Woods Queerness

March 24, 2015…32* and lightly snowing
While the month has not yet ended, I’m going to go ahead and say March is going out like a lion.  It has been snowing pretty steadily since yesterday around noon and believe it or not, it’s the heaviest snowfall we’ve received since Christmas.  The entire yard was bare just two days ago and now it’s covered by 3-4” of fresh, fluffy snow.  Both Jake and I love the snow…but we were also pretty jazzed about Spring arriving early.
And indeed Spring did arrive early!  In my past post I was waiting to see if Jake would be able to get our truck back in from its winter home out at Henry’s Lake.  And he did!  But his trip out on our little two-wheel-drive quad was not without drama.  Everything was fine and dandy on the Montana side of the Continental Divide, but the snow and ice was thicker on the Idaho side.  At one precipitous point, Jake said the quad was sliding sideways down the road and all he could do was hold on and go for the ride.  By his account the sideways ride lasted only about 30’ but it felt like a mile and a half.  At least he was facing the bank.
It was a happy moment when I heard the throaty rumble of our truck headed toward the Lodge so I jumped out to snap some pictures of the homecoming.  It may sound silly to those of you who don’t live this lifestyle, but it really is like a family member coming home.  And while neither Jake nor I mind being isolated from the rest of the world during winter, it’s nice to know we CAN easily go to town any time we want.
My first adventure “out” was to accompany Jake to pick up our little trailer out on Red Rock Road.  Kanela was not about to be left behind and I’m not sure who had more fun being “on the road again.”
I had to take some pictures of Centennial Valley, of course.  Every time Jake returned from snowmobiling out for groceries, he would wax poetic about the beauty of the Valley and he was right.  The mountains far off in the distance were so pristinely beautiful with their marshmallow topping.  And closer in a couple of moose posed nicely.
But some parts of the road where downright ugly.
We finally got to our sad little trailer abandoned by the side of the road.  It looked like a really bad piece of sculpture and I can only imagine the head shaking and scratching that went on when others passed by it.  We loaded the mangled mess into the back of the truck and brought it home for some much needed attention.  The skis are toast but we don’t have to worry about that until next winter since the trailer is now wearing its summer tires.
Our next outing was to Bozeman to get a jump start on bringing in summertime supplies.  Not much of a story there except for this…a thing called “woods queerness”…”brought on by solitude and a growing awareness of the emptiness all around.”  The term comes from a wonderful book published in 1942 entitled, We Took To The Woods by Louise Dickinson Rich.  It’s a true story about a couple who lived deep in the woods in Maine for many years.  At one point Louise realized she hadn’t been Outside for four years and she wondered if she was going “woods queer.”  It manifests itself in little ways, like when you finally re-enter civilization you see hidden meanings in what people say or the way they look at you.  It can make you question and scrutinize your every thought and act.  Going to Bozeman for me was perhaps not this dramatic, but I did find myself being hyper-aware of how I was acting in the shops and trying not to overwhelm ordinary people with my propensity to be really friendly and talk too much. (I know from living in the big city of Boston for years that being too friendly is perceived as “odd.”)
I think I did a pretty good job of holding it together.  Or did I…


Yet another grocery-getting adventure.

March 10, 2015…45* and not a cloud in the sky!

