Backpacks and Bear-Mace

This post is more than a month overdue; chronologically it should follow the post about the Super 8. My excuse is this: I didn’t want screen time to take me away from where I was. Similar sentiments have hindered my attempts at writing over the past two months: each place that I go, I’m torn between fully appreciating where I am and reflecting on where I’ve been.

We spent the next day driving through both the Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, passing views that drove the drab memory of the Super 8 out of my mind.  We would pull over every ten minutes or so to take pictures of the Tetons looming over the lakes. The snowcapped peaks jutted starkly into a bluebird sky and were reflected onto the the placid water below, making the horizon appear to stretch in both directions. At the same time, the water was so clear that the lake took on the color of the multicolored rocks below the surface. Looking out from the water’s edge gave me the strange impression that I was looking both at a window and a mirror.

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That night we relocated to a campsite in Yellowstone that was more in line with my idea of adventure. The tent overlooked a small mountain and was within walking distance of the giant thermal pools of Mammoth Hot Spring. A herd of elk grazed unfazed in a field directly in front of us, and their cries filled each nights with an strange, yet to me peaceful, soundscape. Adam disagrees with me on this point – he thought the cries were eerie, almost like screams. Either way, the spot was certainly more interesting than any motel.

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We spent two full days here, hiking and driving to various attractions with backpacks and bear-mace. The first day, we fell into the tourist crowd that was exploring the various thermal pools. Though we had to share the views with busloads of noisy selfie-snappers, it was worth the annoyance to see the pools’ vivid iridescence in person. The colors were neon bright in a way that doesn’t  resemble anything else in nature that I’ve seen; they looked so inviting that I often had to check my impulse to reach over the boardwalk and touch them. I wasn’t the only one with these thoughts, for there were signs everywhere warning the viewers that water temperatures were above 200 degrees.  I was reminded of the story of the Sirens, and I wonder if any early settlers were boiled alive acting under similar impulses.

The next day, we ditched the crowds and hiked along a the ridge of a steep river ravine. We estimated the drop to be close to a thousand feet, and we spent an excellent 30 minutes playing baseball off of the cliff’s edge with sticks and rocks. We hiked a few miles without seeing anybody else, and it was easy to imagine that we were in a place that was truly wild. Thank God for national parks – I can imagine this place becoming totally ruined by luxury housing developments.

Though we didn’t see any grizzly bears (which was both relieving and a tiny bit disappointing), we did come across a lot of elk and bison. Our first real animal encounter happened on the second day of camping, when two bucks began clashing horns within feet of the tent. It started with one elk sniffing the fabric and prodding it with his horns while the other grazed nearby, luckily we were down at the picnic table when this happened. We yelled and waved our arms at it, trying to keep it from ripping our shelter. Ignoring us, the first elk charged suddenly at the other and they locked horns. I had the backpack out and the bear-mace cocked, trying to come to terms with the fact that I might have to mace such beautiful animals if they came at us; It felt so wrong to mace an elk. It never came to this though, because they continued to pay us no attention and we eventually started to make dinner while they fought.

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It was hilariously absurd to be doing something as mundane as cooking food when these two animals were duking it out ten feet away from us – it was like dinner and a show. Eventually, they gave up and wandered back towards the other elk in the field, leaving us to finish our add-water potatoes and beans in bewilderment.

After that bizarre spectacle, we drove down to the river to soak in the natural hot springs. There is an area where the freezing river water intersects with the boiling thermal water and creates a hot tub of sorts; it’s a perfect temperature save for  intermittent currents of boiling and freezing undertows, which are painful and unexpected. It took us a while to find the perfect spot: moving two feet towards the spring would have burnt our skin off and two feet towards the river would turn our fingers numb. That left us about three feet of warm water to soak for a few hours before returning to camp.

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The Tetons and Yellowstone experience was truly awe-inspiring for me, and I’m happy that I have finally gotten around to writing about it. I was worried that I would keep pushing it off, and that I would eventually forget some of the best details; I hope I haven’t already. Letting this post slip through the cracks for over a month has made me realize that I’m going to have to make changes to my writing process if I am going to continue.

When I self-diagnose my writing habits, I find several things that I would like to improve upon. I’m a slow writer; I have to set aside hours of the day each time that I decide to post anything – and since we were spending only a few days in each place, I often prioritized other things. My insistence on perfectionism too often blocks my flow of thoughts from reaching paper.  I would like to be able to focus more on the substance of what I write than how it sounds. It seems counterintuitive, but I think I need to get more comfortable with word-vomitting – otherwise I’ll keep being hung-up on how best to articulate my thoughts instead of getting them out. Lastly, for now, I’d like to become less attached to my writing and focus on being a better editor. If I had been able to do that over the past few months, I might have freed up time to explore rather than fretting over the sound of each sentence.

Also, I think I need to take more breaks from writing rather than trying to finish it in one go – the writer’s block that I got from this post alone took up the entire morning.

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