busy typing papers, finishing projects, and getting a start on celebrating.

Here are a few highlights:

  1. I am finally done with teaching discussion groups. No more four hour a week sessions with students!
  2. The thesis is coming along, although very, very, very slowly.
  3. I am learning how to code interviews for significant themes.
  4. Thanksgiving has come and gone. It was quite the feast.
  5. Friends are visiting.
  6. It's finally getting cold. There is substantial frost and ice in the mornings. I try to avoid the icy puddles as I bike to school. It's especially hard in the evening when it's so dark the potholes just blend in with the road.
  7. The sun rises at 7:15 and sets at about 4:00 pm, making for a very short day. And it's cold and cloudy most days.
  8. Knit group is gaining in popularity.

Thursday, November 6, 2008


I am proud to be an American.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


Excitement is filling the air today as the United States faces this momentous election. My desire is our collective hope and urge for change will push this country into a new era. A new era of hope, of change, of joy, of potential.

This is a day where we may reverse the hate, fear, and terror that has fallen over the United States the last eight years. This is a day where we may again become a country that thrives in the independence, democracy, and patriotism that makes the United States an incredible country. This election day is the stuff that makes America free. This hope that we feed off of has the potential to erase the wrongs and bring about many rights that our nation deserves.

The change is electrifying this country and drawing people out to support democracy - the vote.

Let's vote for jobs, for health, for rights, for the economy, for the environment, for justice, for the right to correct the wrongs created by incompetent and horrible government. Let's vote for the one man that may change the status quo and return the United States to a democracy all can respect.

Let's hope for great change, for great inspiration. Let's hope for OBAMA! Beyond that, let's turn that hope into reality, into an inspiration, into a motivation to improve this world we live in for the good of all people, creatures, and habitats in this world.

Please go vote today and by vote, I mean vote Obama!

Monday, November 3, 2008


Go vote tomorrow, November 4, for change for the USA! Go vote OBAMA!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Game

United Airlines has decided to charge $15.00 per bag checked on their flights. This might have seemed like a good idea to the company, but after my recent experience at the airports, I think they should review their policy.

Since $15.00 is just above a comfortable threshold to pay to not have to lug a bag and deal with lost luggage and lines at the baggage claim, most people seem to be taking two carry-ons on the plane when they ordinarily would have checked one. Unfortunately, most people don't follow the 14"x24" policy for bag size so all shapes and sizes of bags get passed as "carry-ons." Even more unfortunate, the planes really are not built to allow over 100 people to have two carry-ons. This means there is now a huge hassle trying to get bags to fit into overhead bins. This in turn delays flight take off and increases the amount of problems the flight attendants have to deal with. It also has led to the creation of "the Game."

The Game is an interesting phenomena. It begins with seat sections. Theoretically, the flight attendants call each section (1,2,3,4) in turn and the people sitting in those sections line up to board the plane. This should be an orderly operation that allows everyone to board efficiently and get the plane out on time. What really happens is this:

When the flight attendants call all passangers sitting in Section 1 to board the plane everyone stands up and starts shuffling towards the gate. The passengers not in the called section pretend to stand patiently while they really start edging closer and closer to the gate. The reason for this is that everyone wants to get on and get their bag into the overhead compartment before they are full. Inevitably, by the time Section 4 is called, all the overhead compartments are full, the plane is on the verge of being late for departure, and a flight attendant has to run back and forth frantically trying to check all the oversized bags (with no fee) of all the people that didn't want to pay $15.00 to check their bag. It's really quite a mess.

I found myself playing the game this last week when I flew to New York and back to Spokane. It's all about strategy. While on the way to NYC I didn't understand the game but by the return journey, I had this figured out. In LaGuardia, I casually lined up towards the front of the line when seating area 1 was called. As the different sections were called, I started edging closer and closer to the front of the line so as to optimize my odds at getting to put my bag in the overhead compartment. Other people tried to finagle their way to the front of the line too, but I kept in front of them. As soon as "Seating Area 4" burst from the flight attendant's lips, I was standing in front of him, boarding pass in hand and boom! I was on the plane, bag stashed overhead. Score!

My luck didn't quite work in Denver. The different sections of people filed onto the plane. As I waited, I noticed three older men were playing the game too! Shoot! The four of us were chomping at the bit, ready to race to be the first on the plane from section 4. We eyed each other, trying to size up speed, agility, and desperation to get the bag into the overhead. I, however, had the advantage. Section 4 was announced, and in a moment of indecision by the three men, I cruised in front of them and kazam! was in line to get on the plane before them. My advantage was that I am a woman, and they, being older, were trained to let women go ahead of them.

My advantage quickly ended, however, when the compartments were filled by seating area 3 and a frantic flight attendant came running at me to snatch my bag to stash as a checked bag. She looked like a chicken with her head cut off and kept repeating to get the plane off on time she needed to check my bag RIGHT NOW! I tried to engage her in conversation to see if my theory (people bring stuff on plane instead of checking them because of the fee) was correct. She didn't listen and instead spouted off, "NO! THERE'S NO $15.00 FEE! YES, YOUR BAG GOES TO THE BAGGAGE CHECK! NO, IT'S NO HASSLE! GET ON THE PLANE!" I finally gave up and just boarded the plane and enjoyed watching other people struggle with their luggage for a change.

That's the way to do it, wait till the plane's overhead bins are full and get your bag checked for free. Nothing like sticking it to the Man.

Thursday, October 9, 2008


Well, it's midterms here at the University of Idaho. As a graduate student, this means realizing my conceived research schedule is deteriorating and I'm starting to pull my hair out. Maybe this is a result of shock at being in school for the first time in over a year; acting as a teaching/research assistant for 20 hours a week; and trying to balance writing, analysis, and keeping it real in what always ends up being a very short week. Midterms also means cold weather outside, and the shock of discovering it is indeed fall at school and not summer in Yellowstone.

Alas, my hard earned tan, good posture, and muscular bod from summer in Yellowstone are wilting away. As a graduate student, my office is a windowless box in the basement of (ironically) the College of Natural Resources. And, since I'm a graduate student, try as I might, I spend entirely too much time in the office and too little time breathing the fresh fall air. As a result, I am slowly turning into a wraith-student - one of those pale, huchbacked, squinty-eyed, skeptical graduate students.

But, I try to keep it real by busting out work at the coffee shop, doing yoga in the mornings at the Yoga Center, climbing, and going to the gym. It's my attempt to keep my posture from overly-eroding, my muscles from shriveling, and my mind from deteriorating into the matrix of mathematics. I think it's working.

With that, it's back to life at the fast pace in a slow paced town: spssspssspssspssspssspssspssspssspss (aka: statistical analysis).

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Another Iowan

Moscow is a pretty small world. Since it's a small, hip, liberal town in "no where" Idaho, it draws all sorts of people. And all those sorts of people seem to know someone who knew someone who was buddies with someone who decided to go to school here and found out it was a cool place and told someone to come too, who told someone else to come, who spread the word and suggested to someone else to also came to Moscow. Follow that? It's full of people from the same place who may or may not realize they actually know each other when they really do.

While walking around with my friend, Anne, who just moved here from Colorado, we discovered that our friend Caroline is one and the same. Not only that, but Caroline and Anne went to college in Tennessee together. And their moms went to school together too. And now Caroline and Anne both live in Idaho. This small world connection was made even more acute by the fact that Caroline is dating Russ, who is one of Brian's friends from growing up in Rapid City. And Russ' sister, Emily, and I have been friends since I first moved here in 2002. We all knew each other without knowing we knew each other until this fall. To top it all off, Anne and I were both talking about the same Caroline who was sponsoring a party with Russ and Emily that just happened to be the same circus party. Now, even in a town like Moscow, circus parties are pretty rare, but this was quite the circle of coincidences.

Well, today, I was sitting in the coffee shop, and this girl looked at me and said, "I think I know you. You're Nancy, right?" Yes, I am indeed Nancy. Then she said, "We used to work together in Barnes and Noble." Well, that took me back about nine years ago to working in Barnes and Noble Coffee Shop in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, which was then the height of cool. She said she's Suzy, and then I remembered her. And I remembered the fact that at Barnes and Noble, I not only worked with Suzy but I also worked with her brother, Zach, who is still, apparently, friends with my brother, Dan. And what's even weirder is that I have only met one other Iowan in Moscow, but never someone from CEDAR RAPIDS, my home town. What a small world.

And then, later today, I met another Iowan. We, Midwesterners, are flooding the west.

I Know This Is Good for Me

"Okay, all you do is edge your front leg forward, your back leg backward, until you can put you back leg on the ground. You can use a brick for support. Then, brace your body and lift up. Ta dah! You're in the splits. Your turn, chop chop!" said Erika enthusiastically at our 7:00 am yoga practice.

