December 26, 2015
Gardiner, Montana
11:49 a.m.
This is an excerpt from a hand-written letter to my parents as I reflected back to a Christmas spent with them on the Eastern Shore of Maryland many years ago. They presented me with a gift that year that little did I know, would be put to great use in my adult life. It was written at a time when I was less then a decade into my Yellowstone career. My father passed away in 2009 and my mother is now a resident of Bozeman, Montana.
As you read, I hope that you think about how one gift to someone you love, might just help to expand his or her perspective on life… Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all…and to all, from Yellowstone Insight.

September 23, 2008
Lake Yellowstone Hotel, YNP
5:24 p.m.

Dearest Mom and Dad,

As I enjoy the view from the sunroom in the historic Lake Yellowstone Hotel (circa 1891), I look out onto a landscape built out of change…constant change…volcanoes, hydrothermal explosions, glaciers, fire, and humans. The view that I have from the big bay windows offers a spectacular view looking southeast, from the north shore of the lake. As the sun sets closer to the forested horizon to my west, the late afternoon color changes the appearance of the jagged Absaroka Mountains to the east. Winds blew hard and strong all night and moved out yesterday’s cloud cover. Tonight there will be a view to a sky filled with stars for all who look up. The winds are still blowing, swaying the lodge pole pines and creating small white caps on the lake.

My main reason for sitting down to write this letter to you was to thank you for giving me the eyes of a Naturalist and a Christmas gift to help me see all the natural goodness that surrounds. Long ago, on a Christmas morning at 305 S. Commerce Street in Centreville, Maryland, I opened a wrapped box from my parents. What I found inside that morning honestly, didn’t excite me all that much. It was a pair of Orion Vista 8×42 binoculars. They were a gift given with the greatest intentions! They offered a way to witness the world through a different lens, a view into the extra-ordinary, without disturbing the natural process that played out in the distance. At the time, the binoculars were not that important to me. My world, at the time, was much closer. College life didn’t require binoculars. My early career on the Blue Ridge Parkway didn’t need binoculars. The job requirements focused on the musical culture, not so much on the migratory birds. But, you must know that I have carted those binoculars throughout my travels since that Christmas Day. They have hiked with me to the top of 10,000 + foot mountains and down into river canyons. They have aided in spotting grizzly bears, mountain lions, wolves, coyotes, fox, eagles, osprey, falcons, badgers, meadows, animal tracks on distant snowy slopes and much, much more! The Orion 8×42 binoculars are worn by weather and time. They are now equipped with an over-the-shoulder harness for more controlled spotting and easier access while hiking on a trail. These binoculars have been a mandatory item in my backpack each and every day since my arrival to Yellowstone 8+ years ago.

As I begin another winter season (my 9th) here in Yellowstone, I enter it with my trusty binoculars and always worried that the next snowfall will finally “do them in” (as they are not waterproof). I continue to use them daily. From dawn’s first light to evening’s last opportunity, I use my worn out Orion 8×42’s…with grooves where my thumbs have held them tight through high winds and varied conditions. I know precisely how far to turn the diopter to focus for perfect viewing.

So, dearest Mom and Dad, put a smile on your face as you read this letter…your Christmas gift from so long ago is still getting a great deal of daily use! I hope that you now know that it was a gift that keeps on giving and it’s an item that I now find very important!

This thank you is long overdue from your now, 34-and-a-half-year-old Naturalist son.

MacNeil