From Medora to Bozeman

2013 June 5

Writing now from the Cottonwood Campsite at the southern section of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, on the western edge of North Dakota.

It is dusk, with a rare, clear sky. Chirping noises all around, the usual ascending treble arpeggios, with an occasional baritone, barely rising tremulo behind me, all underlain with a persistent thumping noise –“The music was thudlike.”– from the outsize RV next door.

As I pulled into the campsite, the camper in the next site down, in denims and scruffy beard, came to tell me that, as he walked to the bathrooms a moment ago, he had a close encounter with a buffalo. The buffalo charged him.

I am surprised that did not obviate the need to visit the bathroom. Perhaps it did, and he left that detail out. He said he made in into a grove of trees, and the bison relented. He was still visibly nervous and shaky, and with good, solid, multi-ton reason.

Winged shadows dart in the twilight overhead. Bats, from their zigzag flight, but perhaps swifts.

Given the number of mosquitoes, there are not nearly enough bats. I think I will retire for the evening.

6 June

I got up at four the next morning and was on the move by 4:15. Barely on the move. The fog was thick and the Great White Land Whale moved slowly through the gloom. A road loops through the park. The road and I moved above the fog as the sun broke through the horizon.

I shared the road with a dozen buffalo. Not all at once, but in ones and twos and threes, along the length of the road. If they were walking I stopped to let them pass. If they were still I moved slowly past them. They watched me, but with little concern, and no aggression. They probably had never seen a vehicle which outweighed them.

I got a few pictures of the buffalo, and hope they turn out well, but I really have high hopes for the wild horses, one especially, a pale horse with a flowing, knotted mane. Another horse trotted along the road, keeping pace with me and the Whale. He was backlit, his exhaled breath condensed to visibility in the bracing air. I imagine the fog of his flaring nostrils falling to the ground, and creeping down to join the father fog in the valley below.

Then it was out of the park, on to breakfast, at a small cafe in Medora, where a 9 inch wall-mounted walleye kept watch over my eggs.

Then back to the road, and on to Montana.

7 June, 6:45 pm

People watching at Plonk, in Bozeman, Montana. There are five small tables on the sidewalk, enclosed in a fence, waist high, the black poles topped with gold-painted fleur de lis. I am at a table just inside, the large window is open to the cool air, and I am separated from those outside only by a low wall, barely up to my knee.

At the table next to me, two ladies and one guy. She has expansive gestures to match her piercing, expressively modulated voice. She does not bray, but her voice cuts through the babble of this very tony wine bar. Her hair, once strawberry blonde, has one streak of yellow flowing in an s-curve past her right ear. Hints of gray show at the roots in the part.

Her hands open to describe the edges of a large, expanding square, then she slaps both hands palm down to end her sentence with dramatic emphasis.

She dominates the conversation. When it is someone else’s turn to talk, she curls the fingers of her hand, rests her chin on the back of those folded fingers. “Now I am listening,” she says, without words. Ok, they got a sentence in, the fingers unfold, the hands reanimate, and she’s off.

The one guy at the table, wearing a faded pink baseball cap and a t-shirt from a music festival in White Sulphur Springs “red ants pants,” from July 2012, is not a guy. When he finally got a word in, I heard her voice. Fastest sex change, ever.

Two guys who are guys but also are gay walk by, survey the scene in Plonk, give an arch tsk-tsk –something has failed their impossibly high standards– and walk on.

Across the street a father in a black t-shirt walks behind his son, about four, in a helmet bright with flames, intent on his scooter.

A guitarist, also across the street, on the bench outside Ace Hardware, plays to the passers-by. I cannot hear him from here, but I see his smiling face. Now he stops, stops singing, stops playing, stops smiling. No action here, he moves on.

An androgyne rolls by, smooth and unmoving on a skateboard, hair a flaming raspberry red, here and gone in an instant, an apparition worthy of Fellini.

Three couples walk by in quick succession, each holding hands. The first and youngest, do so shyly; they look mostly at each other as they walk. The second are more comfortable holding hands; they look straight ahead. The third couple is older (he is balding), their hold on to each other is loose and perfunctory.

The water glasses here at Plonk are cylinders, maybe eight inches tall, an inch and a half wide. The water inside acts as a lens. A waitress brings three of them to a table outside, arranges them in a line. Her hands, behind the glasses, are elongated by the lenses, and Modigliani fingers dance across the table.