I edged my body into this awkward leg opener exercise. "Okay, I edge my front leg forward, my back leg backward and ta dah! God, this hurts!" I thought to myself. Edge the legs apart, Nancy! The splits are good for you!

But, man, I've never been one for ballet, and this was one stereotypical ballet move. I imagined myself graceful, elegant, preparing to dance the "Nutcracker," being a piece of elastic, being water in a river. "I am fluid. I am elastic. I can do the splits. I KNOW THIS IS GOOD FOR ME!

"Okay, now do it three times each side at your own pace," called Erika's voice. Was she serious? Three more times on each side!? My legs already felt like they were about to snap off. But, low and behold, after three more times on each side, my legs did feel elastic, rubbery, like water in a river. And, I could do Dog pose with my heels down. Huh, it must have been good for me after all.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Number 6 Is in the House

We went away for the weekend to see Willie Nelson play in Red Lodge. It was a great show and included a trip across the Beartooth Mountains. When we came back on Saturday, the first report I received about life in Mammoth was that Number 6 was in town. Both Chris and Amanda immediately told me he was there.

Number 6 is a big-old bull elk. Huge. Six point. Massive. He towers over the female elk as he clusters them into harems. This elk has been thrashing trees by Lava Creek as he strips his antlers of velvet and goes ape with hormones. He is the elk of elk.

On Saturday I walked Kelci the dog down through Lower Mammoth. On the return journey we heard the characteristic high pitched bugle of a male elk. The first call this summer. Number 6 was in the house! We walked up to view 50 elk clustered around the Administration Building, about 6 buildings from my home. I dropped Kelci off and rushed to my house as the elk stampede began. The whole herd started migrating towards my house.

Mike and I stood watching them as we waited for Chris to pick us up to watch the Olympics. Finally, I called him and reported the elk status. "Can I still get to your house?" he asked worriedly. "If you come quickly," I responded. He made it just as Number 6 was walking, full rack, straight towards our houses.

We made it safely to watch the Olympics and on return to Mammoth, a thought of the elk mob flickered thorugh my head. The elk were everywhere around the Fort, laying seige to the buildings. Cows, calves, and Number Six were representing! And they were surrounding Kelci the dog's house! How was I to get in?

We drove to the back, where the elk lay 20 feet from the door. Chris drove me to the front, where the screen door was locked with no key. Finally, he took me back around the back, where the light of his headlights illuminated the massive frame and full rack of the bull standing 15 feet from the door. "Good lord, I am not letting you out of this car!" Chris exclaimed before driving to my house and letting me out there. But the dog! I thought.

All fussed out, I went inside, took a shower, and thought about my strategy to return to Kelci's house. What to do, oh, what to do? I heard No. 6 bugle, and it sounded like it was south of the houses. Could luck have turned my direction? Commando style, I crepted from the house and ran to my car, which I drove right to the front door of Kelci the dog's house. No Number 6. Phew! I quickly opened the house door and lept inside, safely avoiding the elk!

All night Number 6 bugled outside. I imagined he was singing, "Looking for some hot stuff, baby, this evening! Looking for some hot stuff, baby, tonight!"

The madness has begun.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Indian Creek Nature Center, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Flood Recovery Effort. My Birthday Wish

On July 27, 1983, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, my parents gave birth to me. It was the hottest day of the year.

The summer of my 10th birthday, 1993, Cedar Rapids experienced severe flooding. The Cedar River crested at 19 feet. I remember flood waters level with the highway bridges. Yet, immediately afterwards, people developed the flood plain, destroying the land’s ability to soak in swollen waters.

This year, 2008, I am turning a quarter of a century old. My hometown is flooded. This June, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, experienced the worst flooding in its recorded history. The Cedar River crested at 31 feet, 12 feet higher than in 1993.

Images of homes submerged in water, stories of destroyed belongings, and NPR sound clips about Cedar Rapids have flooded my mind for the last month. Over 25,000 people lost their homes, 1,300 city blocks were inundated, and 9 miles of the city flooded. Despite all that, people are pitching in to help their neighbors survive this trauma.

One of those places is the Indian Creek Nature Center. When I was growing up, the Indian Creek Nature Center, where my dad is director, was my second home. The Nature Center is where I first tapped maple trees and fixed trails, restored wetlands and prairies, and learned about our wild world. It is because of the Nature Center that I am an interpretive ranger in Yellowstone today.

The Nature Center sits on the banks of Indian Creek, which flows into the Cedar River. It has never flooded before. When the river crested, a foot of water flooded the main floor of the Nature Center. After gutting the building and tossing handmade displays, staff estimated damage at $100,000. Yet, despite that figure, they are optimistic, working together to take hold of the opportunity offered by this disaster to improve the Center’s design.

An innovator in sustainability, wild land restoration, and non-profit development, the Indian Creek Nature Center will use this disaster to improve hands-on exhibits for children to explore their natural home. This optimism gives me hope in our resilience. Even through difficulty and strife, disaster and grief, my home town is working to improve itself. Always a leader, the Indian Creek Nature Center is projecting its hope for a better future to the Cedar Rapids community.

I am almost 25 years old. This birthday there is no possession I need or want. There is only one thing I desire: that my family and friends help the Nature Center achieve its goal to continue educating our community about the importance of sustainable development, resource protection, and environmental awareness.

Please, for my birthday gift, make a contribution to the Indian Creek Nature Center, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to help them recover from the 2008 floods.

Thank you,

Nancy Patterson

Send checks to:

Indian Creek Nature Center
6664 Otis Road
Cedar Rapids, Iowa, 52403
(319) 364-0664 (phone is still out due to flood)

For images of the flood:
The Gazette Newspaper:
Creepy Sleepy Media:
Talk Radio News Service:

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Junior Ranger Question

Today I gave a twenty minute talk about Early Explorers of Yellowstone. The talk starts with information on Native Americans, then fur trappers, and then expeditions into the park. I conclude with a little environmental talk and tell everyone they're explorers too. It normally makes people feel good.

During the trapper section, I talk about how mountain men were looking for beaver pelts. The reason for this was that men in Europe and in the Eastern part of the USA liked to wear beaver felt hats. A kid's hand shot in the air.

I also talked about Jim Bridger, the tall-telling mountain man. He told a story about Yellowstone that goes like this:

Out there in Yellowstone Country there's a place called Petrified Tree. Jim Bridger swears the place was cursed by a Crow shaman. Well, he came upon it one day and noticed it seemed very strange. The grass crunched under his feet as he walked. The air was still and all was silent. He noticed a bird up in the tree and he said, "I'm going to shoot that bird." So, he pulled out his shot gun and shot the bird. It cracked in two. He thought, "Well, that's odd. I'm going to chop down this here tree." So, he pulled out his axe and started to chop the tree. His axe blade broke! He looked around and noticed the tree was made of stone! The grass was stone. The bird was stone. Everything was stone! And at night the air was so heavy it felt like obsidian pressing down upon him. No one could believe this story it was so tall! How could a place be so magnificent!? But, Jim Bridger's stories helped open America's eyes to the wonders of Yellowstone.

At the end of this another kid's hand shot in the air. I waved at both to hang on until the end of the presentation. And at the end of the presentation, these Junior Rangers had some astounding questions. Here goes:

Jr Ranger I: "Is Indiana Jones' hat made out of a beaver pelt?"
Me: "It's a leather hat, probably made from a cow."

Jr. Ranger II: "Is the petrified tree frozen?"
Me: "It's made of stone. It's a stone tree. Everything was stone."

Jr. Ranger III: "Yeah, but, in that story, wouldn't the bird have flown away faster than it could have been turned to stone?"
Me: "Jim Bridger said the place was cursed by a Crow Shaman that had turned everything into stone. So, everything was stone when he came upon it."

Jr Ranger III: "Yeah, but it would have flown away."
Jr Ranger II: "I think it's all frozen."
Me: "I'll be happy to sign Jr. Ranger papers now."

Apparently that story really left an impact on the kids. Not the explorers or wonder or theme, just Jim Bridger. Just goes to show, he really did open people's eyes to the wonders of Yellowstone.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Getting Charged By Elk

It started as a normal, beautiful early June day. I walked happily out my door and headed towards work, proud to be sporting my snappy staw ranger hat. Briskly I made my way down Officer's Row to the Visitor Center.

A body caught my eye. Almost unseen underneath the tall coniferous tree, lay an elk. A female elk. An elk that had recently calved. A psychotic, manic, female elk mama. There is hardly anything worse than coming upon a psychotic, manic, female elk mama. Believe me, underneath that tree lay trouble.

Slowly I inched towards it, maintaining my distance while speaking calmly to it, "it's okay Mama Elk. I just want to walk to the Visitor Center, that's it, Mama Elk. Nothing else." While still over 75 feet away from her, I saw her ears go back in nasty alarm. It's already horsy mouth elongated as a feral snarl seemed ready to explode from her face. She labored to her feet, virtually foaming at the mouth. Her long legs propelled into high speed action.