Picking up where I left off on my last post…there is no “perfect world.”  Jake did make it out to the truck on our little 2-wheel-drive ATV but the Pass remained “impassable” to street vehicles.  He was able, however, to get to town for a few heads of lettuce and bags of tomatoes which he carried in a cooler strapped to the back of the ATV.  The ATV is so small that with a cooler on back, Jake has to scrunch all the way forward on the machine…he ends up looking a bit like an adult trying to ride a tricycle.
So, with the knowledge in hand that we wouldn’t be able to put in “a big Sysco order” (as we had fantasized), we decided to put in a “bare minimum Sysco order” to see us through at least a few weeks.  We can carry two large coolers on our trailer so we ordered two boxes each of the three most vital components to our lunches: hamburgers, buns, and fries.
Since Jake had to cover several miles of dirt pulling our trailer with skis attached, he decided to screw metal flashing on the bottoms to protect the plastic from the sharp rocks.  (He couldn’t replace the skis with wheels because he knew there was too much snow on the Pass to get through.)  Well, that flashing lasted about 2 miles before the screw heads sheared off and the metal went a-flappin’ down the road.  A few miles later, one of the skis decided it had had ENOUGH and twisted itself sideways and then backwards rendering the trailer unusable for a good long time.
Knowing that he had no option but to move forward, Jake unhooked the trailer and dragged it to the ditch, to be recovered when we (by that I mean “he”) could get back out to it to replace the skis with wheels.  Meanwhile, the Sysco order was already in West Yellowstone awaiting Jake’s arrival, so he hightailed it to the truck and sped on his way.  I’m sure he was doing some pretty deep head scratching during that ride trying to figure out how he was going to the our load of groceries back to the Lodge!  Well, as it turns out, he was so preoccupied with those thoughts that he forgot the month’s bank deposit in his backpack which was sitting out in the wide open on the back of the ATV back at Henry’s Lake.
You can just imagine the panic that set in.
Jake hightailed it back to Henry’s Lake, tummy rumbling because he didn’t even stop to pick up a bite to eat, all the while cursing his luck, the weather, the trailer, and anything else that popped into his mind.  I’m pretty sure I even made the list a time or two.  But no harm, no foul…the backpack and deposit were right where he left them.
After more head scratching, Jake did manage to load all the food onto our modest little quad and then sloshed his way home through the mud and the muck.  He arrived filthy and exhausted but triumphant in his success at getting provisions back to the Lodge to keep our doors open for our guests.  I wish I had pictures of this adventure to help tell the story, but then again it’s probably best I was nowhere around.  Sometimes a guy just needs to have a little space.
Freezers restocked and frig full, we have been whiling away the days enjoying a slow trickle of guests who still find their way here despite the lack of snow.  Our youngest winter guest arrived on her own machine…all of eleven years old and already brave enough to handle herself not only on the rough mountain trails, but also across the lengthy expanse of frozen lake she had to cross to get to the Lodge.

I hadn’t been out on iced-over Elk Lake all winter, partially because the idea gives me the heebee-geebees, but also because I haven’t had the chance to spend a lot of time on a snowmobile.  I took at lesson from that little 11-year-old girl.  I put my big girl pants on and bravely ventured out onto the ice.

It was exhilarating.  Snowmobiling in and of itself is fun and can be breathtaking, but being out on slick ice is another thing.  The back end of the machine likes to sashay around so there is a need for correcting much like you would if a vehicle started slipping on the ice.  Of course speed impacts one’s ability to do this successfully, so I was consistently yards behind Jake who went flying up ahead.
In this case he was coming AT me!
It’s a good thing I took advantage of the ice when I did because ever since that short ride, the temperatures during the day have gotten up to the mid-40s.  I don’t think the ice is going to disappear any time soon, but it’s prudent to error on the side of caution when you live in the middle of nowhere.  By the way, we spent the rest of the evening gazing at the beautiful sky!

And with these warm temperatures comes the information that Red Rocks Road has been plowed open from the Henry’s Lake side.  Jake rode the ATV out to the truck today and called back to report that while the Pass is very iced over, he intends to bring the truck back home today.  I’ll let you know how THAT turns out in the next post.
Time to put Frosty away.


Winter life continues to be interesting at Elk Lake.

