The Greater Yellowstone

Jackson Lake, GTNP, Wyoming

There’s a place in the Greater Yellowstone where you can lay your back flat on the good earth and feel geothermal pressure rumbling and groaning beneath you. Where your bones grow heavy, a body-shaped bag filled with the same silica sand that spreads across the lake floor where vestiges of an ancient, awful event lay in the deep. The earth unfolded. Peeled back like a wound and spilt fire across the craton. One can’t begin to imagine it. The crushing, paralyzing weight of the aftermath or, just as unfathomable, the pulverizing realization and acceptance of a fate forthcoming. How marvelous! To welcome the unknown with open arms—to inhale contentment, relieved of the duties of this world, and fall into the abyss. To see what awaits. No more foraging for nutrients. No more mating rituals or storing for another winter. No more dropping the kids off at school or phoning relatives. No more protecting the nest from predators or stalking prey in the low-lit tall grass as the sun slips below the horizon and you shiver in its shadow.

 

This place on the Yellowstone is a subterranean labyrinth. Chamber after chamber of building pressure and scalding temperatures, with nowhere to go, frantically rounding corners, wriggling through pore space and pushing ever-frantically up. Up and out for air. Out of its irrational mind…

 

When you lay on the black sand you feel the earth heave, as though you are laying atop the ribcage of your lover. Breaths are a synchronized dance, and you understand this is a transition phase—a moment you’ve known your entire life, but you’ve never imagined it until just now. This process has been repeating itself for many millennia, but it never before involved you.

 

Never mind geologic eons and epochs and eras, you can feel it in your bag-of-sand bones. You can smell sulfur rising from the deep and you may as well never sit up off of the warm ground. The vast complexity of the system of which we are a part sometimes feels good. It wakes us up in the wee hours, slaps us upside the cheek, shakes off the silica sand and makes us reach for the ones we love. We prop ourselves up in the mornings, we go about our duties and we step out into the sunshine and revel in its warmth, as we should. What else is there to be doing?

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