"Oh, shit!" I exclaimed (in uniform) as I took off at full speed (in boots, might I add) around the limestone house of the Superintendant to get away from the manic female. She came after me like a speeding bullet. Images of crasing hooves went dancing through my head. Imminent death and destruction surrounded me. What a way to go down under the hooves of a crazy female elk.

I careened around the corner of the building and chanced a look behind. No sign of the manic elk. Was I safe? My pace didn't slacken as I reached the Chief Ranger's house. Much to my embarassment, Rick was standing outside (also in full uniform with an orange safety vest on) watching my sprint. He looked at me and said, "I saw that elk bolt and then you run around the corner. Was she attacking you?" "Yes," I replied. He commented, "Nothing like getting your blood running in the morning."

Sunday, May 18, 2008


Friday was a Top Ten Day. Definitely an amazing, wonderful day. Here's why:

  1. The weather was spectacularly warm and sunny.
  2. I got 2 care packages in the mail.
  3. The grocery store clerks were nice to me.
  4. There's now food in my fridge.
  5. I cleaned the bathroom.
  6. I finally planted my garden.
  7. Sabrina and I hiked Beaver Ponds in record time.
  8. The arrow leaf balsam root is starting to grow.
  9. I rode a bicycle.
  10. Brian and company came home from Chile.
  11. I played tether ball.
  12. I had an amazing dinner (salmon, asparagus, and peppers).

Top Ten Amazing day!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008


One of the best things ever is the smell of rain and sagebrush combined. The sweetly perfumed dewdrops stimulated my mind and reminded me of all the beauty, joy, and mystery of the West. There is nothing sweeter than that combination of senses here in Yellowstone.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Uinta Ground Squirrels

After months of hibernating under the Mammoth ground, the Uinta Ground Squirrels have reappeared. Where solid ground lay barely one month ago, now the yard is potholed with Uinta Ground Squirrel lairs.

The little buffy ground squirrels leap and frolick across the ground, enjoying the warming climate. When threatened, they dive into the nearest hole with an astoundingly loud call. "BRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" they chirp to their companions, warning them that the giants are around. Occasionally they sound out a short, "CHIIIIRP!" in warning instead. But, the stealthy creatures make this noise only when you are inches away, engrossed in another activity, so you are startled and jump in the air with their call. They probably run away giggling that they scared the humans.

My roommate and I decided that their language is actually them squeeking out their name. So, the "BRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" translated into human lingo is, "UINTA GROUND SQUIRREL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" And the occasional "CHIIIIRP!" is the team mascot call, "UINTA!" Translated into human talk, the sound is a high pitched, chipmunk noise. "UINTA!" Whenever I see them scuttling across the yard, chirping to their buddies, I always look at them and squeek, "UINTA GROUND SQUIRREL!!!!!!!!! UINTA!" I hope this makes us friends but I don't think it's working because they still like to startle me at the end of the day.

Saturday, May 3, 2008


I just don't get it. I don't understand why people consciously climb over railings and trample the terraces. It makes no sense to me but people do it all the time. The boardwalks of Yellowstone remind me of an elementary school game. When I was a little kid we played this game where we had to hop from carpet square to carpet square without touching the ground. The ground was actually molten lava, or sometimes a sea full of man eating sharks, whatever the case, you definitely did not want to touch the ground. By hopping from carpet to carpet, you stayed alive and survived the evil ground. Well, that's what boardwalks are like. You stay on the boardwalk and you stay alive. You probably won't fall through Yellowstone's shallow crust and get scalded by boiling water or eaten by acid or killed in some other rather gruesome way. If you get off the board walk, you may die, and you will definately be an evil trampler, a destroyer of wildness. People who get off the boardwalk are on my bad side. Indefinately.

Every day I rove the travertine terraces, full of admiration for their delicate, chalky forms. And every day I find new sneaker tracks in the travertine. These are tracks that take forever to disappear. These tracks gouge out inches of soft rock with every step. They destroy, maul, and befoul the beautiful terraces. It makes me sick. It makes me mad. It makes me want to sic Law Enforcement on their asses.

Fortunately, I had such an opportunity just last week. While roving the upper terraces I noticed an entire family of five trampling around the top of Palette Spring. They were easily 20 feet from the nearest boardwalk, smiling, waving at their cameras, destroying the travertine! I was too far to reach them, a snow pile lay between us. Quivering with anger, I quickly radioed in to Comm Center the ugly, trampling offense. "10-4, Mammoth Patrol, do you copy?" And before I knew it Mammoth Patrol was on the look out for the offenders. Ha! And 15 minutes later, Law Enforcement aprehended their asses! Boooyaw! The score: 100 for protection, 0 for the offenders.

Unfortunately, there are new tracks every day and normally we don't catch the tramplers. So, I've taken to telling visitors they may fall through the shallow rock to their imminent death. I say this with my don't-mess-with-a-super-volcano-you-idiot voice. Hopefully it works.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Lawn Mowers

The lawn mowers, I mean, elk, are out in abundance today! They are all over happily grazing and filling their tummies for the first time in months.

The bison are dropping their calves so we have lots of red dogs, as the babies are called for their reddish coats, frolicking in the nearby fields.

Bluebirds have been flitting all over, making saphire streaks in the air.

Barrow's Golden Eye are enjoying floating in the rivers.

Lots of carcasses mean lots of bear and wolf sightings.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Bison Going at It

Yesterday, I heard exclamations from outside the visitor center and turned in just in time to see a spectacular sight. Two male bisons in the Parade Ground decided to duke it out. I could practically see steam issuing from their snorting nostrils as they charged each other. If anyone has ever doubted that bison can run 30 mph from standing, I have now seen visual proof.

Their great, wooly heads slammed together before one of the bison took off racing around the visitor center. Not about to loose his macho might, the other charged after him, establishing who was the dominant buff in this town.

Seconds later the bison stormed around the back of the visitor center like two race cars on a speedway. They disappeared from view as they continued their chase and the 30 second excitement ended. Business went back to normal in the old VC, just as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. Oh, but bison charging each other in the Parade Ground, in Mammoth, in April, is actually very out of the ordinary.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Blue Birds

A group of bluebirds swooped by me today. Brilliant blue.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Signs the Season Is Beginning

With spring temperatures melting snow, animals dropping dead from winter fast, bison babies popping, and visitor numbers skyrocketing, I'm getting some clear indications that spring is coming and summer is on its way. Several of these pre-season signs came from humans.

  1. A little girl looked at me today and said, "She has boobies, mommy." Mommy cracked up and said not all women with boobies have babies. Daddy blushed. I informed the little girl that I do indeed have boobies and do not have babies.
  2. About four people (given the tracks) jumped off the boardwalk and trampled the travertine by Palette Spring. I just barely missed the buggers and peevishly cried, "idiots," before kindly reminding other visitors to stay on the boardwalk. They shook their heads in disgust at the resource destruction. Those were good visitors. The tramplers are on my bad side. Indefinately and irrevocably.
  3. Visitors come in the VC and hold the display antlers over their heads. It's always such a laugh to have one moose antler and one mule deer antler held to one's head.
  4. Three foreign visitors fondled the stuffed bison head, missing the sign that says "Please do not touch, I cannot grow hair back." I had to pull out my "you've been a bad, bad visitor voice" and tell them off Interp style.
  5. A favorite visitor past time in the summer is always changing the date on the passport stamp. This happened yesterday when we went from April 12, 2008, to August 28, 1989. Time warp.... Hmmmm.
  6. The gentle quiet of lapping hot spring water and wind in the trees is getting displaced by car thumping stereos and diesel pickups. Talk about noise pollution.
  7. The flag is pulling its customary twist-as-you-raise-it stunt, meaning it takes 15 minutes to try to put it up so it looks half decent.
  8. A zillion people came down from Montana to go biking on the last weekend the roads are cleared for bike and Admin traffic only.
  9. It's the first really nice weekend since I've been here - almost hot.
  10. The sun rises at 6:30 and sets at 8:00.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008


A visitor reported bear tracks on the Howard Eaton Trail, which parallels the Terraces and the Upper Terrace Drive. She also reported a dead elk by Palette Spring, one of the most popular springs to view.

I scoped it out the other day. It was a beautiful day for a stroll, Clark's Nutcrackers were flitting about and the sun was shining. But my eyes were on the look out for a deader than a doornail elk. And sure enough, right at the top of the Terraces I spotted its bloated frame. Right at the end of the boardwalk it had fallen. My mind quickly assessed the situation. A dead elk and bear tracks = cause for concern. I called up the back country rangers and the bear management office to fill them in and assumed they would move the poor beast.