More couples walk by, of all ages, holding hands. Nice.

The waitress, she of the momentary Modigliani fingers, delivers a board of food to the tables. A bowl of Japanese teacup proportions holds a dark green spread. A small apple, precisely dissected with an egg slicer, is fanned out prettily. Two wedges of cheese are evident, still in their rinds. Salami has been shaped into miniature yurts. Everything is very precise. The girls at the table spread these delicacies onto the bread with equal precision, in bites so small they may die of hunger before they finish.

An older guy with white hair has a “Black Bubbles” cap (that’s a sparkling syrah from Jed Steele). He is wearing sandals with white socks, and a T-shirt with a sepia-toned picture of four native Americans, armed with rifles. His shirt reads “HOMELAND SECURITY: Fighting Terrorism Since 1492.” He is drinking Beltian White, a Montana beer, while typing on an iPad. Oh wait, that’s me.

Tomorrow, back to Helena.

Leaving Baton Rouge

2013 June 5, updated Added photos, and made a minor correction (thanks, Lil!)

2013 June 03
I am writing from Bull River Dam, just outside of Baxter, Minnesota.

It is just after seven in the morning. The campground is beautiful, in a large grove of trees in new leaf. The campsites are spacious, maintained by the US Corps of Engineers, so it is spotless, with rakes and shovels on racks for use by campers. The bathroom has showers and a laundry, and each site has electricity for an RV.

Once upon a time, I would have considered this entirely too civilized, this campsite aimed at aging babyboomer woosie campers. Now, I can live with it.

I am surrounded by birdsong, an invisible chorus, since none of them are close enough to see. A large mammal, too big for a squirrel, too far from his own dam for a beaver, wandered by through the brush a dozen or two yards away.

I am trying to catch up after having been on the road two weeks. I left Sunday, the 19th of May. I headed north out of Baton Rouge, thru the sad townships north of Baton Rouge. Many decaying houses had blue tarps for their roofs. Vines sprout from several windows, as the earth moves to reclaim the land. Fumes from Exxon spread from the tanks to the west; the money stays inside.

The Great White Whale and I were headed for Natchez, to pick up the Natchez Trace parkway at its southern end. Highway 61, north out of Baton Rouge, is surrounded by civil war era mansions. I stopped at Butler-Greenwood, with an oak-lined, winding driveway, just for pictures, soon to be posted.

(Here they are. Added 5 June.)

The mansion at Butler Greenwood.

butler greenwood porch

thru the arch

urns on lawn

peacock the long form


peacock profile


with goose



Very soon after I left, headed back north, I got a call from Janet. Joan’s condition had deteriorated sharply.

The Wednesday before the Sunday I left, my sister Joan had a heart attack right in front of me.

Joan caught the flu in early January, which progressed to pneumonia, for which she was hospitalized. Then she caught a staph infection. She was under intensive care for 5 or 6 days and recuperated from all but the infection over the next week.

A goose calls. He is circling behind me. He is gone, trying to find the rest of his formation.

Joan then had to stay in a minimal maintenance facility for just under three more weeks, attached to tubes which dripped high octane antibiotics into her veins, to flush the infection from the deepest recesses of her body.

She came home greatly incapacitated by the fluids which had bloated her. She could barely make it up three steps and had to be helped up and down the staircase each day, by Richard, who took tender and unending care of her, constantly monitoring her blood sugar and pressure.

Over the next few weeks, Joan slowly improved. We felt confidant enough to each return to work, but nervously. Just in case, I equipped her with a first alert device from Verizon, a one trick phone, which called the service which would then call 911 and a list of family members, which Joan had available at all times.

She relapsed once, came back, was slowly, painfully, uncomplainingly, recovering. The week before I left her blood sugar started oscillating.

I was home from work that Wednesday, in the house, when I heard the dogs barking. I went out the back patio to check on Joan and heard her cry out in pain. She was incoherent. I hit the alert and summoned the ambulance. I was unfamiliar with her medications, so I called Richard who said to pour her a glass of sugar water.

A woodpecker hammers a tree to my right, twice. Now a repeated clucking from the same direction.

I was frantic, my own heart pounding. I ran from the patio to the front door, opened it, watched out for the ambulance, ran back to be with Joan, for whom I could do nothing but hold and reassure her, back to the front door, back to Joan, repeat, repeat, where are they? Back and forth, back and forth, where ARE they? and finally they show.

