Yellowstone ... suddenly my story seems trivial.
But that’s how the tale turns when talking about Mother Nature, a magnificent but fickle dictator over our lives.
We just returned from a road trip through the spectacular landscape of Yellowstone, now celebrating 150 years since it became our nation’s first national park.
The 3,500 square miles touch three states, mostly Wyoming, where Mother Nature, after the slow trickle of time through billions of years, carved out a living museum of wonder.
I planned to start with that well-known refrain: “Oh, give me a home, where the buffalo roam.” And then gently warn: be careful what you ask for.
This fit well with our encounters with bison. (It’s OK to call them buffalo, but they are not. Look it up.)
Twice we were stalled in a parade of vehicles. We inched along about 4 miles an hour, the approximate speed of a bison as it roams.
Finally, at the head of the line, we were behind a herd of the hairy beasts, wandering on and off the paved path – clearly their road, not ours.
A park ranger, using that squad car squawk, nudged them ahead and eventually off the road. This took an hour – both times.
I found myself facing a decision, the left bumper of my Silverado inches away from the nose of the horned and very large head of a bison. We both had stopped. (They’ve been known to ram vehicles.)
I made my move and slid forward. He allowed it. I was laughing the whole time. My wife, not so much.
That’s why millions flock to this wonderland. To see wildlife. (Take bear spray.) And to sniff steaming ponds and bubbling mud where strange geologic digestion is going on underground.
The geyser Old Faithful satisfies insistent cameras waiting for it to burp. You try not to think about the volcano that stretches below.
Yellowstone took eons to form over the shifting of one huge, underground tectonic plate. As you weave through the wilderness, watchful for creatures – and other vehicles – you don’t feel the enormous underground pressure that helped shape such beauty.
Nature can slow the clock. Until it doesn’t, as seen only days after we left when heavy rainfall and a rapid snowmelt lead to flash flooding.
You’ve likely seen news clips showing roads (we drove) washed out and that house sliding into a rushing river. The 10,000 visitors evacuated have scary stories to tell. But the locals will suffer much more.
The town of Gardiner, where we spent an evening, was surrounded by flood water and now faces significant repairs. This crisis will cut deep into personal livelihoods in tourist towns already bruised by the pandemic.
It read that a scientific report published last year predicted Yellowstone would face flooding issues tied to climate changes. As I write this, there might be more to come.
Nature, just doing its thing. Adapting, twisting, rushing, melting or burning and always, always changing. We don’t have a proper view of the slow-moving, bigger picture, making it hard to understand.
Then you see your house vanish into a river. And you begin to wonder and question.
What is happening to this land? This home where the buffalo roam.
• Lonny Cain, retired managing editor of The Times in Ottawa, also was a reporter for The Herald-News in Joliet in the 1970s. His Paperwork email is email@example.com. Or mail The Times, 110 W. Jefferson St., Ottawa, IL 61350.