Shoulder Seasons

Twice a year they come around - the shoulder seasons. What are shoulder seasons? Shoulder seasons are those times of year when there is either too little traffic or too difficult access to make business even kinda profitable. Shoulder seasons are those times of year when we catch up on chores we have little time to address during the regular seasons. They are the times when we relax, enjoy where we live, and even take some 'me' time with family or just on our own.

Shoulder seasons are a blessing and a curse. Certainly they are a blessing because we need some time to rest. On the other hand, they are a curse (in the broad sense) because they eat up a lot of the profit from the regular seasons.

So, do I love the shoulder seasons? Yes. Are they beneficial to our business? That depends!

Contemplating how much I enjoy having Elk Lake to myself, I must admit I love our shoulder seasons. No one is there. No one to mar the quiet. No one to scare the wildlife. No one to leave tracks up 'my draw'. No one to stop me from settling down in front of the fire (or by a sunny window) and reading a good book. No one to keep me from visiting with friends who drop by. Yes, shoulder seasons are a blessing.

However, without good regular seasons, shoulder seasons can easily become a curse. There is a fine line between 'making a living' and 'barely scraping by'. Many people in our country are facing this these days. Unemployment is nice - while it lasts. But at some point, if you do not have the work, your money just won't keep up with your bills. THIS is the danger of the shoulder season.

Few people really comprehend what it means to make your living doing seasonal work. If you are a seasonal employee, chances are you either have another source of income or you follow the work. While you may start the season up north, you're likely to spend your winters further south. However, for business owners, it isn't quite that easy. Who can pick up a resort or a gas station or a rental shop or a restaurant or an auto repair shop or a hardware store or a grocery store or. . .and follow the business? Few, if any.

In other words, seasonal work is just that - seasonal. In the regular season, seasonal business owners store up for the dry season. How many of you have sufficient savings to pay the bills (which never stop coming) for a few months while you wait for work? Not many, I wager. Yet, unless a business owner in a seasonal area operates under this mentality, the business will quickly go under.

So, when organizations like "The Greater Yellowstone Coalition" (who, I believe have done many good things in and around YNP) continue to strive to break the back of our winter business, I grind my teeth. What people with regular paychecks fail to understand is: I only have a few months to make enough money to not only pay my bills all year but to allow me to upkeep and improve my business. If you take away a big chunk of my income, how, exactly, do you expect me to survive?

I know. That is my problem. After all, I bought a seasonal business. So, didn't I, in essence, ask for this problem?

Well, that presents an interesting question. Yes, I bought a seasonal business. You probably chose to go to work for an employer. I bought a business with the understanding I would have so many months of the year when the income would cover my expenses plus allow me to set aside something for the down times. You agreed to work for your employer for a certain wage.

Now, time will tell if we have made wise choices. It will also reveal who has learned to pinch their pennies and leave their nest egg untouched. However, I suspect most employees would be quite angry if someone decided your employer should only operate 4 hours a day instead of 8 because they thought your employer was too noisy. Granted, the closure will make the neighborhood a quieter place to live. Certainly it will please those who live nearby. However, what is going to happen? Yep, you are suddenly going to find your income cut in half. Don't get your dander up! It's good for the community and the environment - they say.

What we fail to take into account as we press toward our noble agendas is the trickle down effect. While your employer used to provide a family wage for say, 15 families, they can now only provide half that wage. Do your bills cut in half? Of course not. So, now you shop less. You purchase less fuel. You don't visit the hardware store except in an emergency because you cannot improve, you just hope to keep a roof over your head. Hah! Who has the money to eat out? A vacation - that becomes a memory from happier days.

Now, you may say - phooey with this. I'm moving to someplace where I can get a decent job. Good idea. But, what about your employer? What about all those other businesses who depended upon the 15 families who frequented their shops (after all, they were in business because you wanted or needed their services)?

You see, cutting snowmobile numbers in Yellowstone National Park, might sound like a good idea. It obviously appeals to the groups who hold power right now. However, I like to think those who are pushing their agenda just haven't thought about what this is going to do to all the other people - people who have lived and loved in the Yellowstone area all of their lives. People who own business which cannot move. People who stand to lose it all!

