I arrived tonight in West Yellowstone, at the far west side of the park. It was another glorious day of rambling, exploring the world around me and my thoughts. The endless beauty of this place blows my mind. Today, as I hiked around the loop at Old Faithful, nearing dusk, I stopped for a moment to look around and truly felt high. Everything seemed to be moving in slow motion and all my senses were so heightened. A crazy storm had come through as I drove to O.F…. serious thunder and lightening, downpour and then hail that was so hard I thought it would damage my car! I had to pull off on this isolated stretch, where I had a glimpse of Lake Yellowstone, and the alpine-like forest surrounding. It was unreal! I just sat there, pulled as far under the tree cover as possible, and listened to the thunder and hail assault the world around me. To then be in full sun and the magical colors of late day, early dusk, surrounded by geysers, steam, crystal aquamarine pools of water and grasses… just 30 minutes later, was a trip without shrooms.
I wondered how Little Man is doing out there in this wilderness. Is he as amazed by all this splendor and wonder, or is he overwhelmed? He is a kid who sees beauty, really sees it. He often stops to point out something that I would appreciate too and frequently calls “mom! do you see this sunset tonight!” So, I paused during the storm and wondered if he was safe, away from harm, and amazed like me. Again, the constant whisper of my kid’s presence… even when I am actively not being a mom.
That. Funny how that mom thing permeates so many experiences, but how I also fight to let it take over the moment. Last night, I pulled over upon coming to a crowd. Want to see wild life in Yellowstone? Stop where the crowds have gathered. There, high in a very thin aspen were two tiny bear cubs. Clearly frightened by the strangers (and VERY young) they had rushed up the tree and were trying to get away. The mother, sat quietly at the base of the tree, barely visible to most viewers. Occasionally, her ears would perk up at the sound of a motor cycle (animals do not like motor cycles it seems) or some other scent or sound; otherwise, she was barely visible. The cubs would reach the very tip of the tree, their weight making the limb bend precariously. The crowd would gasp’ all of us afraid that one of them would fall to the bottom, but all hoping to get the perfect photo. Three-four dozen lenses, including mine, aimed at the two babies, who were clearly frightened and just trying to get away. They would try to come down, but slip, get startled and scamper further up again.
Suddenly, I became very aware, as a mother, that we were putting this other mother’s babies in peril. We were all waiting, watching, hoping to see something, as these two tiny cubs, tried to get away from the danger, but didn’t know what to do. Who knows what bears really feel and think; they may have been curious, but seeing that top limb bend and the smaller cub cling to the trunk, they looked terrified. The mother, seeing the large crowd, could only wait and watch as well. I felt terrible. As a mom, I really felt like I have when I see one of my kids, or another child somewhere, being bullied. I wanted to call out… Ok, folks, let’s leave these babies alone. Instinct. A defensive tug that made me want to jump in help the cubs.
It passed though, as I realized that the ranger, walking up and down the group of people, making sure no one wandered closer, called out, or “harassed” the bears, was doing that job. I like all the others, stayed and took my photos, shots of two black blobs in a tree, in dimming light. I waited until both were down from the tree and ambling off in to the darkening dusk with their mom, the show over. I hope my cub is safe and warm as well.
Today, I listened to Eddie Vedders soundtrack from Into the Wild… yes, I hear the groans… but, music is my companion on this trip. It is what feeds me on any given day, but here, it is the other passenger in my car. I get to choose who I hang out with. “The music divides us in to tribes” (Arcade Fire) and right now I choose my companions carefully. The book In To the Wild was very powerful, as was the movie. The music, I loved from the first time I listened. Eddie Vedder captured the story so well and the music speaks to wild place, personal journeys and losing yourself. Isolation. Today, in this place, I heard it all in a new light. I listened twice as I drove up and down the Lamar Valley, watching for wolves.
