Canyons, Geysers, and Wolves

Yellowstone National Park is big. So huge, in fact, that unless I’d been taking notes, I’d have forgotten the exact when and where of many locations and sights. Even so, I overlooked the visit to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and want to give it a nod before moving forward to Old Faithful.

In a word, amazing. Online sources report that the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone is basically “24 miles of twisting, sheer rock cliffs carved 1200 feet deep.” After visiting the Grand Canyon in Arizona a few times, this one seemed smaller, more narrow and not as deep. I could see the Yellowstone River clearly, but the Colorado River rushing through the Grand Canyon in Arizona  was too far down to see or hear. No matter how times people asked, “See it? It’s like a ribbon,” my answer was always the same. No.

What really struck me about the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone was its V-shaped steepness and the colors. According to our tour guide, the canyon is still being eroded by the Yellowstone River. I could get technical and use scientific words like hydrothermal alteration and iron compounds in rhyolite to explain the amazing colors, but I think I’ll stick to the description of painter Thomas Moran who said, ‘Its beautiful tints were beyond the reach of human art.”

Reportedy, Moran felt so impressed with Yellowstone that he began signing his paintings “TYM” to stand for Thomas “Yellowstone” Moran. His work helped change public perception of the area to that of a wonderland and not a wild place blemished with hellish geysers.

After visiting the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and Mammoth Hot Springs, we continued to the sight we’d all been awaiting: Old Faithful. There are several buildings, including Old Faithful Inn and a welcome center,  gift shop, and restaurant, and while they were rustic and welcoming, our attention was drawn toward Old Faithful’s location. It wasn’t hard to spot. There were hundreds of people of all ages, colors, shapes, and sizes sitting on benches, in parents’ laps, and in wheelchairs. Just as many were standing, all waiting expectantly for the next eruption, due to take place in about twenty minutes.

In twenty-two minutes, we heard a sputter and then saw a loud, gushing forth of hot steam. I can’t recall how many minutes Old Faithful performed for us, but I do recall that all in attendance were rapt. Afterwards, everyone dispersed, awed at the majestic spectacle they had witnessed.

We ate lunch and visited the Welcome Center before coming back for an encore ninety minutes later. Since its discovery in 1870, Old Faithful has been erupting every ninety minutes (give or take).  While there, I learned that the timing depends on several factors, including the length and strength of the previous one.

There are more geysers in Yellowstone than anywhere else in the world. In the world! While Old Faithful is not the largest, it’s the most popular geyser in the park and has a  steam temperature above 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Interestingly, although visitors were repeatedly told to stay on the boardwalks to avoid injury, there were people who ignored the warnings. Didn’t they understand that Yellowstone sits atop a volcano? Fortunately, there are plenty of park rangers who gently but firmly moved those folks from the fragile crust.

After viewing Old Faithful erupt twice, we still had thirty minutes to absorb the wonderland before the bus’ arrival. I’d been eying the boardwalks overlooking hot springs and fumaroles and decided to take a quick walk to get a more up-close look. There may have even been a paint pot there. I don’t know. I know only that the views were unlike anything I’d ever seen. My only regret is that our time at the Old Faithful site was so short.

Alas, we climbed aboard the Gate 1 Travel bus and headed back to the little town of West Yellowstone, Montana where we spent another night. There are several restaurants, gift shops, and tourist attractions there, and we enjoyed the ambience of the area.

That night we heard wolves howling from across the way.

 

 

Paint Pots and Travertine

“Round ’em up and move ‘em out.” Although he didn’t use those words, we got the message loud and clear from Timothy, our tour guide. We had much to see and experience, and we all needed to be on the bus and ready to leave for Yellowstone early that Thursday morning.

This is where I need to say that unless you’re a Yellowstone aficionado with tons of experience, going with a tour group is the best way to travel. Yellowstone is a huge park, nearly 3,500 square miles, that sits atop a volcano. Somehow I missed that important nugget of information when we were planning our trip and became a bit uneasy when I first glimpsed the hot springs, paint pots, and geysers. And when I saw the signs everywhere warning travelers of scalding mud, fragile ground, unstable ground, and bacteria mats, I added anxiety and respect to my perceptions of beauty and splendor.

