The Winter Keeper

A photo essay from the frontiers of a job on the brink

winter keeper outside shoveling snow

How many jobs can you do completely alone, with no other human in sight? This is Steven Fuller. And he has just that kind of job. For nine months of the year — every year, since 1973 — he’s been the sole Winter Keeper (or caretaker) of Yellowstone National Park.

While most of us would probably balk at the idea of spending nine months in total solitude, for him it’s a job that perfectly suits his introverted temperament. Day to day, he tends the grounds mindfully with his team. It’s just that his team is made up of weather systems, wildlife, and snow. So much snow.

In bittersweet celebration of his retirement, he sent us some of his favorite photographs (a handful out of hundreds of thousands in his portfolio), giving us a rare peek at the creatures and critters that lurk about the hinterlands when no one else is around.

Or so they think.

 

animals at Yellowstone
snowy landscape
bison in the snow
blue skies over snow
red fox in the snow
Fuller writes, “Waiting for breakfast. Her eyes are closed, her audio senses are focused, her ground-probing ears are fully deployed listening for sounds at the bottom of the snowpack…”
fox searching for food
“Up! She hears a sound in the underworld, squeaking or rustling a couple of feet below in the open lattice work of frost crystals at the interface between the snow pack and the earth where rodents are active throughout the winter. What she hears sounds like breakfast.”
fox preying on breakfast
“Target acquired. Launch! She is zeroed in on where exactly the vole is, unaware, below the snowpack.”
fox preying on breakfast
“Gravity’s rainbow. Maximum ballistic velocity for deep snow penetration.”
fox preying on breakfast in the snow
“Piercing the snow roof (from her perspective), through the ceiling (from the rodent’s perspective), to snare her quarry. Throughout the winter, voles live under the snow in cosy, dry grass ball nests and move about to visit their seed caches. Any small sound will give them away if a predator is sitting overhead. What a startle for the vole when the ceiling of his world implodes and he is clamped inside needle-toothed jaws!”
fox caught prey
“The misfortune of one sustains the other.” 

 

“I am Steven Fuller. I am 69 years old. I have lived and worked in the center of Yellowstone National Park, at Canyon Village, for 42 winters now…”

Hear Steven Fuller’s story (including the bit about how he got this job in the first place) on the Slack Variety Pack podcast.

https://soundcloud.com/slacksingleservings/the-winter-keeper

 

Lima Al-Azzeh is a writer who still doesn’t know how to ride a bike. ¯_(ツ)_/¯

 

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