Tag Archives: animals

the lesson of Yellowstone

If you have been there, you understand.  You have breathed the sulfurous aroma near the geysers and gasped at the wildlife and crunched lodgepole pine needles beneath your feet and smiled, transfixed the intoxicating combination of the timeless and transient in this very special place. I was recently in Yellowstone with my family, and it is everything that has ever been said and more. It is that great.

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The visitation happened at the Mud Volcano. It was a relatively warm day, and between the geothermal heat and foul odors belching from fumaroles, it wasn’t entirely pleasant to stand near the features. My 7-year-old niece was crying from the bad smells, while the older girl, a Chinese exchange student, said wistfully “I wish I could see a bison right now!”

And then he appeared, a solo bull, lumbering towards the Black Dragon’s Cauldron, emerging through the steam from the mudpot. He approached the banks of boiling, murky water and stood silently appraising his onlookers, the only perceptible movement being an occasional swish of the tail. The chatter of the crowd died off  to murmur and an occasional, breathy oh, wow.  

His eyes were shiny, black orbs, and I felt as though he was gazing at my very soul. I saw myself as if through the eyes this enormous creature, a survivor, one of the few of his kind which continue to roam in the wilds of the American West.  In the act of releasing that which I loved the most, have been driven nearly mad with sadness. Loss has broken my heart into a million pieces that rattle like bones in the quiet of the night.  I am not often the stoic bison, gazing upon the loss of my kind with an accepting tail swish.  I am hurt, I am angry, I fight futile wars which leave me depleted and even more brokenhearted.  

But still, somehow, I am okay. And so are you. This is the message I received from the bison on that hot afternoon in Yellowstone.  Change is constant, loss is inevitable, and sometimes even the earth beneath our feet can feel unstable, volatile. Our vision may become clouded by the smoke from fiery destruction, the steam from cooking up a new life, a new beginning. Sometimes, our heart hurts. But in the end, we somehow find wholeness in our losses.  We have, as living beings on earth, inherited the legacy of courageous survival.

the encounter with the bighorn

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They grazed near a crystalline stream, in the prolific fields of wild grape which covered the reddish deser rock in thick layers of green, snaking tendrils. A group of six female Desert Bighorn Sheep, accompanied by a rambunctious lamb, thrilled with bouncing off his elders’ rumps and frolicking through the leafy vines. With their appearance the canyon went quiet- as though the hikers and the birds and the insects knew we were in the presence of holy beasts, animal sages here with a message, or a blessing, or maybe for a delicious sunset meal. We caught the words, the buzzing, the song in our throats and quietly watched in suspended awe. I crouched on the cool sand, unobtrusive as I could be, and snapped photos. The sheep appraised me with yellow eyes and a cool stare but kept chewing on grape leaves, bottom jaws rotating in an exaggerated swing.
 

 
 
I had longed for an encounter with these rare creatures, and my day finally arrived. I gazed, transfixed, while my eyes welled inexplicably with tears. Maybe from appreciation for their gentle reminder to enjoy the tenderest leaves of life.  Maybe from the overwhelming joy at being in a beautiful place, in the presence of beautiful creatures. Or more likely, I cried from the gratitude that, even in the soup of heartbreak, dreams can still come true. They may not be the dreams I had before, the dreams that built the walls of my former life. But new beginnings give birth to new dreams, and they are coming to fruition
 
 
 

where I lived

I used to live in a track home outside of town, on land freshly poached from the desert. Like a number of choices made at age 24, it isn’t a decision I would repeat; this was life in the country without the benefits of country life. There were the long commutes, the automotive expenses, the 15 miles to the grocery store. My bedroom window stared into my neighbors’.  I had a tiny yard that was mostly composed of a pile of rocks.  In a desperate move to beautify I tried to grow succulents on the rock pile, but the succulents would inevitably die off, exposing the truth that, no, there’s no rock garden here, only an eyesore.

I moved to that house having only lived in a very urban environment.  At first it seemed strange, but I grew to love both the silence and the sounds. The coyotes would sing at night over the howling wind. I would run in the darkness of the early morning with the milky way shining down upon me and hear owls flapping their wings as they hunted their prey. Hoo, hoo.  

I now live in a central part of the city, and the constant, bustling noise grates on my nerves.  I run on asphalt with no owls in sight, only pigeons. I appreciate being able to bike to work, to walk to a grocery store, but I seek out quiet corners of the city in which to recharge. I miss the roadrunners, the quail, the hawks soaring ahead.  I miss the forests of ocotillo, reaching towards looming mountains above. My happiest moments are when I’m outside of the city limits, on a hill overlooking the twinkling lights, or camping in a forest somewhere.

Turns out I’m a bit of a country girl, afterall.