February 21, 2015…17*, overcast, and lightly snowing
Okay, so when I say “snowing”, it’s really like very fine powdered sugar lazily zig-zagging its way to Earth.  It’s far from impressive and feels like such a tease when we were “promised” around a 4” accumulation by the local weather forecaster.  Isn’t it supposed to snow in the mountains??!
This winter the topic which concerns our life is “weather.”  Every morning and every evening Jake and I sit glued to the Weather Channel or local broadcast eagerly awaiting good news about impending snow.  It’s beginning to feel like we’re in a dysfunctional relationship with these people…blindly faithful to their reassuring words, only to be disappointed again and again by their empty promises.  Our last good snow was around Christmas and a few weeks of above 40* temps took a huge bite out of that.  The road to get to Elk Lake is bare in many places and therefore inaccessible to snowmobiles, but the Continental Divide is still inaccessible to vehicles so here we sit…marooned.
My parsley is trying to grow!
I am sitting here eating chocolate while I type to console myself.
In an effort to keep that high-pitched mosquito whininess out of my writing, let me just say…it’s the weather.  Everyone complains about it, no one does anything about it.
Really, we have been quite lucky.  The Divide Trail miraculously is snow-covered and the lake remains frozen.  That means people who desperately want to play SOMEWHERE can come our direction and hit a wide expanse of good snow “up top.”  There’s plenty of room to get up speed and shoot rooster tails on the turns; just don’t get off the machine or you will sink up to your knees (according to pictures we’ve seen and stories we’ve been told.) Given Yellowstone National Park just closed its West Entrance to snowmobiles because of lack of snow, we offer as good an option as anywhere else local to come and go wild on a machine.
Picture courtesy of our Italian guests.
Our new dilemma…(there is always something)…is how to keep feeding our guests.  You’d think if people can get in to Elk Lake, we could get out to the truck, right?  In theory, yes.  In practice, no.  Yes, Jake can snowmobile out the same way people are coming in, but remember…he’d be pulling a trailer which on the reverse trip would be laden with heavy food.  It’s remarkable how heavy a box of fries is!  Our machine and trailer, combined with the quality of snow on top, is a certain recipe for getting stuck.  And you’ve already learned how much fun that is from Jake’s trip to town the day after Christmas.
Look how high-centered the machine is from the melt.
This is why we watch the Weather Channel with such eagerness.
The last time Jake picked up a Sysco order (hamburgers, fries, buns) was before the Superbowl.  The last time he went to town, remember, he had very little room on the trailer because he was hauling in a new grill, and that trip was the last time there was enough snow on the road and in the ditches to get back to the truck. As of today, we have 21 burger patties, 15 or so chicken breasts, about as many buns, and 4 bags of fries.  One big group and we will be wiped out.  The fact we have survived this long without bringing in more food shows that we were well stocked, but now we are facing the hard truth that we are about to run out.
Sad looking freezer.
It is for this reason Jake is currently down in the barn working to get our ATV started.  We have two ATVs…a 2-wheel drive and a 4-wheel drive.  Guess which one is here and which one has been at the mechanics since last fall?  Ah, yes…our luck continues.  Our little 2-wheel drive may have to be the beast of burden, at least to do some recon and see exactly what we’re up against when it comes to the road conditions.  In a perfect world, Jake would be able to get to the truck, drive it back in to Elk Lake, we’d make a huge Sysco order, he’d pick it up on Tuesday with the truck, bring the load back to the Lodge, take the truck back out to Henry’s Lake, ride the ATV back in, and let it snow on Wednesday.  I get exhausted just even writing it!
Lesson learned: stock up even more when the going is easy!
The other thing is this: we really do have plenty of food.  It’s just not the food represented by the lunch menu.  I can always figure out “something” to feed people if they are willing to go with the flow.  I envision myself as the matron of an old-time roadhouse…slinging plates of beans and hunks of homemade bread onto oilcloth covered tables, tankards of ale and bottles of cheap whiskey awaiting at the bar.  Oops, maybe cabin fever got to me there for a moment.  Rather, I would make a nice gooey grilled cheese sandwich on crusty homemade bread, accompanied by aromatic tomato soup with a dollop of sour cream.  Now that’s a comfort classic.
Update: the ATV is running and Jake says it handles quite well in the snow.  So far so good.
On that positive note, I bid adieu and thank you for reading.  I also want to thank all the great groups of guests who have stopped by over the past few weeks.  We had so much fun getting to know you…the Wisconsin group, the many Minnesota groups, the southern-speaking Georgians, the guys from Italy, the Iowans, the locals…it has been and IS our pleasure to serve you.