In Billings the evening before our Yellowstone experiences, we had dinner with my college roommate, Shirley Dyk, and her husband, and she said, “I love the pots, and you will, too.”

“The pots?” I asked.

“Uh huh, paint pots. Some people call them mudpots, but I like paint pots better. And really, some of them look like pots of colored paint, especially blue.”

I stared at her like the ignoramus I was, and Shirley shared more information. The smell, she said, was sulphurous, and added that while many people found it offensive, she liked it. Although I found the odor a bit unpleasant, I respected the conditions by which the pots and their oozing, bubbling actions came about. What else could a person expect from volcanic heat, minerals, acid, and gases rising through the earth’s crust?

In addition to Old Faithful and its surroundings, two areas were especially incredible (to us), an area with travertine terraces and another with hot springs and calderas. Everything we saw, smelled, and heard was awe-inspiring.

We filed off the bus at the location of the travertine (a type of limestone deposited by springs, especially hot springs) terraces. At this stop, there were assorted buildings, including a lodge and a few gift shops, but I was drawn like a magnet (seriously) to the terraces and walked over with hordes of other tourists. I was astounded at the uniqueness of the colors, shapes, and formations of travertine formations; some looked like stair steps, others like cones. Not satisfied with that first glance from behind the fence, I began walking up the boardwalk with other dazed looking people and soon found my way to the top. Every twist and turn was magnificent, a feast for the eyes and spirit.

Curiosity satisfied, I hustled down the boardwalk and joined my husband at a picnic table for lunch. That morning we had visited Livingston, Wyoming and purchased a turkey sandwich and chips at a Conoco store. Nestled in a depression (valley?) and surrounded by low mountains, we slugged our bottled water and munched our chips, taking in the awesomeness around us. We’ve picnicked in numerous sites, but that one with the travertine terraces behind us and mountains around us wins the blue ribbon for best outside dining experience.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that the next stop in Yellowstone was almost worth the cost of the whole trip. Whodda thunk such surreal and magical places existed? As we ventured to and from the bus, I noticed areas that looked almost post-apocalyptic. I say “almost” since I’ve never actually seen a bona fide post-apocalyptic scene. Has anyone? We saw hot springs, pots (mud and paint), calderas, and geysers.

Like most of the people surrounding us, we went around gaping at the sights and took dozens of photographs. Every step we took and every direction we turned brought yet another amazing scene. These views were real, not just embellished photographs in a magazine.

New stop: Old Faithful.

A Heck of a Day

Jim Valvano says there are three things everyone should do every day. “Number one is laugh. Number two is think — spend some time in thought. Number three, you should have your emotions move you to tears. If you laugh, think and cry, that’s a heck of a day.”

I liked the advice the first time I read it and resolved to do these three things each day—and more, like exercising and expressing gratitude and spending time with family and/or friends. Getting out of Dodge to laugh, think, see, exercise, and experience life with special folks can double the fun. That’s what happened on a recent weekend when my sister Ann, her daughter Katherine, and my daughter Elizabeth went to North Carolina for a Vintage Market Sale and spent a few hours in Chimney Rock.

Just being in the car together was a treat. We sang, told stories, ate snacks, philosophized on life, and shared family secrets. Around and around the curvy road from Hendersonville to Bat Cave we went, impressed with Katherine’s driving and the gorgeous sights. I mentioned that an aunt’s husband, a policeman, had been killed chasing a speeding car along a mountain road, and the atmosphere became hushed as we considered Aunt Doc’s loss.

Someone asked about going to NC with grandparents, and I said I remembered making the trip many times, a lone little traveler in the back of their light green Chevrolet, probably a ’53 or ’54. Ann began singing “See the USA in Your Chevrolet,” and I joined in. One of our daughters remarked, “I knew they’d start singing,” and her comment was all we needed to continue belting out Dinah Shore’s jingle.

Soon we were in Chimney Rock and under its spell—again. Having climbed to the top of the Chimney one steamy summer day, we looked up at it with awe and appreciation, knowing that we’d conquered it. Katherine parked the car, and we hustled across the street toward a bridge.

The bridge was barely wide enough for one vehicle at a time, but there was plenty of room for pedestrian traffic so we started walking across it, the sounds of rushing, gurgling, bubbling water all around and below us. Loved that experience—the four of us connected by blood and love and memories standing in such a sacred place. We took pics of the place and of each other.

