The Life in My Years

An anthology of life

Cover photo: Yellowstone River cuts through the Paradise Valley north of Gardiner Montana

“My God, this place is at the end of the world,” worried Cora. Cora doesn’t do dirt roads very well. It did seem like a long ride up the mountain from the main highway. It was unpaved and pocked with debris and holes but it wasn’t horrible. In comparison this road was much better than Highway 880 through Oakland which has worse stretches, deeper holes and the extra added excitement of big rigs hurtling past just an arm’s length away as drivers try to negotiate the narrow lanes at 65 miles – an – hour while texting and eating an Egg McMuffin. Oh and we shouldn’t forget the occasional freeway shooter.

We were headed for a cabin in the woods, my idea as part of our Yellowstone trip to both experience the solitude of Montana’s Big Sky Country and, since the place would have a fully equipped kitchen, save some money on meals. I’d shopped the Vacation Rentals By Owner (VRBO) website, pared the choices down to 5 cabins and asked Cora to narrow it down to 3. From there we chose a place advertised as “a secluded cabin by a creek, where you might see wildlife out your front door and be serenaded by howling wolves at night.” There would also be no phone, no TV and very little if any internet service. No internet? That sealed the deal. Where do I sign?

Every time I would take time off from work, my standard out of office Outlook message would include the cautionary alternative fact that I would “not have access to internet or phone service.” I could be headed for the Ritz-Carlton in Chicago and I would always claim the place has “no internet or phone service.” This time I would actually be telling the truth. I double and triple checked with Cora, who has become very connected to being connected. She grudgingly said she was okay with it. Continue reading

This week Friday Fotos is a final photo tribute to Yellowstone.

Mammoth Hot Springs

One of my favorite places in Yellowstone, one that I remembered from childhood trips and looked forward to showing Cora is Mammoth Hot Springs. Located on a limestone hill, Mammoth is a complex of terraces made up of crystalized calcium carbonate deposited by hot water bubbling up from Yellowstone Park’s vast underground plumbing system.

It’s been described as a cave turned inside out. I describe it as a scene from some unknown planet.  It’s a beautiful surreal place where steam rises from terraces colored in white, gray, tan, charcoal and cream.

Mammoth 4 - Copy

Mammoth 6 - Copy

Steam creates a haze over the otherworldly terraces of Mammoth.

Mammoth 3 - Copy

Mammoth 2 - Copy

Mammoth 1

The top of a dead tree peeking above the Mammoth flow is testament to the hot springs’ hostile environment.

Norris Geyser Basin

The Norris Geyser Basin is one of the hottest and most toxic of Yellowstone Park’s many thermal areas.  Norris sits at a temperature that tops 200 degrees F. (93.33 C.) and a highly acidic low pH level of around 2.  To me one of the more fascinating sites at Norris is the stand of dead trees surrounding Cistern Spring.

Dead trees Cistern Spring Norris geyser basin

Dead trees Cistern Spring Norris geyser basin2

Below, a monochrome edit of the photo above could be a scene out of World War I. 

Dead trees Cistern Spring Mono

 

 

Dead stump

The remnants of trees that succumbed to Yellowstone Park’s deadly waters.

Excelsior Geyser at Midway Geyser Basin

What looks like a waterfall is actually a flow of water from the crater of the now dormant Excelsior geyser at the Midway Geyser Basin, a place which Rudyard Kipling once described as “Hell’s Half Acre.” The crater measures out at 276 x 328 feet and dumps 199 degree (F) water into the Firehole River at a rate of 4000 gallons per minute.  During it’s active period in the 19th century Excelsior’s spectacular eruptions would reach a a height of 300 feet. In 1985, Excelsior erupted to a height of 55 feet, an eruption that lasted for two days. It last erupted in 1988.

Excelsior Geyser Firehole River 1 copy

Above and below, views of the boiling waters of Excelsior geyser dumping into the Firehole River. The brilliant colors are thermophiles, microbe communities which thrive in the hostile environment of Yellowstone Park’s thermal areas. Standing on the opposing bank you hear the roar of steam and rushing water. 

Firehole 2

As we left Yellowstone from the east, headed for Cody, Wyoming I felt a profound sadness. I could visit any major city in the world, be enchanted for a bit and then stick it into the far regions of memory. Yellowstone for me is different. It’s a place of childhood memories, of fishing the Yellowstone River, of picnics interrupted by bears and of introducing my wife to a natural wonder; a place that I might never visit again.