But, no, today I returned to the Terraces and checked out Palette to see if the elkeroo was still there. Sure enough, it was there, but now it had been chewed on... perhaps by a bear, but more likely by a wolf/coyote whos tracks were nearby. Yuck.

This time bear management moved the carcass and put up signs warning people to stay away from the dead elk. It's one of about 6 that have been moved in the last week. Visible evidence to the long, hard winter in Mammoth.

Thursday, April 3, 2008


On rove today, two bluebirds flitted by. They chirped happily about the coming spring. By the hot springs, Clark's nutcrackers fluttered from trees to posts to travertine to exposed ground. They perched pecking at the ground, warmed by the hot springs, looking for freshly hatched bugs to eat.

Female elk clustered around Mammoth, enjoying the warm sun and rooting around for vegetation to eat. A four point elk joined them, unusual male activity for this time of year. None of them seemed too concerned about people walking past them. The females are getting ready to give birth, another sign of spring.

The air feels springy today and snow is melting.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Snowshoeing, Buffs, and Terraces

My first day off in about a full week, I decided nothing could be better than a snowshoe up the Terraces. I grabbed some hiking poles and bear spray, strapped on my lumbar pack, zipped up my puffy and headed out. Up the snow-covered wooden steps I ventured until I reached the top of Palette Spring. There, I strapped on the snow shoes and began the hike up the back terraces. Deep snow drifts covered the boardwalk but my harish feet kept me high in the snow. My feet automatically slipped into the "small step revolution" as I ascended the steep terraces. Then, before my eyes, rose beautiful Cleopatra. Water poured off its terraces, giving life to the orange-colored thermophiles that thrive in Mammoth. I continued up, up, up the terraces and then down, down, down the other side.

Excitedly, I descended to Mother Mary Spring, only to be startled aware of life forms other than thermophiles in the vicinity. A big bull buffalo (buff) lay basking in the warm hot spring air. I came up to him unaware and stopped mid track. Oh boy, I was definately too close to that buff. Slowly I eased along the boardwalk hoping not to startle the animal. He was completely indifferent to my existence and much more interested in conserving energy than fussing about a human. As I stood watching him, he began to roll on the hot ground, throwing his legs into the air. He nonchalantly stood up and chewed on the vegetation around the springs. What a sight to be seen!

Not wanting to disturb him, I continued on my hike. It was incredible how different the terraces were. Many had expanded twice their size in 2006. I reached Canary Spring to be greeted by its familiar orange color and the gentle lapping sound of water hitting the "shore." Sounds of rapids filled my ears as I followed the boardwalk paralleling the hot spring. Water was gushing down the hillside! I couldn't believe it - there was so much water! The sight left me astounded and smiling, I walked to the Upper Terrace Loop.

Around the loop I went, starting the gradual ascent towards Orange Spring Mound. Intent on my snowshoeing, I turned a corner, gung ho to hike up the hill, when a brown mound began to move. I was definately way too close this time. The buff's horns shown in the afternoon light, making me gulp. Oh boy. How could I safely get around this time? The buff looked at me... and I looked at it... and it continued eating. I unstrapped my snowshoes, waiting for it to make its move. A skier, Mitch, started descending the slope but stopped as I waved my hands and pointed at the bison. "I see it!" he replied. There we stood, a person on each side, waiting for the buffalo to move. Languidly, it walked across the trail and stood munching on the other side before slowly moving off towards some other, more interesting, hot springs. Mitch and I decided it was time to move away and we headed back up the slope.

Orange Spring Mound was gushing all over the road. Little orange terraces were forming over the asphalt. Water splashed merrily out of the springs and continued its path of least resistence down the hill. Beautiful.

The rest of the snowshoe/ski went through relatively fresh powder, glimpsed other gushing hot springs, and descended past the Brian-crash hill to the parking lot. Snow fell thickly from the sky as we passed through this winter wonderland. Tired, but content, Mitch and I hopped in his truck, returned to Fort Yellowstone, and left the spectacular terraces behind.

Monday, March 31, 2008

White Out

I woke to the sounds of a snowplow grating against the pavement. It jarred me awake and I realized snow must have fallen overnight. Outside, the world was wintery white. Snow flakes flurried across the sky, yanked hither and thither by the blustery wind. It looked utterly cold.

In the kitchen, I heated up some oatmeal, hoping it would stick to my ribs and keep me warm. Then, on went the NPS layers and the flat hat and out into the cold I ventured. Three inches of snow lay on the walk and I shoveled it quickly before heading to the Visitor Center. The entire sky and earth were white. Imposing Mt Everts had vanished in the blowing snow, leaving only a solid white presence in the foreground.

I trudged down the drive to the VC, snow and wind blowing me off course. Inside was a haven of warmth that lasted only briefly as I picked up the flag and headed to the flagpole. Sepulcher Mountain and the Absarokas had also disappeared into the hazy white of the blizzard. This was a veritable white out. I couldn't even see the Terraces, a mere quarter mile away. I could hardly see the hotel. The flag tugged and fluttered with excitement at being hoisted high into the air. My fingers and ears grew numb with the wintery exposure as I turned to salute the flag.

Inside, a ranger called with the road report. Zero visibility, blizzard conditions, white out. It's a good day to stay inside, I thought as I watched snow drifts form outside. It was a good day for hibernation, for hot chocolate, for hot springs, and anything geared towards hunkering down. Although the days are long and the month say it's spring, it feels like January here. It may almost be April, but it's winter here in Wonderland.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Coming Home to Yellowstone

My heart is glad to once again be home. Not home home like Iowa, but home like heart-happy home. I wake each morning to Yellowstone, each day to a new adventure, each minute to the splendor that is this wonderland. My home is in historic Fort Yellowstone. I can imagine what life was like at the Fort as our first park rangers, the US Cavalry, lived to protect this amazing place. When I look outside it is to spectacular views of Sepulcher Mountain, the beautiful Absaroka Range, snow-covered Capital Hill, shining orange travertine terraces, and stunning Mt. Everts.

Yellowstone is my cathedral. Here I feel at peace and content to discover the endless pleasures, joys, and mysteries of the Park. I find solace in its mountains. Seeing the great bison, elk, big horned sheep, and pronghorns remind me of my love for the West, my love for Yellowstone. I am surrounded by wildness and beauty. It is what I had craved for for so long in Guatemala. I had yearned for Yellowstone.

Rapidly, like melting snow in the spring, I can feel myself returning to a gentle balance after nearly a year of stress, turmoil, loneliness, and isolation in Guatemala. The constant malcontent that threw me off balance in Guatemala is gone and I feel my normal self returned. I am jubulent. I am heart and soul happy. Yellowstone has blessed me anew.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Last Three Weeks

The new name is still coming, but it's been a flood of happenings back in the US of A. So many in fact, that I'm going to list the events and write more later.

  1. I hung out in a Sports Bar on my first night back and saw some major business stooges.
  2. The 25th Annual Maple Syrup Fest at the Indian Creek Nature Center went on. The weather was fantastic and I got to practice my interpretive skills while talking about Pioneer methods for sugaring.
  3. I talked at CR's Daybreak Rotary Club. Fun group.
  4. Mom, Dad, and I ventured to Cantril, IA, and enjoyed shopping in an Amish general store where you can buy anything under the sun.
  5. I caught up with random friends and dogs (who don't have fleas).
  6. Dan left for a month long trip to Europe, the Mid-East, and Africa. We liked to say Mom and Dad got one kid back safely only to have another go abroad.
  7. I got a new cell phone and it's amazing.
  8. Cedar Rapids now sells some New Belgium brews. This is a big step.
  9. I began the journey west to much emotions about leaving home and heading home.
  10. Carly greeted me with open arms in Lincoln, NE. We had fun meeting her grad school friends and I was reminded of how ridiculous grad school is. I was also reminded of how amazing micro brews are.
  11. I made a marathon trip across the enormous state of Nebraska and arrived in South Dakota.
  12. Matt showed me around Rapid City, including the Firehouse restaurant and treated me to some home brews.
  13. Jewel Cave had free cave tours so I went spelunking.
  14. Matt arranged a tour up behind Mount Rushmore's heads. A view few have seen.
  15. I unwisely decided to try driving in hopes of clearer roads west. The result: I crashed my car by Sundance, WY. I am fine, however, and the car is in the process of getting fixed.
  16. Matt picked me up from Sundance and brought me back to Rapid City.
  17. I learned what State Troopers do and how to run the sirens in their cars.
  18. I rode in a tow truck and learned what makes a good, high quality tow truck.
  19. I found some advantages of only having liability insurance including cheaper tows. That's about it tho.
  20. A waitress named Bobby at the Aro in Sundance asked if I was a hitch hiker while the other waiters and waitresses correctly assessed that I had wrecked my car. The funny thing about the waiters and waitresses was all the young ones were emo. How does that happen in a little town?
  21. I reconnected with Sandi, Dave, and Grandma O. Fox the cat seems to be okay with my presence.
  22. Matt and I explored downtown Rapid City, SD, including stopping at the Nature Conservancy to visit Bob, getting Matt's haircut at his ridiculously cool salon called the Factory, walking Art Alley, drinking coffee, exploring Prairie Edge, and checking out the random counter culture shops like Ernie November and Global Market.
  23. We walked to the Stratobowl and learned how people fly weather balloon-esque balloons there because it's a perfectly protected valley so it's not very windy.
  24. I had the best St Patrick's Day ever which involved good company, corned beef and cabbage, green beer, car bombs, fooze ball, pool, AND getting jiggy with it.
  25. Yellowstone has kindly said that I can start work pretty much a week late since I crashed my car.
  26. I'm reflecting about the loss of my capability to put two and two together.
  27. Matt and I learned how very white we are. Check it out: Stuff White People Like
Welp, that's the short and narrow of it. Probably there will be a few good posts about this in the not so distant future. In the mean time, enjoy contemplating the busy few weeks of America I've been enjoying.