The story of the grill.

February 5, 2015…41* and overcast
We just got done with the sprint of lunches and Jake is outside burning the mountain of garbage that somehow accumulates in a very short time.  We try to recycle and compost as much as possible, but during the winter the Waste Management place is not open on Tuesdays, the day Jake goes to West to meet the Sysco truck.  To avoid huge piles of garbage stacked around the place (and wouldn’t the winter critters love that!), we crush cans, put bags of “trash” in the two bear boxes we have outside, and burn everything else…including compost.  Hey, if you build a big enough fire, it’ll even melt glass…right?
This week seems to be about wildlife, as much as anything else.  We have been regularly seeing moose on the hillside and down in the aspens; those who follow my paparazzi-esque picture posting on Facebook have seen these pictures.  Jake and I have been intrigued by how white their hind legs get.
Then yesterday while cleaning up the dining room, I glanced down at the lake and saw two brown spots way out on the ice.  Two brown spots where there have never been brown spots before on pristine whiteness sticks out!  So I dropped the broom, grabbed the binoculars, and saw two fox.  Well, to tell the truth I didn’t stop to figure out what kinds of canines I was seeing before I dashed up the stairs to let Jake see. (“Dashed” may be a stretch, but go with it.)  I quickly handed the binoculars to Jake, exclaiming “look at what’s on the lake!”  “Hey, a couple of fox…good spot, baby!” was my reward.  Jake and I play this game all the time…who can spot an animal first…and he usually wins.  Not today, buddy…not today.
On days when I get overwhelmed by the decision Jake and I made to purchase Elk Lake Resort, I remind myself how blessed we really are to be HERE having the experiences so few have the opportunity to enjoy.  I did my time tethered to a phone in an office.  Jake did his time working in the elements building other people’s dreams.  Now we are on this adventure and the moose and fox are part of our reward.  I guess it’s all about balance and taking one day at a time.
Perhaps the last paragraph is leaving you scratching your heads…what?  Overwhelmed by Elk Lake?  But it’s such a dream come true!  Okay, let me give you another example of a day in our life at Elk Lake.

Winter is the season that the Resort really turns into a lunch destination for the snowmobile crowd.  That means lots of burgers, chicken, and bacon cooked over the grill.  When the grill goes down, the lunch crowd doesn’t get fed.  As you can guess, that’s what happened.  I don’t know how old the grill was, but I do know it had seen a lot of use even just over the two summers Jake and I worked here and certainly since we took over this past June.  It was bound to happen at some point, but why…oh why…now??

First things first.  Jake got on the phone and called up to Bozeman to see if anyone even still had grills in stock.  Luckily Home Depot still had a few and the rep was able to walk Jake through which models he had which might suit our needs. They had one, a KitchenAid 4-burner, larger than the one that died on us (important) and quality enough that it would last more than a few seasons.  Yeah!

This past Tuesday saw Jake up early to make the trek to Bozeman, first 17 miles of snowmobiling to the truck, then another two hours to Bozeman.
Part of Jake's "fun" commute.
Then the same in reverse.  It’s a long trip, made even longer when you have to do it alone.  He arrived home mid-afternoon, towing a big 100 lb.  box of grill and one large cooler full of provisions.  After unpacking and storing the food, we rolled up our sleeves and started assembling.  What was supposed to take 20 minutes took us four hours.  And that’s not even the head-shaking part.
They had loaded the wrong grill.

Yes, you read correctly.  As we unpacked miles of cardboard, plastic, and parts, we quickly discovered that the main front of our four-burner grill had only three knobs.  Hmmm.  Our eyes wide (especially Jake’s), we went back to the big box and looked at the picture on the front.  Sure enough, three knobs…and the words, “Three Burner Grill.”  Aaarrrggghhh! In essence, we just paid $500 for a grill we didn’t want, had to use, and couldn’t take back.  (But it sure is pretty.)