Joan had recovered consciousness by this time, still groggy. Richard showed up. I then remembered Julie, who is on the way to pick up Little Martin from school. I do not want her to come home and find this without warning, so I call her. Too late. While I am dialing, she runs around the corner.

A raven comes by to visit. He clacks and complains from the top of a tree, flies over, backlit by the rising sun.

Joan does not want to go to the hospital. Richard and the EMS guy talk to her. I am not in on the negotiation, but eventually, it is decided that she will go. They strap her onto the gurney and take her to Oschner Medical Center.

She ends up unconscious under intensive care.

Richard comes home. The next morning he goes back to the hospital very early. I am asleep in the van when he knocks, having returned. Joan has taken a turn for the worse, much worse. Richard wants me to go to the hospital with him. We let Julie know, and head to Oschner.

The doctor in charge –of the emergency room I believe– is morose. He tells us frankly that she is failing. Her heart is probably damaged, she is on a ventilator, her kidneys have failed, she has less than 50% chance. We should call her children.

The doctor leaves. We are stunned. I mutter, “I need coffee,” and head away to find some.

I remember Richard, who has not moved. I turn back to him. “Richard, what can I get for you?”

Richard’s compassion has never wavered, his care has never flagged, he has never once complained of the pain he has suffered. Richard is my new hero.

The raven has returned. He, however, complains loudly, bitterly offended by the heron, no doubt, which just glided directly overhead. A loon calls, a plaintive, repeated, rise and fall. The raven cannot take this constant interruption, and flies away.

“What can I get for you?”

Richard’s shoulders slump, ever so slightly. “I don’t know.” His voice cracks. “I … I just don’t know.” Richard allows his control to relax, and the tears come at last.

“She was the only girl I ever loved.”

A nuthatch creeps head down the maple to my right, flies away. Two ravens share their indignation.

Richard sighs, wipes away his few tears, takes a deep breath. The loon cries for us all.


copyright 2012
Martin Richard

This is for Liam and Martin.

So tell me, little trilobite,
Of those old Devonian days,
Five hundred million years ago,
When you walked beneath the waves.

When you were just a trilokid,
Did you play with other triloboys?
Did trilodads say, “Go outside,
Or stop that awful trilonoise.”?

Did trilokids have triloboards
For awesome trilomotion?
Did trilomoms say, “Be careful now,
When you go to cross the ocean.”?

Triloschool was easy since
You had much less to remember.
It was a half a billion years before
The first day of September

Trilomath? A piece of cake!
You only had to count to three.
And since it hadn’t started yet,
There was no trilohistory.

What kind of trilokid were you?
Were you rowdy? Were you docile?
Did you ever think, “When I grow up,
I want to be a fossil!”

“That’s cool!” You thought, “I’ll turn to stone
And hide out on the ocean floor.
“I’ll be the first to see a fish
And every kind of dinosaur.”

“I’ll watch the mammals nurse their young,
And raise them in their hairy way.
The sabertooth will come and go.
No doubt he’ll die of tooth decay.”

“And somewhere deep in Africa
Some apes will start to walking.
And once they figure out just how,
They’ll never stop their talking.”

“Some human will discover me,
Beneath my sheets of stone grown cold.
The wise will hear my silent song:
Man is young; the Earth is old.”

In an earlier epoch of the Anthropocene, three decades ago, I wrote “Trilosong” for two sets of brothers, representatives of the young of our species. They now care for their own young, so I hereby rededicate an updated “Trilosong” to my favorite members of our next human generation: my friend Liam, six years old, and my nephew Martin, seven.

New Photos, posted from Austin

I’m writing from the McDonalds in a WalMart just north of Austin, Texas. Details on the journey to follow, but for now, some photos. I stayed for a couple of days in Austin, with my nephew David and his new wife, Vanessa, who allowed me to take over one side of their living room and set up my Mac Mini, and clutter various other shelves. Thanks, guys!

I am now on the final leg of this journey. I will be in Baton Rouge tomorrow. I could make it today, but I am going to avoid the linear desert of the interstate as best I can. Meantime, here are a few of the photos I took since I left Helena.

Here’s a fire season dawn:

fire season dawn

The valley of the Jefferson, with fire-season smoke;

valley of the jefferson

Here’s a few from Johnnie’s ranch. I took a short walk as the sun was backlighting his land.