Saturday, March 8, 2008


I am back in the USA, which means a transition for the Guatemalan Adventures blog. Stay posted for updates about Iowa and traveling to Yellowstone! This blog is getting transformed!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Eight Months: Thank You, Guatemala

Guatemala, I know you and I got off to a rocky start. Times weren't always happy or comforting. I learned I am very American and very not Guatemalan. But throughout it all, you helped me to become a stronger person.

Guatemala, in the end, I've grown fond of you. I've grown fond of your geometric conical volcanoes. Your huge cumulonimbus clouds edged in gold drift often through my mind. Your rich culture full of textiles, temples, and traditional cultures. I loved your rugged mountain country filled with canyons, valleys, and immense mountains. I've grown fond of you, Guatemala, that's just it.

Thank you, Guatemala, for letting me come home safely. Thank you for helping me grow and change. Thank you for inspiring my writing and photography. Thank you for teaching me to live alone. Thank you, Guatemala, for sharing weaving with me. Thank you for forcing me into a difficult situation. Thank you for giving me strength to get through each hard day. Thank you for sharing beauty that gave me joy. Thank you for the friends I met, people I knew, and people I will know due to a connection to you. Thank you for great coffee, cardamom, fresh fruit, and macademia nuts. Thank you for an awesome research project. Thank you for Mayan pyramids, Mayan language, and Mayan crafts.

Thank you for everything.

Thank you for you.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Cockroach

In September, a thick-shelled brown cockroach sauntered into my house behind my feet. It just walked right in and made itself at home. I freaked out when I saw it even as Beberly was saying, “Aiiii, no lo lastimes! Don’t hurt it!” I looked at her funny and thought, why the heck is she sympathizing for a nasty, dirty, infectious, multiplying, disgusting roach?! Eaaaaaeeech. Promptly, I tried to squash the nasty bugger but it speeded away out of site into the kitchen. My dreams that night were full of cockroach populations crawling all over my kitchen and bedroom, emerging from drains, squeezing under doorways, and hissing loudly at me. That’s it, I thought, this roach is going down.

Months past as every night I tried to smash its exoskeleton into oblivion. We had a tournament going on: who would win “survival of the fittest?” Finally, in October, I got it! I smashed it against the wall and watched it fall into the dark abyss behind the stove. Had I killed it? Could it be? But alas, as I stared into the darkness, I noted that its shiny body was missing. The bugger survived!

Reluctant to buy chemicals to kill it, I kept up the David and Goliath contest with the cockroach. It seemed that the roach, David, was winning, as I, the bumbling giant, had to learn to live with its filthy presence. Entomologists exclaimed about the benefits of roaches. New York City would be a giant mound of trash if cockroaches didn’t eat the garbage. They come in so many colors and sizes. They’re so useful,” they explained. But I didn’t care, to me, they would always be the terror of my middle school life, the haunting of their speedy frames dead on the stairwells and scuttling in the boiler room. I hated them.

I tried many tactics. I would keep all lights off and approach the wall by the stove silently prepared to bean it with a shoe. I would wake at various hours of the night and fly at it like a ghost to smash its ugly body. I went away for weeks at a time, hopeful that it would die from lack of food. I sprayed it with cleaning supplies. But, alas, no, it continued to live despite my many attempts. It did, however, become wary of me.

Finally, I resigned defeat. It would survive longer than my lease on the apartment. Fine, whatever, see if I care, I thought to myself as I packed my bags and headed to Honduras. Whatever, roach.

Ten days later I returned. All was still in the house. I went to the sink to fill up a glass of water and looked down at the drain. “Oh my goodness,” I exclaimed. “Oh my gosh!” For there, lying with its 5 legs prostrate (apparently I had smashed off one leg) and antenna askew, was David, the cockroach. Its one-inch frame glistened menacingly even in its final moments. I ran water in the sink, not wanting it to escape if it were merely playing dead. It spiraled and circled in the flow of water, a sole leg twitching. I dumped in cleaning fluids with a, “take that! Hah!” and finally, I squashed off its little head to make sure it was really dead as a doornail.

As it turns out, the cockroach did not outlast the lease. Goliath has won.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Hedman Alas

I am amazed, absolutely amazed, by Hedman Alas. For days I moaned and griped about how expensive it was to take the Hedman Alas busline from Guatemala City to Honduras. But, I had no idea what that ticket meant. In amazement, I climbed abord the immaculate, sparkling bus in Guatemala City. Here is what it was like:

  1. Clean, clean seats
  2. Working reading light
  3. Working air vent
  4. Burger King snack for breakfast
  5. Clean bathrooms
  6. Soda and chips for an afternoon snack
  7. All immigration services taken care of
  8. Armed guard
  9. Helpful and friendly bus attendants
  10. A recorded message about safety and enjoyment on the bs
  11. Seat belts
  12. Air conditioning
  13. Movie
  14. Speaker jack so the movie didn´t blare out at us all
  15. Blankets and pillows.

This was pure luxery. What an amazing bus. Then, I got on the economy Cotraipbal bus from San Pedro Sula to Jutiapa and was projected back into Latin American reality (none of the above included... except for one nice attendant who told me where to get off the bus)

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Sun’s Full Glory

It was four in the morning when we started up the 85 switchback hill. The faint light projected by my headlamp helped me concentrate on placing one foot in front of the other as I small-stepped it up the mountain. Before long, we left the dark town of Xexocom behind, swallowed in the valley below. Overhead occasional stars peaked out from the blanket of grey-black clouds above. I glanced only occasionally up at the weaning night as I focused full attention on my foot placement. My Asolo boots helped me climb ever higher towards a plateau high in the Cuchumatanes Mountains. It seemed like we were climbing to the roof of the world.

Two hours later the group huddled in a switchback to watch the sun dawn over the valley below. It was cold. I shivered as I pulled my sleeping bag around me and huddled so that only my face protruded from its lining. In the warm cocoon I dozed into the dreamless space of pre-dawn light only to be roused awake by Alex muttering about the clouds. My eyelids eased open and I looked at the gray light and heavy clouds accumulating above. It was going to rain. It hadn’t rained for months in Guatemala, but it was going to rain today.

The group began to wolf down their morning mosh, or oatmeal, and watch the clouds grow ever thicker and ever closer to our huge mountain. Before long fat drops of rain began to fall; a misting at first, then harder and faster. I hurried to pack away my sleeping bag, pull on my raincoat, and cover my pack in my rain cover. My whole body shivered, reminding me of how much the days of cold dampness affect my body temperature. I thought, can’t we get the rest of the hike started?

Finally, we began to move. It was still two and a half hours to the top of the 85 switchback hill. We had miles to hike before we would reach our destination of Canton Primero. Hours to go in the mist. I plodded upward, feeling increasingly like an obedient mule as I conveyor-belted myself up the steep slope. Each step cried my mantra: small step rev-o-lu-tion, small step rev-o-lu-tion, small step rev-o-lu-tion.

We emerged from the thick pine forest of the hill and onto a broad, glacial rock strewn plateau. The rocks seemed to embody the mist that hung thick and damp around us. We continued on, watching small, road-less communities herd sheep and goats along the alpine plateau. It was still cold and wet. I wrapped myself in every article of clothing I had brought on the hike but only the physical effort of walking kept me warm. When we stopped, the deep shivering started again in my body.

Although the cold and wet enveloped us, it awoke me to the wild mystery of this alpine environment. Where only fog lay in front of us, huge pine trees would emerge from the mist. Old Man’s Beard and other mosses popped out at my eyes, their bright spring greens contrasting the gray of the day. Indigenous people walking along a ridge would appear at first glance to be moving stones until a turn of a head, a shout, or an identification of color turned them from stone to human. Piles of firewood and adobe huts reminded me that while we were in the middle of no where, Cuchumatanes Mountains, Guatemala, we were in someone’s home, middle of no where, Cuchumatanes Mountains, Guatemala. It made me wonder how people came to live on the top of the 85 switchback hill.

