A Litmus Test for the Moral High-Ground

Are you willing to let others suffer for your ideology?

A. No—e.g., MLK’s “Letter from Birmingham City Jail”

B. Yes—e.g., House Republicans shutting down the government and risking default for spending bills already passed by their own legislative process



If you answered (A), you may be an oppressed minority.

If you answered (B), you are an oppressive minority.


Summer, Part V—Banff & Jasper

Banff & Jasper National Parks
early-September 2013

There are three things I learned as we played tourist over the long weekend: (1) Parks Canada is significantly better funded than the National Park Service; (2) international visitation for the Canadian national parks dramatically exceeds that of our own crown jewels; and (3) my—oh, my—the sheer amount of people, and the Disneyland-style directions for herding them all into a few places, is numbing. Parks Canada and their vendors have a well-oiled machine designed to give you just enough of an outdoor-wilderness experience without taxing you too much, extracting a great deal of money from you in the process. I actually had a surprisingly difficult time finding information about things to do in the park that didn’t involve waiting in long lines.

It was a quick trip, as much for reconnaissance as for mere enjoyment, so we rarely took the opportunity to explore off the beaten path. After a day and a half of constant queuing, this became overwhelming. So we explored a little more, escaping the crowds only for an evening as I fished a rather minor lake on a rather minor trail. Still, it was beautiful, and we will be back and armed with more resolve, more information, and more time.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Lake Louise—the canoes cost C$40 an hour.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAthabasca Glacier on the Columbia Icefield
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA wider view of the Columbia Icefield complex

Summer, Part IV—Red Gap / Ptarmigan

Glacier National Park
late-August 2013

At the beginning of the summer, I began working with the Citizen Science program at Glacier to help the Park Service keep track of loons, pikas, and mountain ungulates. So, on the weekend before school began, I did a big loop in Many Glacier to catch a couple of the less visited sites. We started late in the afternoon on Friday, staying at Poia Lake where I would do a survey in the morning. Then, we went over Red Gap Pass and down to Elizabeth Lake for a simultaneous loon and ungulate survey, coming up and out via Ptarmigan Tunnel.

The loop is an odd one in high summer, combining some of Glacier’s least-visited country with its most-visited. Even so, it is beautiful, and the smoke stayed far away. Only a light haze, typical for this time of year, obscured our vision.


Summer, Part III—North Yellowstone

Yellowstone National Park
late-August 2013

Our original plan was to hike the Beartooth Plateau and investigate the reputation of the trout in its lake system. However, our plans changed, and we spent only one night near the Montana-Wyoming border as the wind poured smoke over us from a nearby fire. Finding that rather intolerable, we hiked out and checked our maps, realizing that we were only an hour or so from Cooke City and from Yellowstone. So to Yellowstone we went.

Our improvised Plan B turned out much better than Plan A, and after visiting a ranger station we had permits in hand. The area was noticeably less smokey, even if we could see plumes from several surrounding fires rising like white columns into the sky. We soon discovered that, as far as we could tell, we had all of Wyoming north of the Yellowstone River and west of Hellroaring Creek to ourselves—despite never being more than four-and-a-half easy miles from the trailhead. Not bad for a national park in high summer.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe smoke plume from the Emigrant Fire in the Gallatin National Forest in Montana.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALooking down on the Black Canyon of the Yellowstone.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe found a number of impressive elk sheds in the area—a few several feet in length and nearly all found and relocated by hikers. But none were still attached as with this bull.