Here’s a section of stained glass.

fall sedge

Sorry, stained GRASS. Hmmm. Looking at that image, I think I should crop it a bit, and hype the exposure. I doubt that McDonalds would appreciate my setting up the Mac, so that will have to wait. Here’s more backlighting.

fall blossums

The sun was high enough to cast the shadows of the water walkers on the bed of the stream.


Finally, I dove into the Small World with my macro, since, as Feynman pointed out, “There’s plenty of shots at the bottom.” Well, he said plenty of “room,” but close enough.

Here’s two buds, hanging out.


Here’s a bee of a different color, on flight from the Emerald City.

green bee 1

Johnnie had a bowl on his porch with sunflower seeds, for the resident chickadees. I set up the D300 on a tripod and decided to try to catch one in flight. After trying in vain to spot them through the eyepiece, I prefocused on the edge of the bowl, and hooked up a release cable to the shutter. That allowed me to watch the birds as they approached the bowl. One little guy in particular had the same pattern, First the bush, then a small stand nearby, then the bowl. I tried to catch him as he went from stand to bowl.



Ok, I could hardly tell one chickadee from another. It might not have been the same bird on that pattern. As far as I know there could have been some chickadee flight controller coordinating the landing.

From there I went to Bozeman, which I wrote about in my last post. Bozeman has a much more colorful street scene then when I left six years ago. Here is what I saw, through these.


Sections of a mural.

mural 1

mural 2

A storefront:

yellow against blue

Did they plan that yellow-against-blue, with those strong horizontals? If cameras had wings, they’d be circling like moths.

Another storefront.


A utility box!

utility box

Street musicians.

three players

Ok, that was really in a store window. Here’s an appropriate comment.


Main Street was littered with other, non-chelonian sculpture. One small corner had a garden planted full of ’em. Here’s my favorite.


OMG. I am out of coffee here at McDs. One more refill for the road. After all …


My Last Night in Montana, This Year

Updated with slight editing

I am writing this from outside Bozeman, Montana. My journey south has begun.

I had planned to leave Glacier for Helena, by way of Missoula. I could see friends there whom I have not visited in a few years, and do some photography along the way. I was especially interested in taking shots of some of the geologic features leftover from the Glacial Lake Missoula Flood, 10,000 years ago.

On the night I left Glacier, I got an email from the owner of the Izaak Walton Inn who asked me to do a photo shoot of the property, for his website and other promotions. Yes, of course. The Ice Age Flood will have to wait.

I drove the next morning to the Inn, and met Brian who walked me around and gave me the details of the assignment. The Inn was built originally for railroad workers. It is steeped in railroad lore and history, and cluttered with railroad paraphernalia. On the grounds of the Inn are three cabooses and one locomotive, renovated for rental, and I was to photograph those, as well as shots of the cabins, of the new deck and of the dining room.

The next morning after breakfast I showed off my work to Brian, who approved. Then I found out that David, the manager, had access to Photoshop. That meant he could turn the raw files into a usable form. I offered to either continue the process, at my rates, or just turn the files over to them. David said he could take it from there so I copied the files onto CDs, and completed the assignment.

Onward: on Highway Two, on the south of Glacier, past the Silver Stairs, now with more leaves than water.

On the way south, down the Front Range, the mountains rising abruptly to my right. I only made on stop, at the rock shop in Bynum, to buy two trilobites and take a picture of one.

The air was clear. I had left behind the smoke which filled the Flathead Valley. Or so I thought.

Highway 200 runs east to west, intersecting at right angles the road I drove, the mountains to my right. As I approached it I saw smoke pouring from upward from the pass into the Little Bitterrot. It broke in a tall, white, standing wave, with filaments rising, entangling, falling; then fell into a river of white.

By the time I crossed 200, the smoke enveloped me, all the way into Prickly Pear Canyon. When I came up and out of the canyon, I could see the entire Helena Valley, filled with smoke.

I spent a smokey week in Helena, touching base with old friends. My birthday was Sunday the 23rd of September, which I celebrated at Benny’s with Lynn and Tori. Benny’s was having a wine-tasting dinner, featuring six wines of France, and Margaret, the owner, bought me dinner for my birthday.

Of the several wines my clear favorite was the 2010 Chinon from Marc Bredif. it has lovely aromas of raspberry definitely, and cedar, maybe. The varietal was cabernet franc, which is seldom found under its own label in California.