Hours later of walking through this misty world we began a steep decent into the Pericon Valley. Evidence of a higher population density arose as we noted hillsides covered in wheat and cornfields. We slid down a muddy path strewn with garbage, manure, and broken grasses to a collection of houses on the steep hillside. Children’s faces, full of eager, yet wary curiosity stared at us from behind slopes, doorways, and shrubs. We had reached Canton Primero.

Our guide led us through a narrow space by the school and we were home. We had hiked 11 miles in record time, arriving 4 hours earlier than expected at our abandoned school/doghouse but actual shack in Canton Primero. Exhausted, we lay on the cement behind the real school and waited for the rain to stop. The sun toyed with us, coming out for brief moments before hiding behind sheets of rain and clouds. We spread our sleeping bags on a ladder under the roof, hoping the occasional sun would dry take away their dampness. We joked, laughed, and told stories as the hours whittled away and the sun began to sink behind the Cuchumatanes.

As if on key, as if to bless us and give us hope for a coming day, the lengthening sun broke from the clouds and bathed the valley in a brilliant sunset. It beckoned us to behold its beauty, a final gift after the misty, mysterious day. I fell asleep listening to the wind and occasional rain blow at the shack’s tin roof. Curled in my warm, dry sleeping bag, I said a blessing for the mysterious day and a prayer that tomorrow would wake up to the sun’s full glory.

Click Here for Photos on Flickr

Monday, February 11, 2008

Confrontations and Repeat Conversations

As a white, red-headed foreigner living in Guatemala, it’s hard not to feel like everyone targets you. It’s made even worse by the inaccurate stereotype that everyone who is white and a foreigner is obviously rich. As Hanne says, compared to the peasants, perhaps we are richer in their country. But it’s all relative, my friends.

Mostly, constantly feeling like I’m getting ripped off by nice people who think I’m rich leads for a very dramatic existence in Guatemala. All I want is to see this place, enjoy life, and be able to house and feed myself. Is that so much to ask? But several times a week, I have confrontations. Confrontations and repeat conversations.

I have confrontations about money: getting overcharged for services, haggling for a better price, and monetary demands from street kids. Repetative conversations seem the norm: gas is so expensive, but I’m undercharging her, but… but… but. Arguments trying to get a fair price, not the gringa price, take a lot of guts. Only once has someone said the truth, “well, you’re charged more because you’re white. You’re charged more because you’re not from here.” There’s one honest soul in this country, and he’s boatman in Panajachel (just kidding, there's lots of honest people).

What does it take people to get a fair price!? Oh, let me give you some scenarios.

  1. Taxi Drivers in Guatemala City

Nancy: How much is it to go to Zona 15, Vista Hermosa 1? (about 5 miles – should be Q40)

Taxi Driver: Oooooh, Q70.

Nancy: What?!

Taxi Driver: Q70.

Nancy: Why so much? It should be Q40.

Taxi Driver: Ooooh, but gas is soooooooo expensive these days. It costs sooooo much to drive around and Vista Hermosa is soooooo faaaaar away.

Nancy: It takes 10 minutes to get there. Q40.

Taxi Driver: No, seño, I can’t drive for that little. It is so expensive to get there. You can’t expect me to accept less than Q60.

Nancy: The last taxi driver took me for Q40.

Taxi Driver: Fine, fine, Q55. It’s just that gas is soooooo expensive. Look, it’s over Q24 a gallon. That’s sooooo much money. And Vista Hermosa is soooo far away.

Nancy: Q50.

Taxi driver: Q55.

Nancy: Q50.

Taxi driver: Fine, Q50. But, gas is so expensive these days. Look, it’s over Q24 a gallon. And Vista Hermosa is soooo far away.

By this time I’m trying not to roll my eyes and be annoyed at how expensive everything is in Guatemala City. The taxi drivers really like to talk about how expensive gas is when they see I’m white and I’m going to an exclusive part of town. The real reason for the price inflation is I’m white and a foreigner and obviously have money.

  1. Trama: the Women’s Weaving Cooperative.

Nancy: It says here in your brochure that a scarf takes about 10 hours to make and costs Q325. Why are you charging me more?

Doña Aurelia: Well, we charge by the hour and you used more than 10 hours to finish your project.

Nancy: But, after the loom was set up, I did all the work myself. Why are you charging me for work I did myself? Why don’t have a set price for projects?

Doña Aurelia: Hm, that’s a good point. I’ll tell Doña Amparo. You don’t have to pay the full amount. It’s okay.

Nancy: [confused at this negotiation] Okay, but I still want to give you a fair exchange.

Doña Aurelia: It’s okay.

[enter Doña Amparo]

Doña Amparo: Aiiiiiii, chica, how did your scarf turn out? Aiiiii, chica, it’s so pretty.

Doña Aurelia: We were just talking about how the price in the brochure and the cost of the scarf didn’t match and I said it was okay that she pays less because she says we didn’t help her and she did it all herself.

Nancy: What I said was that the prices don’t match, that it makes more sense to have a price per project that covers expenses and original labor, and that after the loom is set up I did the work myself.

Doña Amparo: Aiiii, chica, you’re right, we should have something in the brochure that says extra hours will be charged.

Nancy: That’s a great idea.

Doña Amparo: Aiii, chica, it’s just that we are supporting 400 women with this cooperative. We don’t even get a salary because all the money goes to the women. The money from the weaving classes goes to pay for paper, rent, staples and supplies. We have to have volunteers because we don’t even get paid. Aiii, chica, we have to make little projects ourselves in order to make a living. Aiii, chica, life is so hard. We’re supporting 400 women with this cooperative….

At this point Doña Amparo starts sounding like adults in Peanuts “waaaah wah wah wah wah.”

Nancy: I know, that’s why I decided to learn to weave here. But, the prices don’t match with what you’re charging.

Doña Amparo: Aiiii, chica, it’s true. Aiii, it’s just that some people weave in less time and we can’t charge them more when they work less time. Aiii, chica, life is so hard. We are supporting 400 women with this cooperative. We don’t even get a salary. Aiii, chica.

Doña Aurelia: She said it took longer because she didn’t make a scarf but a table runner since there are no spaces in the weaving.

Nancy: No, I said that the price in the brochure and the price you’re charging me don’t match and is too expensive for something I made myself.

Doña Amparo: Aiiiiiii, chica. Aiii, it’s just that some people weave in less time and we can’t charge them more when they work less time. Aiii, chica, life is so hard. We are supporting 400 women with this cooperative. We don’t even get a salary. Aiii, chica.

After twenty minutes of this repetitive conversation, I bought a cosmetic case in order to appease them and left, feeling less ripped off but still ripped off since I had left the same amount of money in the store as they were going to charge me in the first place.

The real reason for this price gauging is I’m white and a foreigner and obviously have money.

  1. The Rent for One Week at Esperanza’s House

Nancy: Esperanza, I’m leaving today, how much do you want me to give you for rent? I stayed here one week this week and two nights last week.

Esperanza: I’ll think about it.

Nancy: Okay.

[several hours later]

Esperanza: I decided to charge you Q150 for last week and Q350 for this week.

Nancy: But you charge Bridgette Q300 a week.

Esperanza: Yes, but when she came I decided to charge her less than the language students. Language students have to pay Q350 a week.

Nancy: But why are you charging me more than Bridgette? I’m not a language student. Can’t you charge me Q300?

Esperanza: Aiiiii, but I should be charging her Q350.

Nancy: But you’re charging her Q300.

Esperanza: Okay, Q300 for you too. But just because you’re one of my girls. Just for you and Bridgette, okay? I hope you send other students to me. You know I have such a good home here. Aiiiii, the gas is so expensive these days. It costs so much to buy gas and food and the gas is so expensive. Aiiiii, it costs soo much money.

Nancy: So Q300 for this week then? I’ll give it to you later.

Bridgette: How much is she charging you?

Nancy: Q150 for last week and Q300 for this week.

Bridgette: What?! I paid Q100 for last week and we were here for the same amount of time. That’s what Tania paid too. And she charged me too much for last week.

Craig: What is she charging you?

Nancy: Q150 for last week and Q300 for this week.

Craig: That’s not right. I pay Q350 a week and you were just here for two nights last week. You should only have to pay Q100 because Q350 divided by 7 is Q50 per day.

Nancy: You’re right! I was only here two days so it should only be Q100.

Craig: She’s probably trying to get more out of you because we’re all leaving and there won’t be more income for awhile.

Nancy: Esperanza, I’m confused. You are charging me Q150 for two nights last week but you only charged Bridgette Q100. Plus, the language students pay Q350 a week. Q350 divided by 7 is Q50 per day, which means I should only have to give you Q100.

