Just a few moments in Yellowstone

  • Alan Kesselheim


Early this summer, I went into the forest near Slough Creek Campground in Yellowstone National Park. Just out of sight of the last campsite, it felt very secluded. I set my folding chair on some flat ground next to a couple of dried buffalo flops and sat there, alone, for an hour or more.

Nothing happened.

The wind blew the entire time. Tree trunks in the distance rubbed against each other -- a high whine -- intermittent but steady. I imagined wood polishing wood, wearing itself smooth and shiny. Tall evergreens leaned and swayed, drunken, animated by the gusts. The sound of rushing air in the forest was like surf at the beach.

A butterfly flew past, lingering in the lulled air close to the ground, flying in the meandering, unsteady way that butterflies do. Some yellow-rumped warblers chased each other through the underbrush, color flashing. A chickadee called; a second one flew in, and the two black-and-white streaks played follow-the-leader, zooming through the thick grove of trees, chattering at each other.

Bits of airborne fluff, plant seeds, wafted past on the breezes. How far might they travel in a wind like this? And upon landing, perhaps one out of a hundred will take root and grow, initiating a new colony miles from home.

A flicker landed in the top of a broken snag; I caught a glimpse of the black bib on its chest. It worked its way methodically around the exposed, decaying stump, jabbing up insects, using its stiff outer tail feathers as outriggers for balance and support. It took its time but eventually flew off, undulating into the shadows with its white patch exposed.

Wind-driven cumulus clouds charged overhead, sun-struck and benign but building to something. Their shadows undulated like moving carpets on the far, sagebrush-dotted slope. With the wind and the thickening clouds, it felt like change, a hint of tomorrow's storm. And throughout it all, there was the monotonous, whining rub of tree against tree, that patient polishing in the harrying wind.

I went into the lush woods of Yellowstone Park to sit still for an hour or more, and, as I say, nothing happened.

Alan Kesselheim is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a syndication service of High Country News (hcn.org). He is a writer in Bozeman, Montana.

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