“Comes the morning, when I can feel, that there’s nothing left to be concealed, moving on a scene surreal, no my heart will never be far from here… sure as I’m breathing, sure as I’m sad, I’ll keep this wisdom in my flesh, I’ll leave here believin’ more than I had, that there’s a reason, I’ll be back. As I walk , The Hemisphere, I’ve got my wish To up and disappear, I’ve been wounded, I’ve been healed…
I leave here believing
More than I had
This Love has got
Man, that man can write and his voice, which I love anyway, brings me to my knees in this wild place. THAT is not a figure of speech. To my knees. His voice echoed the sound of the wolves, and the place I was and I just cried in the total beauty and rapture of the place and moment. Why have I not done this before? I’ve gone off to cities, gone off to see people… but “I think I need to find a bigger space”… The air is so sweet here, the clean sweetness of sage, pine and fresh air. Every bend in the road takes my breath away. Like touring a good museum, full of the masters, I am exhausted and invigorated all at once. Each vista takes my emotions to new levels.
All this emotion, this passion, is draining and yet such a part of me… I’ve finally found a place big enough, expansive enough, to just be in it and not feel like I have to explain myself or apologize for my actions. I could feel it all and it would still drift away on the sage scented breeze here. How strange to spend hours not talking to anyone (those who know me, will laugh), but only hear my own voice finally, singing along to a song. I’ve gotten to know a few of the “wolf people” the past few days and have chatted with them, but sometimes spend hours not talking to anyone. By the way, wolfers are very eccentric people. Spending two days with them was just about enough, but it was fun to be accepted in to their pack for that time and welcomed at each new vista. Got to meet Rick McIntyre, one the world’s leading experts on wolves, and share some stories. Ranger John had told me that Rick was a bit “eccentric”, but then, aren’t we all, out here?
I was struck, over and over today, that this adventure, in THIS place has really brought home one of the big challenges I have: Stop and appreciate the moment, take this experience in and be present… vs… hurry, on to the next viewing, what am I missing, push, push to the next experience. That moment when everything slowed tonight, or today when hundreds of bison were across the Lamar Valley and no one else was there, those moments were so grounding, so special. I was absolutely present and calm. However, the excitement of racing up the valley to see a grizzly and wolf fight for a carcass, to catch a glimpse of 2 grizzlies in a clearing, to see the NE entrance and know I went from one end to the other… each made me feel alive, excited. How to find that balance in life, accepting that I am not content to remain in either state for too long.
How to go home from this? I could just disappear and at what point would I miss what I have? I NEED this, I need to get out and do this more often, in the hopes that I am then content to really enjoy book group, my friends, my family, the social person I am at home: all of the things that make up my life back there….outside these open spaces. My 2 trips to India and then Africa were this same thing, but met very different needs. India is part of me, somewhere I will return over and over. There it is the infinite experiences, the intensity of life in such a different and colorful world. It assaults my sense, but fills me in a way that is hard to share. I think now, that this place is the same, but for completely different reasons. Here, I can be totally silent and my senses are assaulted in a less visceral way. Both places fill me and I will return to both.
I watched a geyser today that erupts about every 12 hrs, for anywhere from 15-40 minutes. Intense bursts of steam shooting in to the sky and just continuing until it gurgles down again. It reminded me of the volcano that Middle Man made in elementary school. Pour the ingredients in the top and it just boils over. Standing there, my son and his science project whispered to me, my daughter’s journey to discover who she is (and my struggle to let her), the thoughts of whether my youngest is safe and getting something important from his experience… all this played in my head as I watched the eruption. The same whispers were there as the thunder and lightening crashed around me; I have always loved the big storms, the release of energy and the calm that comes after. I am not made to drift along peacefully, as many of the people I admire do. How I’ve tried to be like that, wanting to fit in and be part of that way of thinking and acting: Having my “act together”, saying the right things or not saying anything (as others would like so often), drifting along and not making too many waves.
I just don’t flow as easily. Over and over, I end up missing the mark that way, and then judge myself or feel let down, wondering why I can’t fit with this or that group. Here, surrounded by all the metaphors, seeing that they all have a place and purpose, it is easier to see and accept that I am like that geyser: My frustrations, my joys, all the emotions and issues that make me work the way I do, are gurgling under the surface all the time, building up, until I spontaneously combust… blow off steam… get in my car and go. Then float back to earth.