Esperanza: Oh, but I charge Bridgette less per week. And I realized after I told her that I had asked for the wrong amount. I asked for too little from last week.

Nancy: Esperanza, the language students pay Q350 a week. Q350 divided by 7 is Q50 per day, which means I should only have to give you Q100 for last week.

Esperanza: Oh, but I charge Bridgette less per week. And I realized after I told her that I had asked for the wrong amount. I asked for too little from last week.

Nancy: Okay, Esperanza, I’ll give you Q400 total for this week and last week.

Esperanza: It’s okay because you’re one of my girls and I hope you will send language students to me and gas is so expensive these days. Aiii, it costs sooo much.

The real answer to this price inflation is Esperanza was loosing three renters in short time, was worried about money, and decided to price gauge me because I’m white, a foreigner, and obviously have money.

It’s hard for there not to be a constant feeling of getting screwed over with these kinds of confrontations. I swear, if I hear one more comment about gas prices I’m going to scream. This is what I get for being forward about everything.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Part of My House Flooded Last Night

When you think about flooding, normally you think about normal occurances. A pipe broke, it rained so hard the house flooded, the river rose, your ceiling leaked. But, you don't normally think about the other way a house floods. A way that seems almost foreign to developed countries' mindsets. It is, in fact, a very common flooding incident in Latin America. It happened to me today.

I awoke early in order to take the garbage out. As I trudged into my bathroom to empty the full can of soiled toilet paper, my flip flop slipped on a puddle of water. My sleep-fogged brain registered that something had happened to the toilet, but it didn’t look serious, so I took the garbage outside.

Then I noticed it, a veritable river of water oozing from the bathroom into the hallway. Puddles of toilet water ran downhill until forming a centimeter deep reservoir in my kitchen. It was the Latin American Bathroom Nightmare. The one fear all foreign travelers and livers in Latin America share. The toilet overflow. The porcelain explosion. The leaking toilet.

I stared at the network of streams, rivers, and lakes that had formed in my kitchen. Thank God the water didn’t go into either the living room, where my luggage is, or into the other part of the kitchen, where my computer cables are. I glared blindly at the puddles until I realized putting on my glasses would make it easier to see the extent of the damage.

It was time to fix the tank. I went into the bathroom, took off the porcelain tank top, and adjusted the water level screw. Then, on to the next predicament of the newly formed lake in my kitchen. Luckily, I had about 5 towels to employ in the soaking up of water, as mops in Guatemala are really just rags attached to a stick. Not very effective for efficient water soaking-up. One by one I grabbed soaked towels, strained them in the sink, and returned them to the kitchen lake. Finally, I managed to soak up the last of the puddle, mop away my dirty foot prints, and went back to bed. What was the point of cooking in a marsh? Twenty minutes later, the remaining water seemed to have dried up and I could go about my normal business. The one difference, I’d be watching that toilet to make sure it didn’t explode on me again. I’ve got its number. Oh Latin American toilet issues.

Only 20 days to go in Guatemala.

Friday, February 1, 2008

The Small Step Revolution

Trudging up yet another 30 degree slope and watching the line of hikers grow farther and farther away from me, I started thinking about my childhood. I have so many memories of being outside and enjoying nature. But rarely was I hiking. My brother and dad would always hike peaks and explore mountains while shy me and sympathetic mom would find other things to do. During this 11 mile day 2 of the Nebaj-Todos Santos hike I wondered at why I was so resistent to hiking as a kid. The answer I came up with was that I was always the smallest, the slowest, and the one that was left in the dust. I would always get so upset as the rest of my family seemed to keep fast paces and I was stuck always trying to catch up. It would always make my little face screw up with sobs and I would run, bike, or trot as fast as I could to keep up. And I never could. Man, I hated it!

Moving to Idaho changed my attitude about outdoor activities like climbing, mountain biking, backpacking, and biking. I naturally fell into its great outdoor community and discovered I could keep up and relly truly loved all the above activities! I was finally in a place where I could consistently get outside and was with friends who also loved it, taught me, and helped me improve my skills. Now when my folks and I were in the West, I could keep up and loved watching them enjoy the outdoor experiences too. Life was good. I realized that I was a consistent hiker. Maybe not fire crew material, but consistent. No more sobbing about being in the back for me! I relished the back!

I’ve been two-footing it through Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and Guatemala since. People told me I was a good hiker, always in a good mood, okay with different paces, and enjoy the hike. So, now, hiking through the Cuchumatanes, what was the deal? There the group went, hundreds of feet in front of me, speeding through the Cuchumatanes Mountains, and I was left in the dust... again. Dangit!

I remembered how people always give such helpful advice as “keep a steady pace and you’ll make it to the top. Don’t take breaks. Just keep going.” Well, shoot, I was keeping a steady pace and still having to take breathers on the uphills. I couldn’t breath at over 3000 meters without taking a break. Why could everyone else keep up with the ridiculously fast guide? Meah!

Finally, Alex slowed down to wait for me. We talked about hiking skills and she said, “You’re still taking really big steps. Take really little ones and you’ll get there. Small steps get you anywhere you need to go!” I immediately changed my steps and realized the small step revolution. All of a sudden I could power up those hills! I was hiking away, not needing breaks, and moving like a mule, sherpa, or llama up those 30 degree slopes. Why hadn’t anyone told me this crucial step before? Why hadn’t they said, “You need to have a consistent pace and take small steps when climbing hills”? Come on, people, the Small Step Revolution can get you anywhere!

I saw the rest of the hike unfold in frot of me. I could make it up and down all those mountains with the small step revolution! And indeed I could. My breaks reduced to nothing as miles melted under my feet. But still, the group was way ahead of me no matter what I did. I guess I am just not a fast hiker. But instead of my face screwing up with repressed sobs at being left in the dust, I enjoyed developing my small step skills, examining the dark soil under my feet, and visiting with the handful of other people who couldn’t, didn’t, or wouldn’t keep up with the guides’ army-training-pace march through the mountains. Fine, I thought, I can’t keep up, but I can consistently hike with my pace and small steps all the way from Nebaj to Todos Santos (38 miles).

The small step revolution gets you anywhere your head and heart desire!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Seven Months

This month:
  1. I finished my research in Tikal. That felt really good.
  2. I said goodbye to Tikal. People were sad and I was glad to be done.
  3. I hiked the Cuchumatanes Mountains, the tallest non-volcanic mountains in Central America, at a break-neck speed because of the guide. That messed up my Achilles tendons, which did not feel good.
  4. I experienced the small step revolution (more on that later). That was revolutionizing.
  5. I summitted La Torre (3837 m), the tallest non-volcanic point in Central America. That was exhausting.
  6. I met lots of cool people in Tikal and Xela. That was invigorating.
  7. I decided not to volunteer with Quetzaltrekkers in order to return to the USA. That was bitter-sweet.
  8. I entered data and transcribed interviews. That was an accomplishment.
  9. I felt good about Guatemala while in Xela. It's such a cool place. That was good.
  10. I finally discovered the Menonite bakery in Xela. That was like being in the USA with all the doughnuts, cookies, cinnamon rolls, and whoopie pies. MMMMMMM.
  11. I knit a hat. That was relaxing.
  12. I sat in chujs/temascals/Mayan saunas. That was refreshing.
  13. I learned to weave. That has yet to be judged.

Monday, January 21, 2008

La Famosa Nancy

I said goodbye to Tikal last week. Goodbye to the eerie hooting of the howler monkeys, to mosquitos, to the moldering smell of the buildings, and to all the park staff. Hundreds of people work in Tikal on various maintenance, construction, and administration projects. Saying goodbye to the park made me realize the number of people I had met and the impact I had had on this community.

At the end of my first day in Tikal in August, 2007, it seemed that everyone knew my name, which developed the affectionate nick name "la famosa Nancy"or famous Nancy. When I returned to the park a week later I was greeted by hundreds of workers with "hi, Nancy! Good to see you Nancy! You're back Nancy!" I was surprised that so many people remembered me. That recognition continued throughout my study as every day staff greeted me and talked to me with great interest. In Flores, store owners, Rotary members, and taxi drivers came to know who I was and greet me as well. Interesting, I thought, since I only interacted on a sporadic basis with all of them.

Then, my last week in Tikal, when I was saying my goodbyes to Don Salamon, the maintenance staff, Don Ramon, Carlos, and the other park staff, I realized that I had made a difference here. People knew me and liked me and seemed sad that I was leaving their small community. I received so many hugs, cheek kisses, trinkets, and handshakes that I finally saw that the park staff enjoyed my company. They recognized me as Nancy who sits in the Plaza and always asks how we are doing. Or as Nancy who says hi. Or just as Nancy the researcher. When both Carlos and Don Salamon seemed overcome with emotion at my parting, I was amazed that such small interactions over the course of 5 months could impact them so.

