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.
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, I 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.