Still enjoying the shoulder seasons!

Lady of the Lake


They're Back???

It has been a memorable year for wolves in SW Montana. We just completed our first, official Montana wolf hunting season. To no one's surprise (at least the 'no ones' who live in our neck of the woods) it was largely successful. Earlier local ranchers west of here endured the most extensive sheep slaughter (around 150 animals in a two week time frame) in Montana history. This resulted in an entire wolf pack loosing their lives to FWP trappers. Closer to home, there were the wolves which were hunted by trappers near Hidden Lake throughout most of the summer season.

While I know the wolf population is still very healthy, I really expected all the local pressure would have made the local animals not only less in number, but less in confidence. Wrong!

Snow levels are still not sufficient for snowmobiling to the lodge. In fact, they are moderate enough we can still reach it by vehicle. However, since our snowmobiles are NOT at the lodge, we are not staying there full time. In fact, we are playing the tricky early winter game - time at the lodge without getting trapped at the lodge :-) All that to say, there has not been an uninterupped human presence at Elk Lake for the last month. However, taken in context with the facts: wolves in our area have been SHOT at and KILLED, I was amazed by their boldness.

Late last week we arrived at the lodge to find that during the last 24 hours, two elk had been killed on the now frozen lake surface not far from the lodge. The wind was blowing stiffly from the north, obscuring a clear view across the lake. Craig's attention, however, was captured when an eagle flew up from the middle of the bay. Through the binoculars Craig could see the not one, but two dead animals on which they were feeding.

At first he suspected dead coyotes. Upon closer inspection, however, he determined the dark spots were too big to be coyotes. Wolves, perhaps? After all, local frustration has been high enough we suspect there are folks out there who would shoot a wolf, regardless of the legality. The one thing we did NOT expect was a wolf kill! Not this close to the lodge! Not in the wide open!

Curiosity got the better of expedience. Bundled in our cold weather gear we treked out onto the ice. By this time of year the ice is usually quite thick. However, we tred carefully for the first hundred yards, listening for any sound which would indicate a less than trustworthy surface. No problem.

As we drew closer, the first dark spot materialized into a dead elk. With 'thin ice' still in mind, we postulated it may have broken through the ice, possibly broken a leg or gotten stuck, and thus become food for the scavengers. This illusion shattered as we drew closer.

Hair strewn across the lake and large bloody drag spots were the first clues. This animal had not died a natural death! While the cow was not yet frozen solid (with wind chills well below zero this said she hadn't been there long), most of her choice body parts were already consumed.

Between the cow (who lay in about the middle of the bay) and her calf (who lay closer to the far shore), wolf tracks, still quite clear despite the blowing snow, told the rest of the story. In fact, except for one lone coyote, three eagles, a few crows and a half dozen magpies, the primary consumers had obviously been a pack of at least four wolves.

And, so the question remains? What does this bode for our winter? Will we enjoy / endure another winter of the wolf? Are the local animals that hungry? Are there that many? Or, perhaps, is this just a chance kill committed by animals who were just following the elk herd to their winter range?

Time will tell. And, while I look forward to more possible wolf sightings this winter, I also know I will be skiing with one eye to the rear and both ears open - just in case! So continues the 'never-dull-for-a-moment' saga of life at Elk Lake!

Lady of the Lake


Special Moments

One of the benefits of living at Elk Lake (there are many, as some of you might guess) is the opportunity to observe wildlife in either places few if any go or in seasons few if any are around. And, while I do not have the camera equipment possessed by many of our guests, if I have the time, I am usually blessed with a few unique occasions to observe and record our various wild animals in their natural settings following their daily routines.

Late last fall I enjoyed such an experience. Not far from the lodge is a little known and rarely visited pond. While in our travels I have seen Trumpeter Swans floating placidly on small bodies of water bordering busy byways, I doubt they spend any of their lives in the Centennial. Our swans are still wild. They will tolerate human presence - to a point and at a distance. Thus it was with pleasure I spent nearly one and a half hours observing these birds from a relatively nearby location.

