Monday, July 19, 2010

Yellowstone Revisited

We ask other hikers if they have seen the bear
The sign warned of.
No one has.
They all have heard of someone else who has.
They say he was headed back over the ridge,
Toward the lake from which we have just come.
He, like the huckleberries,
Grows thick and plump this year.
Dark clouds hide jagged peaks,
envelop distant forest.
Hungry for sun,
People wonder out loud when summer will come,
Now that July is nearly gone,
And the rain continues.

It sifts down from the gray, beads on my jacket,
Slowly forms rivulets, drops to the ground.
I see it soak into earth, dampened for days now,
Still thirsty for more.

Old trees surround us,
Bare and blackened.
At their feet,
filling all space between,
Soft, young evergreens grow waist high.
Twenty two years ago the fires raged.
All efforts to control them failed;
Fueled by deadfall, drought, strong winds,
Their fury and destruction screamed
From headlines and nightly news.
By September, thousands of acres blackened,
They said it would never be the same.
We were there.
Waited in line, did as we were told.
Drove miles and hours without stopping,
Windows closed, through thick smoke
and searing heat.
No sun that day either
- nor for many more long after.
Now we rest under a large tree,
Seeking refuge from the rain.
Mountain Bluebirds flash bright among green.
The lake is brim full, clogged with water lilies.
Through binoculars distant white spots
Become pelicans and swans.
Two ospreys sit high above, sharp eyes scanning below.
Hillsides undulate with grasses
Still lush and green.
Rumpled foothills are
Nubby with grey-green sage.
Around us, wild blue lupine
flow and fade off in all directions
as far as we can see.
Jeans wet, boots muddy,
I raise my face to the gray sky
And laugh.

(The great wildfires of 1988 included 50 within Yellowstone National Park, scorching 12 million acres and burning 793,000 (36%) of park land. The history of wildfire in Yellowstone is long and varied. Even before written records of fire, we see evidence of fire in soil profiles, lake sediments, land slides, and in old-growth trees that have been scarred by fire. The majority of these fires have been caused by lightening, although a few are human-caused. Many species of plant life in that area are well-adapted to fire. Some, such as Aspen, have underground root systems that are not harmed by fire above ground and readily sprout after. Others, such as Lodgepole Pine, have their seeds sealed in cones by resins and require fire to free them for germination. In the years immediately following fires, huge numbers of plants sprout and thrive due to soils enriched with nutrients from the ash. Wildfires have raged there over several hundred-year intervals and it is clear that they have had a role in the dynamics of Yellowstone's ecosystems for thousands of years.)


  1. Yea, it's amazing alright.... and I did see that bear, along with elk, moose, deer, coyote and more. I prefer to be there in the fall. Fewer humans and more wildlife being wild.

  2. I agree - it can be a real "zoo" in the summer. But the area itself is still amazing to me and we continue to be drawn to its wonders. When I wrote this, we were only driving through, from Idaho to the lake. The last time we took some time to visit there, was in the fall - beautiful at that time of year - cooler and definitely less crowded! Thanks for your comments.