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Over Succoth, we traveled to Yellowstone National Park. It has become a family tradition to embark on interesting and adventurous travel made possible courtesy of a pop-up Succah and ubiquitous and welcoming Chabad Houses in the most out of the way places.
This year we spent the first days of Succoth in Jackson, WY and the last two days in Bozeman, MT. We met wonderful and interesting people at both of these small Jewish communities. During the intermediate days, we "saddled-up" packed the pop-up Succah, lulavim, portable barbeque and grizzly bear repellant spray and headed for the mountain of Yellowstone.
The incredible beauty of the mountains, the explosive natural geysers (or as Caily calls them "upside-down waterfalls that smell like eggie) the majesty of the elk and bison and the hikes along beautiful rivers was awe-inspiring.
Yellowstone is a rugged and tough area. The winters are incredibly harsh and we got a taste of the cold weather - 18 degrees F before wind-chill on some mornings - and that in early October!
We spoke about how hard life is for the animals in the park during the harsh winter and taught the kids about various survival strategies that the animals have developed - hibernation, brown fat storage, survival on minimal vegetation and we got to speaking about hardships and challenges in life. The kids quickly caught on and began talking about how overcoming challenges in life can make one a stronger and better person.
We learned an amazing fact from one of the park rangers. The elk that choose to live near the natural thermal springs in the park have a much easier winter - the temperature in the vicinity of the hot springs is much warmer that in other areas. The ground doesn't freeze and there is much more vegetation to eat through the bitter winter months. So while the elk of the thermal areas munch of luscious vegetation even in January and February, their cousins who choose not to live near the springs desperately search for the precious little vegetation deep beneath the snow and on the trees.
But the fascinating fact is that the thermal area elk DON'.T LIVE AS LONG! They develop gum disease earlier, lose their teeth and die of starvation - a tragic and ironic conclusion to their lives of plenty.
Extrapolating this principal to our own lives, while a life without challenges and tests is appealing and superficially desirable, perhaps it is through these very challenges that we develop the metal to live a full and meaningful life.......