For me too, it was a sad parting from Tikal. I will miss hearing about Mayan cosmology from Don Salamon, joking with Carlos in American accents, and smiling when Rotary members shouted my full name gladly when they saw me. It was a great experience being part of Tikal and Flores' communities. It warms me to think that people cared about me there. And for that I will always be thankful.

Sunday, January 13, 2008


Wal-Mart owns Pais, my local grocery store. It also owns Hiper-Pais, la Torre, la Bodega, Maxi Bodega, and la Despensa. It owns every single chain grocery store in this country. In my neighborhood, I have no choice but to shop Wal-Mart. Inside, I can buy Equate products and am cheerfully greeted by some Wal-Mart/Pais employee. Few Guatemalans appear concerned by the fact that their local grocery stores have sold their souls to Wal-Mart. This is so different from the people I know in the United States who find it a serious affront to their personal values to even look at a Wal-Mart. The horror super store with its bouncing smiling ball is a hit in Guatemala. Yet, the only way to identify that the stores are actually Wal-Mart stores is to look at the smiling badges the checkers wear. There is the familiar star and logo Wal-Mart. I’ve sold my soul for the convenience shopping in my neighborhood.

The only act of rebellion against the mega power that I've seen was a grafitti on the side of la Despensa in Xela. It read, “ No a Wal-Mart. No al imperialismo. No Wal-Mart. No imperialism.” Ironically, the next day the message had been painted over and the wall returned to its brainwashed state of no recognition.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

100 Beautiful Things about Guatemala

Today in Eat, Pray, Love, I listened to Gilbert’s reflections of her time in India studying in an ashram and meditating. One particular quote stood out to me, “You are, after all, what you think. Your emotions are slaves to your thoughts and you are slave to your emotions.” I forget sometimes to remember what is beautiful or what makes me happy in Guatemala. I feel so out of place that it is often easier to reflect on what’s complicated about Guatemala and not what makes it such an intriguing place. After such a heavy post, I wanted to express some of the beauty I see in Guatemala:

  1. Marvin Cone clouds billow every day in the sky due to tropical convection. In the evenings they turn brilliant pinks, oranges, and yellows.
  2. Blossoms everywhere in every color, shape, and texture.
  3. Warm weather and blue skies.
  4. Pupusas – stuffed tortillas filled with cheese, meat, beans, you name it. They’re actually from El Salvador, but they’re quite popular here.
  5. Vibrant colors of weavings and traditional fabrics.
  6. Horrible Guatemalan-Spanish accents that make everyone sound like they’re constantly whining.
  7. Jade.
  8. Mayan temples.
  9. Tajumulco.
  10. Xela aka Xelaju aka Quetzaltenango aka my favorite town in Guatemala.
  11. Antigua.
  12. Chocolate from Chocotenango.
  13. Hot chocolate with cinnamon that tastes like the elixir of the gods.
  14. Coffee.
  15. Smiles and encouragement at the gym.
  16. Micro buses that get me around the country.
  17. Refaccion, even though I hate snack break.
  18. The Westin Camino Real where Rotary meets weekly.
  19. My apartment, gray walls and everything.
  20. The toothless woman who sells tortillas and always grins when she sees me.
  21. The Curves security guards with their gold-lined teeth.
  22. The afternoon sun that turns everything golden.
  23. Toucans and parrots.
  24. Spider and howler monkeys.
  25. The checkers at the grocery store who all know me and always say hi.
  26. Vista Hermosa Bookshop, my local English language bookstore.
  27. Rainbow Room café in Antigua although I never find good books there.
  28. The very effeminate waiter at the bagel shop who knows exactly what I want every time I go in (1/2 dozen bagels, everything, onion, and some more everything).
  29. The fact that the Café Barista waiters always pretend not to know who I am, even though they really do.
  30. Gelato samples at Café Barista.
  31. Plants that survive in the canopy by absorbing mist from the air.
  32. Quetzales.
  33. Tikal.
  34. Peten Itza and Yaxha lakes.
  35. Lake Atitlan, even though I don’t like it.
  36. Quetzaltrekkers.
  37. Cookies from the Menonite bakery in Xela.
  38. Cement slides I fly off of and crash spectacularly and scrape my knee on.
  39. Fresh tropical fruit like pineapples, zapotes, bananas, strawberries.
  40. Hot atol on cold mornings.
  41. Museums about the Maya, even though they need to work on their interpretation.
  42. My taxi driver, Juan Alonzo, just because he always gives me rides and looks out for me.
  43. Solitude, although I am frequently lonely.
  44. The back road to Curves.
  45. The poor taco stand boy trying to cross the street with his Pepsi Cola shaped grill.
  46. Rotary Club Guatemala Sur, for all its machismo actions and bingo playing.
  47. Triple days for Tigo cards.
  48. Calling internationally on my cell phone.
  49. The view of Volcanes Agua, Fuego, and Acatenango from the cross walk by the grocery store.
  50. Fruit venders who know what fruit I want to buy and the price I want to buy it at.
  51. Rex II, the golden retriever, who is always glad to see me.
  52. The fact the dog down the street and I made friends when I let her back inside her gate after she had somehow gotten out and didn’t know how to get back in.
  53. The crisp contrast between clear blue skies and fantastically painted walls, brightly colored flowers, and green leaves.
  54. The road to Xela. It takes forever, but the whole way is a beautiful mosaic of volcanoes, corn fields, and valleys.
  55. Sunsets and sunrises.
  56. Having time to write.
  57. The clipped Spanish spoken by the indigenous Maya.
  58. The way national tourists in Tikal say they go to see Tikal to make sure it really exists.
  59. Travelers excited to be in Guatemala.
  60. Lightening storms.
  61. Crashing waves and black sand beaches of Monterrico.
  62. Watching baby sea turtles get released into the ocean.
  63. Two for one movie nights at the movie theater.
  64. Poporopo, the word for popcorn.
  65. Licuados, or smoothies, delicious whether they are made with water, milk, or yogurt.
  66. How it takes so long to get anywhere you notice the changing scenery
  67. Beberly and her hugs.
  68. The ambivalent nature of Guatemalan relationships.
  69. The fact that Guatemala imports cranberries, cheddar cheese, Silk soy milk, Twix, and maple syrup.
  70. Slang.
  71. How the insanity of this country makes me laugh, shake my head, and jump on board… sort of.
  72. Chicken buses (like the Orellana Chicken Buses with their naked lady emblems).
  73. Crowding over 100 people into chicken buses
  74. Sitting in the back of a chicken bus and flying feet into the air whenever the bus goes over a speed bump (about ever 10 minutes).
  75. Pollo Campero and everyone’s obsession with it (it’s soooo good).
  76. Really ugly necklaces and embroidery thread covered pens that end up in Goodwill.
  77. Guatemalans perseverance even when the going gets tough.
  78. Scrambled eggs, refried beans, tortillas, and chili sauce being the only meal in the entire country (besides Pollo Campero).
  79. The number of tortillas one person eats per day (at least 20).
  80. Canyons, mountains, and plains.
  81. Watching Pacaya spew out lava.
  82. Being close enough to the USA that people come to visit.
  83. How random people always offer help or advise, even when I don’t ask for it.
  84. Ceiba trees.
  85. Hearing awful ranchera songs for hours on the bus (“Si fuera ladron, te robaria tu cuerpo, te robaria tus besos, te robaria tu amor” If I was a thief, I would steal your body, I would steal your kises, I would steal your love).
  86. How very inflexible people are when it comes to sizes of things (“We only have the large size.” “Can’t you just fill it less?” “But we only have the large”).
  87. Too many people employed in one store so that my table gets mopped around at least three times while I’m sitting at it.
  88. Orquids.
  89. Zip lines in Chuiraxamolo Municipal Park.
  90. How shoestring backpackers think Casa Argentina in Xela is the bomb, when it’s really just a gross, dirty hostel with broken beds and toilets that don’t function.
  91. Teresita from Santiago Atitlan.
  92. Church ruins in Antigua.
  93. Pops ice cream and people’s obsession with eating it, especially in banana splits.
  94. Vesuvio Pizzaria, the only good pizza I’ve ever eaten in Latin America (besides one other place in Ecuador).
  95. Trees at 4000 meters.
  96. How excited people get about weather changes like snow in the highlands.
  97. Carlos Peña hairstyles. Nothing is hotter than the skunk cut.
  98. The Cathedral in Xela.
  99. The traditional dress of women from Zunil – florescent colors.
  100. Esperanza and her family with their ready laugh, jokes, smiles, and welcoming embraces.

These things make me happy everyday. They’re beautiful even when I don’t always think they are beautiful at the time. Although life in Guatemala is hard, I reflect on this list and it gives me joy day.