After that, Lynn took me out to Sommelier’s, where we shared flights of Sirah / Shiraz. Later I shared a Ridge Zinfandel, the Ponzo 2009, with Steven and Megan. Steven and I have known each other 21 years, and on many anniversaries and birthdays of those two decades we have shared a Ridge together, as a marker in time. Having tasted six wines before I even got to these last four, the details of their flavors are lost to history.

I was able to see my six year old friend Liam several times. We had fun solving puzzles together. We set up his iPad so we can play chess together, and I worked out links between his browser and mine, and his email as well. He was proud to show off his reading and he got to play with a real camera for once.

I watched him play catch with his father, and better yet, play drums. He was an absolute hoot and did a very good job, jamming with dad. My heart soared like an eagle to see him laugh.

I miss him already.

I left Helena Wednesday morning, heading for Bozeman. to have dinner with my friend Johnnie, who took me to dinner at the Mint, in Belgrade. The drive from his ranch to Belgrade was a study in light and smoke and shadow. We were driving into the setting sun, the light slanting at a shallow angle into the wide valley. Everything was backlit by golden light. The smoke which hung in the air was a slightly lighter, horizontal stroke against the mountains. But beneath the backlit smoke was backlit dust, hanging low, another, brighter horizontal stroke. The smoke above was still, but the dust seethed, kicked up by tractors working the too-dry fields, and by cars and trucks criss-crossing the checker board of dirt, the roads which border and define the land.

It could have all been painted in shades of gold.

Dinner at the Mint was excellent. Johnnie ate lightly, a salad, but I indulged in buffalo tenderloin, rare, whose texture was stringier than that cut from a steer, but whose flavor was, well, meatier, more savory, a taste of earth and wood. We had the Black Slate Garnacha from the Priorat of Spain,

Outside of Spain, the grape is know as “Grenache,” and it is the most widely planted red grape in the world. But those planting include few in California. There, it is seldom found behind a label bearing its name, although it is frequently found in blends, just as it is in southeastern France, in the Cotes du Rhone.

The Black Slate was delicious! Rich on the tongue, and neither harsh or laced with tannins. The flavors were deep and rich and jammy as well. Blueberry perhaps? No, not quite that bright. Plum? Yes, I like plum. There was also a floral note, perhaps of violets, which wafted coyly away as soon as I noticed.

Johnnie is a wonderful friend. Over dinner I told Johnnie less of my adventures this summer–not needed, he reads this blog–than of my plans for the winter and years to come.

I stayed that night in the Great White Land whale, on Johnnie’s ranch.

While Johnnie made breakfast for us, I sat on his porch, with Ross Peak dominating the Bridgers off to my left. Als in my field of view: a coyote, a wolf, a turkey. all bronze, all life size, skirting the edge of the manicured lawn. Beyond that, taller unkempt dry grasses. Beyond that, bushes skirt the edge of a very small creek. There were no other houses visible. The morning sun, coming through the notches of the mountains to my left, creates crepuscular rays which illuminate and define the smoke which fills the valley, from fires in Idaho.

Now I am writing from downtown Bozeman, from the brand spanking new downtown Santa Fe Red’s sidewalk section. I am drinking Madison River Salmon Fly, a light, well- flavored beer, not too hoppy, perfect for a hot end-of-summer day.

My server wears purple sunglasses and a white flower in her hair. The door has a poster for a toga party here, tomorrow night. I think that tells you much of what you need to know about Santa Fe Reds.

Bozeman has a much livelier street scene than when I left 6 years ago. There is a sculpture garden now; the utility boxes on the streets are brightly painted; there are more interesting restaurants and a new wine shop, every single bottle individually annotated. That’s a lot of loving work, right there.

Salmon Fly is it? Ok, I will cast for people.

Directly ahead of me at one outside table is a burly guy with wraparound insectoid sunglasses, unsmilingly intent on his phone. He looks vaguely imposing but he drinks a foo-foo cocktail, undercutting the image.

At the table to my left is a reed of a girl in a blue sleeveless shirt, with a tweed baseball cap. She is scrolling her iPhone, while picking at her iSalad. When she lifts her finger from the phone, the finger’s tip describes a little curlycue, a grace note to the gesture, which is somehow consonant with the delicacy with which she dissects the salad.

Two shirtless guys jog down the shady side of the street, one in red trunks, one in blue. Hey, wheres the guy in white?