 

This post is a bit of a departure from the usual. It’s a rebuttal to an article that was introduced to me some time ago which I found to be historically flawed, overflowing with innuendo and quite frankly does a disservice to a great American President. 

“At the age of 16, I already killed someone. A real person, a rumble, a stabbing. I was just 16 years old. It was just over a look. How much more now that I am president?” Rodrigo Duterte, November 9th, 2017.

 

It’s been a couple months now, I was mindlessly scanning Facebook and ran across a post that stopped me in my scrolling tracks. Well there it was, right in front of Mark Zuckerberg and God (some might say they’re one and the same) and everyone; a picture of Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte side by side with Abraham Lincoln and a link to an article entitled A Vulgar President. “Well, well, what have we here?”

I knew right off which president in the picture carries a reputation for vulgarity but what in the wide, wide world was Lincoln doing there?  The poster had entered a short two words, “Please read.”

“Okay you got me.”

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Cover photo: A tree reflects through debris and points of sunlight in a park puddle.

Here in Northern California we’ve been having some prodigious rainstorms. According to the weather guy on TV (who is quickly becoming one of my least favorite people not living in Washington DC) we’ve been hydrologically pulverized by an atmospheric river and the pineapple express. My dear old dad would’ve stated it in plain English – “It’s raining like a bastard.” Thanks dad.

Yesterday we got a brief respite, the clouds parted, a strange bright orb appeared in the sky and things dried off a bit. It was the perfect opportunity to celebrate a little drying with a little photography.

A friend on Facebook exclaimed with glee “I love the rain!” Tell that to our neighbor who woke up to this yesterday morning.

car mono

The saturated ground surrendered this palm tree to the wind gusts.

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Yellowstone’s geyser basins; bubbling, spounting, spewing, steaming, gurgling, roaring, scalding, shrieking and stinking. You walk along paths and boardwalks past crystal clear pools, bubbling mud pots, scalding springs and screaming steam vents. It might be a light warm spray of breeze blown mist from Old Faithful that dampens your skin, the steam heat from a bubbling pool, the wail of steam from a vent that pierces your ears, the noxious sulfuric smell of a mud pot or the bright, brilliant azure of a pool or the multicolored thermophiles, heat loving bacteria that thrive in an environment that flash cooks any other living thing. The geyser basins are a varietal stimulus to the senses.

Squeezed into two square miles of the Upper Geyser Basin are one fifth of the world’s geysers. It’s the home of the one and only star of the spouting show, Old Faithful which erupts not quite like clockwork but pretty darn close for a hydrogeological phenomenon. Being a celebrity she can be capricious about when she chooses to repeat her performance. It might be 35 minutes or it might be two hours but when showtime arrives Old Faithful leaves the standing room only crowd oohing and awing. More about Old Faithful later.

Upper Geyser Basin

Steam rises from Upper Geyser Basin   Canon EOS 60D   1/400 sec. f/11 79mm  ISO 100

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Imagine taking your car into the shop.  You know the “shop?” The shop is the generic name for the place that takes temporary possession of your car and permanent possession of the contents of your wallet. Your car is running in fits and starts so you take it to the shop. The mechanic tells you that he’d like to start by changing the oil and, “we’ll see what happens from there.” Okay, you tell him with a little tremble of doubt in your voice.

You bring the car home and nothing’s fixed and so you bring it back. “Let’s try flushing out the transmission and if that doesn’t work we’ll change out the plugs.”  

“Okay, you’re the expert, let’s do it.”

Couple days later and you’re back at the mechanic who, with a bewildered scratch of his head, offers, “Well let’s hook it up to the diagnostic and see what’s going on.”

“Huh? Why didn’t we do that from the start?”

Most mechanics don’t work that way and those that do usually find themselves in another line of work. Normally they do a diagnostic at the start, find the root cause and fix it. If they didn’t follow that protocol you’d be outraged. Doesn’t it seem reasonable to expect the same treatment when something in your own physical body goes a little south?

If your healthcare is in the hands of Kaiser Permanente that isn’t necessarily the case. Take my shoulder – please.

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When nature drew up her blueprint for Yellowstone she included a wealth of wonders. Would you like waterfalls? We have hundreds. Rivers? Aplenty.  Wildlife? A magnificent lake? You’ve got ’em. Canyons, geysers, hot springs, forests and sprawling valleys tucked beautifully into majestic peaks? Yeah, we got those too. About the only missing ingredient is an ocean.

Cora and I entered the vast park from the south, the west and the north and still only scratched the surface. From the parkside town of West Yellowstone we explored the Gibbon River.

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