Everything is curious in Yellowstone. We have been here for a couple of months and have embraced the habits of wildlife. It’s not a choice. Awareness of our surroundings is paramount for both observation and safety. It’s ok. Perfume and purses have been replaced with backpacks and bear spray, and that is OK, too. This is our new way of life.
The unseasonable cold, skipped spring this year, and catapulted us to summer. Finally a chance see Yellowstone from my bike. I am not sure I will ever acclimate to living at 7,000’, but time allows for rest and a chance to fall into synchrony with nature.
On the way to Firehole Canyon Drive, I note that the bison calves aren’t quite so clumsy, and like toddlers, they are scolded for venturing too far away. Staying close to the herd is instrumental to their survival. Wolves wait at the tree line and in a few months snow will blanket their valleys. Nearby the bubbling hot springs percolate, unbeknownst to tourists asking for directions to Old Faithful, and the whistle pigs, are screeching accusations. They are convinced I have wrecked their opportunity for snacks. They are right. I want to see them return in the spring too.
Movement near the Firehole River prompted a reach to my bear spray. It has become reflex, and today, UNnecessary. I stumbled upon an elk and her calf. I leaned my bike against a tree and found a rock to sit on.
Today’s lesson was about trust.
The mama crossed the river 25 yards downstream from the calf. She looked back frequently, but never went back. The calf sounded like a newborn kitten, clearly in protest of it’s predicament. The elk cow was trying to convince the baby to cross the river. To be honest, I wasn’t sure I wanted it to cross. The rivers were still high and the calf was tiny and vulnerable. The whining continued while it stepped into the river and got louder when it was swept downstream. That’s when my tears started. I held my breath, convinced mama was saying: “keep your head up, keep swimming”. She never moved. She waited while the river gently carried the calf onto the bank, exactly where she had synchronized the landing.
The exact spot.
The calf, still complaining, scurried up the bank to the mama prepared to comfort it’s fears. My eyes were blurry with tears of understanding. Tears that told the story of survival, of life lessons, and of trust. I am forever changed.
They rambled up the hillside and the few other people who had quietly joined me erupted with high fives, claps and cheers. We are all changed.
I climb back on my bike and headed upstream to Firehole Falls grateful that my curiosity is greater than my bravery and the realization that Yellowstone is no longer a vacation, and instead, it is the most awe-inspiring place that I also call home.
Still trying to decide if the life lessons were for the calf, or for me.
The gift of time…