A Subaru glides by, the guy driving it in cowboy hat and tanktop.

A young man saunters along the sidewalk. He has a backpack, a blue yellowstone t-shirt, trendy upside down eyeglasses on an Asian face topped by a mohawk which is growing back, which gives him the look of an under-fertilized Chia. He is smiling at the sun.

A trim lady approaches. She has a very designer blouse, oversize dragonfly-eyed sunglasses, earrings approaching hulahoops, and a shopping bag which reads “contain yourself.” I think that would be a very good idea.

I stole that line, by the way. That was Ghandi’s reply when, on his first visit to England, he was asked his opinion of Western civilization.

It is now evening, 7:30. I am at Plonk, a wine bar, which attracts the terminally trendy like moths to a flame. i just know I am gonna spot some good specimens here.

But no: they keep the lights too low. It is hard to people-watch in here without infrared goggles.

Given the size of everyone’s sunglasses, infra-goggles would fit right in.

Now I am at what was once the Robin, but now is just another of Ted Turner’s holdings, as he tries to buy all of western Montana.

I am at the bar, immediately next to the server’s station. Yes this will do.

The servers congregate over to my left, around the two computers by which they place their orders, print their checks, etc. The ‘puter is the modern equivalent of the water cooler. The servers are trading tales of insane customers. God, I wish I could hear the details, but they are just out of range. This may have been planned.

The servers include:

An older guy, his goatee and sideburns going gray. He’s the pro. He will always have a “that-reminds-me” tale to tell. So do I.

One thin guy, with a fu manchu blonde mustache, who seems faintly gay. Not the strongest signal on the gaydar, but a blip here, a blip there.

OMG! Another guy looks like a young version of the butler-slash-caretaker in Kubirck’s The Shining! “When my girls misbehaved, I corrrrrrrected them…”

Heres a guy with a pencil thin mustache, of which Jimmy Buffet would be proud.

What’s going on here? Does whoever does the staffing here have a stereotype checklist he marks off with each new hire? Got a gay on staff? Check. Latino? Check. Old guy? Check. Cute blond girl with ponytail, straight out of Archie comics? Check. Tall anorexic brunette, her ponytail about 1/3 the width of her shoulders? Checkarino. Kubrick archetype? Corrrrrect.

Now I am writing from the Madison Crossing Lounge in West Yellowstone.

I had my Medicare-paid full physical this morning.

Liver ok, heart ok, lungs ok, cholesterol ok, blood sugar slightly elevated but nothing dangerous or actionable, as long as I do not try to live on pasta.

However …

There is a hint from the lab work of possible colon cancer, not a strong signal, not life-endangering, but enough to move up the colonoscopy I had scheduled, from next spring to this fall.

And my blood pressure was really high, dangerously so, for the first time ever. This surprised me since it was checked less than a month ago at the clinic in West Glacier, when I went in for the foot wound. Dr Benda immediately prescribed medication to bring it down, since otherwise, I am at serious risk for stroke.

This also means nobody can yell at me ever again. Doctor’s orders.

Before I left I filled the prescription at WalMart, and stocked my pantry. I won’t have to pay for food for about two weeks.

Then off to Yellowstone.

Bozeman is built on an alluvial fan, or a series of them, outwash from the Gallatin Range to the south. The road out of Bozeman to Yellowstone heads west, then intersects 191, which goes straight south, into the V-shaped valley of the Gallatin.

That V means no glacier made it from the Yellowstone Plateau to the mouth of the canyon; otherwise the glacier would have carved their signature U shaped valley.

Autumn is here. The banks of the Gallatin were lined with the yellow of aspen and birch, mostly on the near side, set against the dark green of the conifers on the far bank of the blue-green, rushing water. Low brush contributed orange and red to the palette. A particularly striking island in the fast-flowing stream had bright yellow brush accented by a single wine-red bush. That island would have been under water in the spring melt, so that riot of color was born of the rush to life, to take quick advantage of the sun, soon to be lost.

In the valley, the stone has changed. It is no longer a conglomerate, a muddle and mashup. This is Precambrian basement rock. There is an outcropping in a road cut which has been measured at 2 billion years old, older than any in Glacier. I am not yet to the stone left by the many eruptions of the Yellowstone volcano.

A new thing! A zipline, or set of them. wooden ziggurats, strung together, through the trees, across the river and back again. Riding the lines is a school of children, screaming in delight as they dropped into their high-strung gravity wells.