After crossing to the other side, Katherine and Ann turned left and began walking up a hill into a quaint neighborhood I’d often spied from afar. Our morning stroll on that street nestled between mountains and situated by a creek was marvelous. “What would it be like to wake up and see such a sight each day?” Katherine wondered aloud.

The small houses were unique and charming. Elizabeth took a photograph of one of the picturesque homes and the for-sale sign in front. “No worries, I could never live this far from the coast,” she said. I understood. The mountains and the beach are both “thin places” where a person can feel the presence of the divine. And yet, living near the edge of a continent is awesome, grand, and humbling.

We were in high spirits. We laughed, exclaimed over the beauty around us and the sweet charm of the houses. Takeaway: that beauty has been there just waiting to be seen and felt, but we had to cross the bridge to do it, something none of us had done on previous visits. Cross over and enjoy the journey.

 

After coming back to the main drag, we visited a couple of shops, and the younger set purchased a few treats including a pearl ring and a geometrically designed shawl. When we went into a shop of gems overlooking the creek, I scarfed up some colorful glass rocks that were free. They’re now in an Easter dish reminding me of those moments.

Next stop: Riverwatch Bar and Grill. We sat on the second story porch, and although we couldn’t see the water, we heard its ever-present roar and glimpsed the Carolina blue sky with its white puffy clouds. A couple of times, I got up and sauntered over to the edge of the porch for a peek at the creek. A young boy around twelve years old tried to go from one slippery rock to another. Eventually he was successful, but it made me feel kind of encouraged to see that he, like us, had to struggle a little.

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Lunch behind us, we got into the creek itself…or stood on some huge boulders, that is, joining about a dozen other people taking advantage of the setting for photo ops. Seeing and hearing the “alive” water wasn’t enough for Katherine, and before we left the area, she dipped her toes in the freezing, rushing water.

I think I can speak for the other three “girls” when I say it was a heck of a day.

Attitude is Contagious

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I really relish the time I get to spend with these three gals, and I’ve just figured out why. They’re all so “outer-directed.” Sure, they care about themselves and their own growth, development, well-being, health, appearance, and finances, but they care about others too. In fact, now that I think about it, all of my friends are that way. That’s why they’re my friends: I need them to “rub off on me.” Attitude, good or bad, is contagious.

Just think about your circle of friends, acquaintances, and family members. Would you rather spend an hour with a down-in-the-mouth, complaining, grumpy person or with one with an upbeat attitude? Had you rather be around someone who has a positive yet realistic attitude nor who feels like the sky is going to fall in tomorrow? Do you prefer the company of someone who feels that things will work out or with someone who just knows that the worst possible of scenarios is going to befall her/him/us.

The women in the picture above, including me, have all had her share of woe, heartbreak, and anxiety. There are actually several other nouns I could add to the list, but why do that? Why add to the negativity??? We all focus on what we have and not what we don’t have. We know enough about relative deprivation to know that we are indeed fortunate, especially when compared to the deprived and downright horrid conditions in which many of the world’s people have to live.

None of us are wealthy, at least not in the ways of the world. We all, however, understand that there’s a relatedness between all life on Earth and that we have an obligation to make life better for others…including ourselves. I added that last phrase so you’ll know that we aren’t completely selfless. Ha ha. That’s a laugh. If we were totally selfless, we’d be at home cooking up a savory meal, scrubbing the bathtub, or volunteering at our local soup kitchens.

We do our share of cooking, scrubbing, and volunteering, but we also take time to feed the inner vessel. In fact, that’s what we were doing that day. We were sightseeing at beautiful Botany Bay, a feast for the eyes and soul that was introduced to me by another “sister” who understands the power of ocean, land, and sky.  Doing it together enhanced our experience and deepened our bonds as sisters.

Shug’s Reminder

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If sappy isn’t your cup of tea, don’t read this. At the same time, we might have degrees of sappiness and different definitions. While you might think it means sentimental, foolish, or silly, I’ve recently learned that sappy can mean full of vitality and energy. That definition probably refers to plants, though; I’m not sure. I just want to tell a story!