The next day Jake called Home Depot and expressed his frustration and disappointment in the whole situation.  TO THEIR CREDIT, out-of-the-gate Home Depot offered to 1.) take back the used grill in the spring when we can easily make the trip and swap it out for the bigger 4-burner model for no additional cost, or 2.) sell us the 4-burner for the price of the three-burner even if we decide to keep the smaller one.  Our faith in all things good restored, we are making it work with the smaller grill and will probably just buy the larger grill in the spring.
I just read in a book a Yiddish phase I will carry with me forever.

“If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.”


The winter routine.

January 20, 2015…22* and overcast
Jake is gone for the day making a grocery run into West Yellowstone so the dog and I have the place to ourselves.  It always feels strange and lonely when he goes out and I wonder when I will ever not worry about him making it back safely to Elk Lake.  Luckily we haven’t had any major snowstorms and the wind has been almost non-existent so his ride should be without any troubles…knock on wood.
The past few weeks have settled into a routine of sorts, as work has a tendency to do.  My first task of the day (after a requisite cup of coffee!) is to sweep and mop the dining room floor.  So much snow gets tracked in that it’s impossible to clean it after the lunch groups leaves so I just mop up the big puddles and let it go.  And I certainly don’t blame people for keeping their boots on because if they didn’t, they would be walking around in wet socks!
Then it’s on to prep.  It’s a very different thing to do prep during the winter months than it is in the summer.  In the summer we have a pretty good idea of how many people we’ll be cooking for so you know how much salad to tear up, how many tomatoes to slice, how much broccoli to cut up.  Not so in the winter.  One day we could have two guests, the next twenty-one.  So I have learned to prep on the fly during lunch service.  Why?  Well because the vegetables last longer when they aren’t processed and we need everything to last as long as possible.  A tomato is precious commodity when you have to take it on a rough snowmobile ride and have it arrive unbruised. So we’re figuring it out and Jake and I have a pretty good rhythm of working with each other.
On the "to do" list. Paint and organize the pantry!
Since veggies are not a priority to get done right away, I focus on what I consider the “fun” things…breads, pies, homemade soup, spaghetti sauce, pulled pork…anything that lets me be creative and makes the Lodge smell good.  Jake and I are trying out offering “Specials” this winter and so far they have been well received.  Currently we’re offering a bacon jam and bleu cheese burger…some people look at me like I have two heads when I tell them about it and others (the obvious foodies) just nod and usually order it.  Jake is in the first group.
I will admit to a mishap on my end, though.  I pulled a beautiful peach pie out of the oven, set it on the flat top of Bertha (the old iron stove), and the next thing I heard was the glass pie plate splintering into a thousand shards.  Lesson learned.  You can’t put a hot pie plate on cold iron.  Luckily I had more pie crust dough and more peaches so I just rolled up my sleeves and got at it.
When guests arrive, it’s go-go-go grilling burgers, dropping fries, trying not to burn the buns, and before you know it we’re wiping down the tables and flopping onto the couches in the living room.  Usually we try to grab a bite to eat and I would say 90% of the time we just get settled in and we hear the whine of snowmobiles pulling up.  That part of our schedule needs a little work!
But it’s not all about work during the winter season.  We still have ample time to enjoy Nature’s artwork and ooh and aah at the moose that seem to love our willows.  I still cannot believe that I live in a place where moose are our next door neighbors; a group showed up yesterday and said they saw 20…yes 20!...on their ride in.  Amazing.  Here’s a little of what we see:
In closing, I give a nod to Green Bay fans.  Your team played a heck of a good game last Sunday and I’m still incredulous the Seahawks won.  Now we look forward to the Superbowl and taking on the Pats.  I’m serving soup if anyone wants to join us while we watch the game.
PS.  Lerrina is still writing a blog so please keep in touch with the Collins' at: the-sustainable-lifestyle.blogspot.com


Happy New Year...Elk Lake Resort is open!