Now the yellow cliffs of the Madison Limestone are bright against the afternoon sun. I am in the Park.

The river no longer rushes, it meanders in wide but braided streams, the barely dry land between the braids covered in grasses which grow in brushstrokes of orange and red. Fronds of kelp-like plants undulate lazily under the surface of the barely moving water, their rich green a sign they have not yet given up on photosynthesis, not yet sacrificed their chlorophyl to the coming winter. They still need every photon they can get.

Speaking of photons: Lightning! A single stroke slices the sky to the east of me. The thunder arrives several seconds later, arrives as a rumble not a crack. I imagine it rolling down the canyon, chasing Indiana Jones.

I am out of the Park. The highway cuts a corner of the Park, runs to its west, then turns and runs through the Park, as I will do tomorrow.

Meanwhile the road rises toward the plateau of the Park, leaving the river behind. I arrive at the entrance, West Yellowstone, check at the visitor center to make sure nome of the roads I am planning to drive tomorrow are closed by either fire or ice. No. The path is clear.

I am writing this final stretch from the bar at the Madison Crossing Lounge. The long room has space for tables against its brick-red walls, with six four-tops down the center, and another eight deuces against the plate glass windows which face to the south. The handsome wooden cabinet behind the bar has an antique look, but it is instead a modular, modern system, only a few years old. Exposed beams tilt down toward the stone fireplace in the center of the outside wall. They are original to the building, which was the first West Yellowstone School, built in 1918. The lounge itself is on the site of the first grade classroom.

There are now eight tables dining. Some are regulars, greeted by name by the owner or his hostess. Others are obvious tourists. A couple silhouetted against the window are a good example. She is slender, he is overweight, both in their fifties, probably. They wear cowboy hats unworn by weather. His looks to be of plastic covered straw which will melt in either heat or rain. Hers is leather, but sits on her head precariously perched atop her bouffantish do, upheld by gel.

And that brings you up to the present moment. I am going to publish this post and head to the Land Whale. I will be up by dawn and into and out of Yellowstone by noon. Then I am going to visit half the wineries in Wyoming, the Irvin Cellar Winery in Riverton.


Miles on Moby Ree-shard, the Great White Land Whale: 18,553

Farewell to Glacier

Here is wild goose island, taken from the most popular vantage in this photogenic park.

wild goose morning

A few dozen yards down the Sun Road, to the east of this overlook, is an outcropping of pale white rock. Once upon a time, I took a photo of a pine seedling growing in a crevasse in that rock. A bee was perched in the seedling.

That photo was taken at least 15 years ago, and long since lost, except to memory. And I do remember it well, because of the spans of time it encompassed.

The bee on the tree had a life span measured in months. The young tree could hope to live decades, but no more than a century or so. The rock was exposed to the light of day by glaciers which did their carving ten thousand years ago.The rock itself, however, was the oldest rock on this side of the park, at least a billion years old, right there, and perhaps a billion and a half.

All captured by the camera in a fraction of a second, a slice of light itself, which does not exist in time at all.

What is time but the means by which we measure it? Glacier shows us, if we look, so many means by which we may measure time.

I remember a block of green rock of the Appekunny Formation, whose fine repeating layers were laid down in a dark, deep sea; they are a kind of hourglass, measuring millennia instead of minutes. Below the Appekunny is the Pritchard, above it the Grinnell, marking other distinguishable epochs.

The rock was in McDonald Creek, which runs down a valley carved by glaciers which shaped the land over thousands of years. Today the creek is low, four months ago it was raging, the waters ebb and flow marching to the flow and ebb of the of the seasons, in time with the sun. The yellow leaves which float in the blue-green water have thrived and now fade to the same slow clock.

The tiny chipmunk which darts among the yellow leaves was born this year, will die in three, will do its best to generate more chipmunks the year between. A furry, flitting bundle of circadian rhythms, he is another tiny clock, which chirps and clicks instead of ticks and tocks.

I have been here a season, from the early summer when birds sang vigorously every morning, guarding their hatchlings, to early fall, when the clouds lowered and their songs grew silent, replaced by cranky ravens arguing with themselves.

My time in Glacier is over. I was here the day the Going to the Sun Road opened, and I left the day it closed. Another tick of the clock, another spin of the whirlpool in the stream, another beat of my wandering heart.