When I awoke this morning, I immediately thought of something I’d read many years ago. I don’t recall the source and am paraphrasing a little. Perhaps some of my humanities buds can enlighten me/us. “Awake, the brain begins to burn like a coal in the dark” is the way I recalled the line this morning, a phrase that led to these thoughts:

What a powerful and marvelous organ the brain is! Without it, I wouldn’t even wake up! Once awake, I wouldn’t be able to sit up straight, walk across the floor, toast my bagel, or digest my food. And gee whiz, those are not even “thinking things” like remembering, planning, learning, organizing, or daydreaming.

Speaking of memories and thoughts, I then began thinking of the numerous good things going on in my life:

A walk on the beach with a brother and later seeing a movie with that same fellow (isn’t it mind boggling to realize that some people have never seen a movie or tasted popcorn?), shopping with one of my beautiful daughters, reading an informative blog post written by my son, eyes that enabled me to see frolicking dogs and skittering sandpipers on the beach, knowledge that my sweet husband would be going about town doing good deeds for various family folks today, the sound of birdsong outside of my window, memories of my mother who loved listening and watching birds, thoughts of my granddaughter Brooke who just won second place in the 400 at a track meet yesterday, and on and on and on.

I checked my iPhone and saw that the temp was 45, too chilly for me to go to church. I had no tights to cover chilly legs! But then, it hit me. “You’ve got an abundance of all the things that really count, Girl!” Knowing the source of the above and many more blessings too numerous to enumerate, I got gussied up and headed to church. Was I ever surprised when I turned onto 48th Avenue and saw the empty parking lot. Turns out there was Stake Conference in Florence today that I didn’t know about.

Do good intentions count? I’d like to think so. Yes, I definitely think so. And get this. When I got back home and started leafing through a local publication, I noticed that The Color Purple is being presented by Conway’s Theatre of the Republic through May 5.

I’m coming back here (to the coast) to see the production. And here’s one of the reasons. There’s a scene in the movie (and play and book) when Shug and Celie are walking through a field of purple flowers, and Shug tells Celie that she thinks God gets perturbed (her phrasing is much more colorful) when people walk by the color purple and don’t notice or thank Him.

I think Shug just might have a point. How can I not be grateful for so many gifts that I enjoy in this beautiful world? And how can I not be aware of the source of them all?

Dogs and Sea Birds

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I should be grading assignments. I know that. And yet, I just have to share some pictures I took when my brother Mike and I took an early morning walk along the beach a few hours ago. I texted him last night to say I’d pick him up at 7 this morning unless it rained, and this morning he wrote and said, “Je suis prêt.” I think that meant that he was ready and waiting. He’s not French, just unique. He can speak French and German. Nice having a polyglot for a brother. I’m exaggerating just a bit. His French isn’t that bon (bien?), but his German  is.

This morning when I picked Mike up, it was raining. Mall walking was a back-up plan, and I’m sure glad that by the time we arrived Myrtle Beach State Park, the steady rain had slowed to a drizzle. Within five minutes, it had stopped completely. Malls are fine, but there’s just something extraordinarily special in Mother Nature’s offerings, and this morning’s sights and sounds were no exception.

This morning we saw frolicking dogs, one of whom was turning around and around and around chasing a red cloth that he had in his own mouth. It was hysterical to watch, and we wondered aloud whether he would be dizzy after so much twirling. Farther along the strand, we spied two small figures out in the cold ocean, and Mike said, “Can you imagine going in the water this morning? You know they have to be freezing.” About that time, we saw their father watching from the shore and asked when he was going to join them.

“I’m not! That water’s so cold I can’t even keep my feet in it,” he said.

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Mike and I came to the area just beyond the Springmaid Pier where there’s often a swash of water so deep and wide that a person can’t cross over without getting wet. Anyone familiar with this stretch of shoreline knows this exact spot. We considered jumping from rock to rock but thought better of it. Can’t afford to break a limb at this stage of the game. No problem. We simply turned around and walked south for another 45 minutes.

Above and around us was the gray sky filled with white fluffy clouds. I used to know the name of them but have forgotten. Perhaps one of my grandchildren will let me know a nimbus from a cumulus. Beside us was the greenish gray ocean, roaring and pounding on the shore. And yes, it was flecked with foam. We walked out on the pier and observed the seabirds as they sat like sentinels keeping an eye on the ocean (and their next meal?). One of them sat hunkered down as though hiding from something. Humans with iPhones perhaps? We went through the gift shop on the way to and from the pier, and the gentleman there assured us that the weather would be nicer later in the day. The beach in any kind of weather is good!

