Thursday, September 8, 2016

Autobobography IX—Highlands

I’m in Boston town, in some restaurant
I got no idea what I want
Well, maybe I do but I’m just really not sure

One last place piece. I grew up in the eastern megalopolis, but in a small town that at the time couldn’t have even been called a suburb. The earliest Boston experience I remember involved going to a medical center for testing to see what I was allergic to—really, it was more a question of what I wasn’t allergic to. The procedure was nothing traumatic and what I really remember is going to a nearby diner with my father afterward and having beef stew, blueberry pie, and a glass of milk.

My other early Boston memories came about because my grandfather knew someone in professional baseball. In 1967, the Impossible Dream year for the Red Sox, I met one of the pitchers who took my program back to the locker room and returned it with autographs from most of the team, the longest and biggest being Carl Yastrzemski. At a game the following year I got a baseball autographed by the Minnesota Twins. 

Twenty years later I was working for a financial corporation which had private boxes at Fenway and Boston Garden and I was able to see Sox and Celtics games that way. At the Red Sox game, a foul ball flew past us into the room where some of our group was watching the game on television. My only other fond memory of those corporate years is when I told one of the people working for me to take as much time off as she needed after her pet died.

During the fifteen years I lived in or around Boston, I attended hundreds if not thousands of movies, concerts, plays, dance performances, museum exhibits, and lectures including hearing Gary Snyder. I took adult education classes in Boston, Cambridge, and Brookline, as well as through Harvard Extension School in subjects including writing, nature, tai chi, and many more.

I took frequent train trips west to Walden Pond, north to Rockport, south to a large Audubon hiking area, and boats east to watch the humpbacks. I walked and ran through all the parks in Boston’s Emerald Necklace. One regular routine was to take a couple subway lines to hang out in Harvard Square on Saturday nights and buy an early copy of Sunday’s Boston Globe. Another was trying new restaurants with two coworkers, women from Italy and Trinidad (much more interesting than Americans).

It was a good life in a city I loved. Even with outrageous Boston rents, I was saving money while working less than forty hours a week. Eventually though, all the opportunities stopped interesting me, and even though offered a leave of absence by the college where I’d worked for ten years, I knew it was time to move away from the area permanently, a move I’ve never regretted despite still considering Boston one of my favorite cities.

I’ve written more than enough about Yellowstone in the four years I lived there and since, but I have to include the Rockies in these place pieces, especially in one titled Highlands. Waiting for the bus in Minneapolis on my first trip there, I met a woman in line who lived in my destination Bozeman and we talked much of the way across the country. When the first snow covered mountains—the Crazies—came into view, she said this is why we live here.

The views were sensational, but the wildlife was the reason I lived in Yellowstone for four years. Wildlife as it should be, large and free, with humans just one part of the landscape instead of the only part. In theory in the park, humans weren’t allowed to treat the natural world with the contempt they show in most of the world, but assholes are assholes and can’t always be controlled. People have been damaging Yellowstone’s features and killing its wildlife ever since it was created. 

Watching that behavior got to be a drag, and I think I got out just in time before it got even worse with increased visitation. Despite that pain, what ultimately drove me from Yellowstone was feeling betrayed and disappointed by people I knew and the company I worked for. I’ll never go back unless there are major changes in how tourists are dealt with. And even if the tourists are handled better, there’s still a big chunk of the population of the surrounding states to deal with—the ones who couldn’t wait, and sometimes didn’t, to kill a wolf and now foam at the mouth for the chance to kill a grizzly. People—can’t live with them, can’t manage their population. Wildlife—life without them is a poor substitute.

I had an offer to work in Yellowstone thirty years earlier than I eventually did. I would have had the chance to experience all that thirty years earlier, including meeting a woman who started then who I later worked for when I finally did get to the park. Looking back, I think the decision to not go to Yellowstone in 1980 might have changed my life more than any other I’ve made—I don’t exactly regret it, because many experiences I’ve had and people I’ve known would have been missed in exchange—but it feels like it would have been more life-changing than the many moves I’ve made or not made or the two marriages which didn’t happen. 

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