January 5, 2015…35* and overcast

The weather feels balmy today after the sub-zero temperatures we’ve been enduring for the past month or so.  It’s strange to step outside and hear the drip, drip, drip of snow melting off the roof.  We’re used to sticking our noses out the door and feeling them “crackle” from the immediate cold slap in the face.  Enjoy it while we can, indeed, for there is a lot of winter ahead of us!
Let’s do a little recap of the past few weeks.  Jake and I enjoyed a very low key and mellow Christmas here at the Lodge.  We slept late, watched too much TV, ate greasy food that typically you’d find in a gas station, and talked on the phone with loved ones.  There was nary a gift under the tree, but Jake and I shared what we feel are our blessings with each other and even though they didn’t come with bows, they were the best gifts ever.  Health, happiness, togetherness, many good friends, loving family, survival of our first summer as business owners, a good dog, plenty of propane to keep warm, and an exciting future ahead of us.  May we never take any of it for granted.
The Friday after Christmas saw Jake on our snowmobile heading to town for the first time since we parked the truck out at Henry’s Lake right before Thanksgiving.  Of course there was trepidation.  What will the drifts be like?  Can you get over the Pass? Will the truck start?  Well, Jake made it to the truck just fine.  He said he had to “bury the machine” (which I think is guy speak for really giving it the gas) while going up the Continental Divide but the rest of the ride was easy-peasy, if a little cold.
Photo taken earlier in December.
It was the return trip that turned into a bit of a nightmare.  There is an area through what we call “The Flats” known as Hell Roaring Creek.  It was there Jake got sucked down into the 3’ of snow in the ditch, perhaps because some other snowmobilers had been playing and messed up the snow, or because Jake was going too fast, or a combination of both.  No matter what the reason, He. Got. Stuck.  After a quick call to me to let me know his predicament, he got busy with the shovel.  He shoveled for a long sweaty hour before he was able to get our beast of a machine back on the road.  By his admission, it’s a good thing there wasn’t a daycare center or playground nearby because the words flying out of his mouth were just about hot enough to melt the snow.
I sighed a huge sigh of relief when I heard the snowmobile approaching in the distance.  I peered out the window and to my amazement spied a young bull moose loping along inside the jack fence that surrounds the Resort.  He was none too happy there was a noisy machine pushing him along, and when he got boxed into the corner of the fencing, he simply sprung up and over.  I was amazed.  I had no idea an animal that huge could jump so high!  Ever the one to make lemonade out of lemons, Jake commented later that had he not gotten stuck, we would never have had that moose experience.  That was moose number two for me here at Elk Lake.  The first was a big ‘ole bull just hanging out in the trees next to the Ranch House.

It was in the next day or two that the phone started ringing off the hook with people wondering when we were going to reopen for lunch. Jake and I had been scratching our heads about that very question since we knew the Collins’ used to open about a week into January, but we had been given feedback from some locals that we should open earlier.  The clamoring public made the decision for us.  We firmly decided New Year’s Day would be the perfect day to reopen.  It makes sense, then, that we served 18 lunches on December 31st.  Flexibility is the name of the game and we were happy to have the business and company.

It was so bright outside!
After three days of snowmobilers coming out for a burger and a beer, Jake and I made the startling discovery that we had not stocked up with enough supplies!  A bottle of Jack Daniels disappears amazingly fast when you have a bunch of thirsty snowmobilers, and I (in my ignorance) hadn’t even considered how much cocoa we would go through.  Ah, the learning curve continues.  So Jake made an impromptu trip back into West Yellowstone to get us closer to being ready for all our winter guests.  (For those of you who haven’t been to Elk Lake, there really is nothing such as an impromptu trip” to town, even in the summer.  Every trip is based on necessity and is a commitment, especially in the winter when there are 25 miles of snowmobiling on either end of the trip.)
Fingers crossed, we are now better prepared!

~ Laurel