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Mike and I talked about religion, blessings, America, family, and health. About the latter, we concur with the experts that prevention is better than any cure. We don’t know that exercise and attention to diet will solve all health issues, but we do know that a sedentary lifestyle and too many doughnuts can be hazardous to your health and longevity. About family, Mike said he knew for a fact that our youngest brother David was the favorite because his name has two syllables while the rest of us have names with one: Jayne, Mike, and Ann. Crazy, funny guy! The truth is that if our parents had a favorite, they hid it well.

Time to start reading assignments. It’s a great big beautiful world right outside of your window, and experiencing some of its wonders with a cool brother got my day off to a wonderful start. Mike also said that of the four of us, he thought I was the most “out there.” Hmmm. Good or bad thing?

A Pinecone, a Feather, and a Button

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I’ve been thinking about gifts a lot lately, mainly because of some of the books I’ve been reading. We’ve all been told that a gift doesn’t have to cost a lot of money to be meaningful and that it should reflect something important to the recipient, not the giver. Just thinking about this last phrase makes me feel a little uncomfortable. One Christmas, I gave my daughter Elizabeth a cool denim jacket with brown cording around the pockets. Taught to be gracious and grateful, she said, “Thanks Mama” before refolding it and placing it between the sheets of green tissue paper.

“You don’t like it?” I asked.”It’s so unique.”

“Yes, it is.” After a moment, “And it’s so you.”

“What does that mean?” knowing full well what it meant.

But I digress. Let’s just say that the following week, she took it back to TJ Maxx, one of our favorite shopping establishments, and exchanged it for something more Elizabeth and less Jayne.

In three of the books I’ve read lately, the characters gave meaningful gifts that showed care and thoughtfulness, and none of them cost a dime:

  • In The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, Liesel regularly picks  up small gifts on her trips to and from school and brings them back to Max, a Jew hiding in the basement. A feather, a pinecone, and a button are a few of her offerings. Since he can’t see even a smidgen of daylight, Max is especially appreciative of Liesel’s thoughtful gifts.
  • In The Last Days of Dogtown by Anita Diamant, Cornelius leaves little presents for Judy Rhine, and later in his life, he leaves nature’s gifts for Oliver Small’s two young sons. Both Judy Rhine and the Smalls family reciprocate Cornelius’s generosity by nursing and caring for him.
  • While listening to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road on some recent travels, I realized that the father was constantly giving gifts to his young son. A cold can of Coca Cola, a can of peaches, some mushrooms, and “the fire” are but a few of these gifts, and in this situation the love that this man feels for the boy is so obvious that it’s just about heartbreaking. How can love be heartbreaking? Read the book and you’ll see what I mean.

Reading about these instances of gift giving in literature inspired me to be more mindful of the gifts all around me and to be giving, especially with things without a price tag. At our writing group the other night, one of the members brought me some delicate pale pink flowers from her yard. As I sat in the back seat of my daughter’s van the other afternoon, instead of getting impatient at the slowness of the traffic, I looked out of the window and enjoyed the scene to my right, the marsh (see above picture). Then I looked at Colton, the 4-year-old who wanted me to read a book about numbers and farm animals to him. I glanced at the front of the van and could see the tops of my daughters’ heads and catch snippets of their conversation, another gift.

Now that I’m more conscious of the power of gifts, I’m making more of an effort to give them. Sometimes it might be something I purchase that looks like the person and not like me. Sometimes it might be something from nature, and other times it could be a service, something I can do to help another person. My husband is really good at this and is always (yes, always) doing something for someone else. Back to me and what I can and will do, I can give more of my time and energy.

Today, not next week or some vague future date, I’m going to improve my gift giving. Yesterday I picked up some unique shells from the beach and have already given one away. Later in the day, I bought a birthday gift for a friend. Tomorrow, I’m going to make a call that will set the ball in motion for some volunteer work.

What about you? What gifts have you received that are particularly meaningful? And perhaps more importantly, what have you given?