In fact, while it made for less exciting pictures, they paid me perhaps the highest compliment I have ever received from our wild friends by going to sleep in my presence. At one point every bird on the pond (and there were more than twenty) had its head tucked in its wing. Amazing!

Trumpeter Swans were obviously named for their unique vocal abilities. I have heard these large birds talking in the distance. I have heard them calling to one another as they flew. However, I did not know how vocal they are when completely undisturbed. Except when sleeping, it seemed these birds were always calling back and forth to each other.

Of course the shots every swan photographer wants are the ones with the birds facing each other, necks arched to form the distinctive heart shape. Well, I can't say I had much luck in this area. Just one hazy shot from across the pond.

The other coveted pose is with wings spread. In this area, although my shots do not begin to compete with those taken by Jerry James (which I shared in a recent post), I did have a bit more luck.

Of course there were numerous other photo opportunities so I took a lot of pictures. Many look like repeats of other shots. Many are too tame, too calm, too predictable or just plain poor. However, I will share a few more which are, at least, interesting. In these two shots you get a glimpse of the birds' curiosity.

While the famous shots are beautiful, these graceful birds tend to look good no matter what they are doing.

In fact, their actions often appeared synchronized.

Yes, I live in a beautiful place, surrounded by beautiful creatures. I trust I never take it for granted or begin to see it as common place. I have learned, however, there is beauty wherever one goes - if we will but look for it. I hope you are enjoying the beauty in your area, too.

Lady of the Lake


The "OFF" Season

Part of what helps us regain our sanity after a particularly long or trying or busy summer / fall season is our off season. In fact, having owned a hospitality business for several years during an earlier time in life, we knew the value of time off. However, when you are self employed, you pay at least twice for time off. One - you pay someone to take your place. Two - you lose business or you get behind (because you aren't there to do the work). For this and other reasons many self-employed folks often deny themselves badly needed breaks.

So, when we went looking for another business, we kept this factor prominent in our minds. Anyone who has visited Elk Lake, anyone who knows us at all, can testify the truth when I say that is not the primary reason we chose Elk Lake. However, it definitely made the place more attractive.

Anyone who has the ability, the opportunity, and any pride at all has a job. Quite frankly, I have little time for folks who chose to sit around when they can and should be serving in a productive role in society. However, as everyone with a job can testify, no matter how much you love your job, there are times when work is, well, work!

So it is with Elk Lake. While we live in the most wonderful spot anyone could ever ask to live, while we have the privilege of working with, serving and meeting some of the most wonderful people on God's green earth, while we enjoy what we do most of the time, even Elk Lake can sometimes become 'work'. Thus, when those rare days dawn - those days when I'd really rather not go fix another breakfast, prep for another lunch time, do another load of laundry, clean another cabin, greet another guest, serve another dinner - and, in all honesty they come, rarely, but they do come - knowing a time of rest is coming helps me face the harder days.

Unless you've worked in the hospitality business you probably do not know the estimated average time to burnout is five years. Well, I'm glad to say we've soared right on past. And, frankly, I contribute our continued love for Elk Lake to the wonderful guests who have enriched our lives and the forced down times which allow us to really relax, relish and strengthen our family unity, and enjoy the wonderful place we live.

One of the best things about living and working in such a wonderful location is the grandeur, beauty, and recreation which sit right outside our back (or front) door. One of the hardest things about living and working in such a fantastic place is the work which keeps us from enjoying the wonders outside our doors. Thus, it is the down times which allow us to enjoy what our guests experience the rest of the year. And, just to set the record straight, we NEVER begrudge our guests their all-too-short time to indulge in the glories which surround us. Never for a day have we forgotten they are the reason we can live at and enjoy Elk Lake. Never have we lost sight of the privilege we have in facilitating their short stay in our part of God's country. Never have we failed to realize how short their time here as compared to ours.

Yet, when our days come, we treasure and relish them. For, not only are we enriched and delighted to enjoy the special treasures Elk Lake has to offer, we are also refreshed and rejuvenated so we look forward to the guests who will soon arrive.

Thus as we take our break and enjoy Elk Lake a little selfishly - all to ourselves - know as each day passes we are growing more and more excited about sharing our wonderful location with 'you'!

Lady of the Lake