A Mouthful of Words
I’ve just returned from a first-ever visit to Yellowstone National Park and brought home a mouthful of words as souvenirs. Here are some of my favs:
I saw the Absaroka and Teton Ranges, all part of the Rockies. Compared to Vermont’s worn Greens, these are spanking new ranges with bare, sharp edged peaks. I climbed Bunsen Peak (8,564 ft,) where there was still snow on parts of the trail.
The Lamar Valley is full of bison and so immense the bison are mere dots in the distance. Up close, not so much.
Late May and early June—so many flowers in bloom! Some I recognized and some were completely new. On a previous trip out West that started in the Flagstaff Arboretum, I learned to identify to local flora, before heading into the Grand Canyon. On this trip I tried to memorize what I saw. I have a mental picture of some of the flowers, but I’m certain of only one: arrowleaf balsamroot, a kind of a daisy.
Trees: Douglas fir, Rocky Mountain juniper, common juniper, Lodgepole pine, all conifers and deliciously fragrant.
Charismatic Mega Fauna
Elk and Antelope (aka pronghorns).
Bison and Red Dogs (bison calves): To see them roaming the landscape is a true thrill.
Image by DallasPenner from Pixabay
Bears: We saw Black Bears, no Grizzlies.
Bear Jams and Bison Jams: What happens to traffic on the Loop Road when charismatic mega-fauna is near the road—or on it.
Amazing Hydrothermic Features.
More than half the geysers in the world are in Yellowstone. Water that can be as hot as 400 degrees Fahrenheit bubbles up from underground, sometimes just chuckling along, sometimes spitting and splashing, and sometimes erupting high into the air. Some are predictable and some not. The Excelsior Geyser erupted in 1985 after a century of dormancy. It’s now considered “inactive,” even though it continues to discharge hot water into the Firehole River at the rate of 4,000 gallons or more per minute—more than a half million gallons per day.
The hot springs inside the park are incredibly beautiful thanks to the thermophile (heat loving) bacteria that reside in this super-hot water. The water itself is clear, but the photosynthesizing cyanobacteria living in it refract sunlight into a tropical blue. Bacterium that likes the water only slightly cooler refracts red. These microscopic organisms are the subject of intense study into the possibility of lifeforms elsewhere in the universe.
Imagine a stovetop pot of cheese sauce, pudding, or jam whose surface erupts in bubbles on a gigantic scale and you’ll have an idea of the earth just above a simmer, spouting mud. Surreal.
Fumaroles (my second favorite word from the trip)
These are steam vents from which hot volcanic gases and vapors escape from below ground—all over the park. In some places, these vents are in areas that look extraterrestrial; in another, they appear like a nineteenth-century New England mill town running on steam; and elsewhere, they remind me of images of battlefields after the fighting has ended. Eerie.
Caldera (my favorite)
A caldera is the sinkhole that forms in the aftermath of a volcanic eruption. I saw the lip of the Yellowstone caldera, but my mind goes numb when I try to imagine what happened to form it over the past 2.1 million years. Nevertheless, I love the sound of the word, so I’m keeping it.
I’m back home now, working with words about Artemis and hunting as I rewrite yet another draft of my book about learning to hunt and being a woman on this earth. As fabulous as it was to travel and pick up new words, there’s nothing better than being home, living in place.