Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Jellystone (day twenty seven and twenty eight)

The tarmac crosses and recrosses the Continental Divide- water flows Pacific, or Atlantic-ward depending which side, so they say. Some gets evaporated, carried by clouds, or irrigated and recirculated, or stored, or drank and incorporated into bodies, and the rest gets resalinated in the east or the west. Some old biology lesson, i forget, back there somewhere. All the tourists are stopping for photos with dark wood white painted sign- should I? This is clearly a big deal. Important geography. I should get a photo here, but I don't. That dark wood white painted sign means nothing. Should it be celebrated and commemorated? It is not a memory to be valued, it's just a fact, like the length of a river is a fact, or a weight of an animal is a fact.

The water is sapphire blue clear, showing white rocks and the internal machinery. Industrial nature with steam billowdrifting in the light breeze, eggy sulphur smells with it. Pressure builds up from volcanic heat, splurts it through a narrow hole and whooooosh krrrssssh shhhhhhh splash, a torrent sent skywards. Old Faithful. You can set your clock by it, you know? An arc of a crowd is seated at a safe distance, vapour drifting against the grey sky. No cheers or oohs or aahs, just the gentle clicking of shutters like a slow ripple, or a hundred facebook albums, photo albums and slideshows. No one is really here, they're just thinking what to say to their friends and family. That is so postcard.

Excelsior broke its own machinery, so violent was it. All the geysers shift with each earthquake. Yellowstone Lake is impassive, metallic blue and dead. Icy cold and stretching over the horizon, banded by skinny fir trees huddling together for warmth, awaiting the next forest fire. Old burns can be seen on the slopes, skeletal sharpened bone white stems up right or scattered pick up sticks kerplunked over the hillside. Elk pick their way through with white rump and long schnoze, swinging heads lawn mowing. The bald eagle, imperious in its nest of tangled twigs, stares down at its audience of car bound paparazzi and long lensed nature snappers (snatchers?) wondering why they are bothering to complete their checklists. I still haven't seen a bear.

Aldous Huxley said that science was always trying to explain, to reduce everything to its component parts, dissecting and examining. Art unifies, unites, looks at the whole and elevates it. Sometimes Yellowstone feels more like science than art. The magma makes the steam makes the geyser whoosh. All the magic gone. Someone should bring back the art.

A mud volcano, where bacteria turn hydrogen sulphite into sulphuric acid which erodes the soil and rock into slush, which bubbles away with the endless gas rising. It erupted for 2 years continuously in the late 19th century before it broke its own machinery. Boohoo. The earth gets too violent sometimes.

The gorge was eroded by hard rock capping softer rock, and geysers eroding the underside. The Yellowstone river flows green and white, cresting over the precipice down to the plunge pool and carrying on down. Glaciated boulders are dotted over the plain, reminders of those ages past. A coyote skulks in the way coyotes skulk, that is with head down, a swaggering skulk, skimpering into the bushes on some nefarious jaunt.

Log layered and panelled shops phalanx the wide mountain boulevards of West Yellowstone, selling knives and every good you could ever need in leather, in leather, gun holsters, key rings. Rugged, like the wolf screen printed T shirts and cowboy boots and tottering towers of stetsons and wide brimmed hays, next to the flies, tackles and fishing reels, across from the rucksacks and sleeping bags, next to the candy store opposite the gift store with carved wooden bears and postcards and dreamcatchers and wind chimes and all other money demanding sideshows and attractions; the cafes and the bistros and fast food chain tendrils that stretch even here, gas stations with their lean price boards in bold colours and motels with wi-fi and free continental breakfast (read a muffin and Sunny D masquerading as orange juice), and sometimes, residential house, crammed in tight and tidy.

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