The Confluence

I want to be everywhere; I don’t want to leave anywhere.

We are strangers. A confluence of diverse backgrounds, distant homes, variations in culture and different expectations, drawn together by the Yellowstone Institute—held together by the gravity of a common bond, a love of places wild.

The narrow trail suggests solitude, focusing thought; not many venture this way. Flexing forward, my trailing foot leaves the past, leaving the road, the bus and other remnants of civilization. Each forward step reaches into the future. Striking the ground, it rotates through time until it too joins my past. The movement begins a slow transformation, propelling me towards the present. The present is a place of emotion, appreciation, a place where time does not exist. The present is a luxury often unattainable in other parts of my life, sometimes unattainable on the trail. It is a place where the world cannot reach me. A place where, even in the presence of others, I can be contemplatively alone.

A switchback provides a vista, a preview of the day. The blue Yellowstone descends, then meanders unseen through a gorge. Evergreens favor the river before sporadically giving way to fall prairie grass, the golden fields eventually surrendering to rock and steep sloped mountains. A distant thin green line defines the location of the Hell Roaring River. Unnoticed at the time, two small hills frame a clump of trees. For the moment it is a view, part of The Yellowstone. Today will make it a memory. Time will add meaning, give substance to this picture.

Most of the elevation change is in the initial switchbacks. The descent behind us, we approach a bridge over the Yellowstone. Crossing, I absorb the impact of white water rushing through a gorge, a bit of the spectacular in a park I love for the subtle way she enters my thoughts. Most associate this park with the extraordinary. They tour in cars, hovering near geysers, waterfalls, mud pots and mountains. I think of her as subtle, respectful, even giving. I know of no other park where one can get so completely absorbed hiking this close to a road.

Leaving the trail, we move through autumn fields blanketing soft, rolling hills; they stretch the horizon to the mountains bordering my world. I begin to abandon my sense of location. My trust placed in the hike leader, I transition, becoming totally unaware of where I need to go or how far I need to travel.

I find myself retreating, slowing my pace, letting others move ahead, letting her lead, wanting to experience this alone. I am not anyplace specific, but I don’t want to leave, moving without direction, I want to be everywhere. This field has energy, enough to sustain massive buffalo through a Yellowstone winter. This field has history, one reaching far beyond the meager evidence of hoof prints and sun bleached bones scattered before me. Its power combines with its past, surging forward, pushing into my imagination. They intertwine, twisting, a hurricane, turning me inward, away from turmoil, into the calm of the I.

I walk and breathe, walk and savor. I am everywhere, I am anywhere, each step allowing me to see every sage, every rock, every blade of grass contained within my mountains. I blend, a harmless predator, invisible to others, tracking them from a distance but never losing contact.

The thin green line grows in prominence, marking our destination, marking the meeting of the rivers, the knowledge moving me back with the others. It is a momentary interruption. Soon we step from the confluence, following the trail, turning towards the small hills bordering the trees.

I was everywhere, I could see everything . . . now I am contained, my vision restricted, my world bordered by these mounds of earth, muffled by trees within.

I imagine this land before Columbus sailed, individuals from an indigenous population seeking this place, seeking its solitude. Perhaps it was spiritual, a place to give thanks, a place to reflect on a life lived, a place for a parent to imagine a young life’s potential. Perhaps a young warrior stood here and prepared his mind for battle. Maybe lovers rendezvoused. I feel humble, sharing an unknown but obvious history, experiencing the subtle serenity flowing through these trees.

Too soon. It is always too soon. I am across the bridge moving briskly up the switchbacks. Beginning a necessary but unwelcome transition, I gain ground on my leading foot, my trailing foot treading lightly in The Yellowstone.

Mike Bennett

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