Immersed in Nature by Nick Burton

It was just after sunrise when I left the campground bathroom and started back to our camp site. A few steps down the sidewalk I heard a loud exhalation. The sort that you expect from a horse. I froze in place and slowly looked in the direction the sound had come from. As I’d suspected a buffalo stood near me, close enough to touch, munching on the grass. Buffalo are a common sight in Yellowstone National Park, especially in the campgrounds. When we’d first arrived in Yellowstone, my partner’s foster dad, Greg, read the signs to Des and me, who are both visually impaired, that warned campers to stay clear of the buffalo. A few of the signs even said how many people are gored each year by the buffalo.

Needless to say, my heart began to pound in a mixture of fear and excitement. For a moment I wasn’t sure what to do. I was afraid to move and startle the creature. Conversely, I was filled with joy at having a buffalo close up. Until thenI’d only seen them in books where I could see them properly or from afar here in the park and from a distance they looked like large brown blobs to me. Having a living specimen so close to me was awesome. I could actually see the animal’s muscly shoulders and shaggy head, with deadly looking horns. It was easy to see why there were warnings about them. It wouldn’t take much for a buffalo to harm a human.

As I stared at the large woolly beast it looked up at me, acknowledging that I was there. My heart pounded even harder. I stayed still and tried to calm myself, hoping that I would exude peace and prove to be nonthreatening. After what felt like forever, but was probably only seconds, the buffalo loudly exhaled again and went back to its breakfast.

I waited for a moment and then took a very slow and hesitant step forward. The animal didn’t even look up this time, it just continued to eat. Taking a relieved sigh, I took another slow step, then started to walk just a bit slower than my normal gait across the road over to the camp site. It didn’t take me long to reach the tent that my partner and I shared. Everyone in our camp was still asleep, so I had to wait to regale my companions with my encounter.

 

Outside of our campsite were many different sights to see. One trip took us to Yellowstone’s hot springs. As I stepped out of the van sulfur assaulted my nose. The stench intensified as we reached the boardwalk to view the hot springs.

Each pool has its own characteristics. Several are aptly named. One, called Sapphire Pool, is light blue on the outer rim and then fades to a deep blue towards the middle. Another pool is named Emerald Pool, and is a deep green color. The hot spring that couldn’t keep my eyes off of, because it was so beautiful, was Grand Prismatic Spring. The rocks around the pool were stained a bright orange and red in a sun burst pattern that makes the spring look like an impressionist painting of the sun.

I squinted through the view finder of the camera, trying to center the view as best I could and waited until I thought I had a shot clear from the other passing tourists and took a few pictures. Then I gazed at the pool again marveling at the colors. After the sunburst was a thin ring of yellow where the boiling liquid begins. The yellow quickly fades to green and progresses to blue. The summer sun makes some of the colors hard for me to see but the pictures I took should help me to see it in all its glory later.

If hadn’t of been for the smell of sulfur, the bright sunlight, and heat from both the late June sun, and the wafts of warmth from the hydrothermal pools, I would have enjoyed standing there appreciating these gorgeous sites.

“We’re losing them,” Des says, gesturing in the direction the rest of our group went.

“Okay, I think I got enough pictures anyway.” I replied and followed Des through the crowd to catch up.

The heat rising from the pools distort and obscure the sight of some the next few springs. So, we moved on and came to a pool that was unusually empty. Greg read the information on a plaque the described what it was supposed to look like and it was a shame that it was empty because it sounded like it was almost as beautiful as Grand Prismatic Spring. As we stood there a few of the park’s staff came down to observe the blank spring.

“I wonder what’s up with that?” Des muttered to me.

“Is it me or do they seem concerned?” I replied.

“It’s not just you…” Des returned.

The feeling of foreboding made me feel even more uneasy. I had already felt a little unsafe as it was. Although there was somewhat of a railing to keep you from going off the boardwalk, it still felt precarious to stand on, what amounted to a wooden sidewalk, adjacent to boiling hot pools of water and sulfur. It felt especially dangerous when a large number of tourists stopped to look at the same springs as you. Thankfully that didn’t happen too often while we were there, but a few times I really wished the crowd would thin out. It also didn’t help that my limited vision made the brown wooden planks look very similar to the stone that they were placed directly above. This mixed with my poor balance made me feel as if I’d fall into the springs at any moment. My companions didn’t seem to have the same problems, not even Des. So, I followed them and stayed close.

The morning was deliciously cool as we packed up our campsite. It was hard to believe we’d been at Yellowstone National Park for a week. Each day had been jammed packed with sight-seeing. Not only was it my first time in Montana, let alone a national park, but it was one of the very few times I’d gone somewhere, specifically to admire the scenery. My parents, particularly my dad, weren’t the type to do sight-seeing. My dad never had the attention span for it, or even the time off for vacations. When we would go on a road trip somewhere my dad would try as much as possible to drive from point A to point B. There were rarely ever any potty breaks let alone sight-seeing stops. As for my mom, she has the same eye condition as me, but it’s more progressed than mine, so even though she would love to do touristy things, most of the activities that require sight aren’t very appealing. After all what’s the fun of going and looking at the sights, if you can’t see them. Sure, a sighted person could describe them, but it’s just not the same. Between the two of them, we never went anywhere except if we had to.

I was so thankful that Des’ foster parents invited me along for such a beautiful trip. Before camping in Yellowstone, I had thought of myself as something of a city person, who occasionally liked rural locations, but I learned quickly over the course of the week that I love the country. I knew that I would miss the restful days we’d spent leisurely deciding where in the park we were going to go next. I’d long for the relaxed exploration of each of the park’s iconic locations.

Even though my encounter with the buffalo had been scary, yet exciting, I’d miss watching the buffalo that seemed to have claimed the campground as their own personal buffet table and napping spot. Most of all the fresh air and the time spent with those I cared about were things that didn’t come easily, and I was sad to head home again.

“Okay, that’s everything,” Greg said with one last quick scan of the camping area.

“We’re all ready to go.” Des said and climbed into the van and sat down.

Before I followed suit, I took one last look around, as if I were trying to engrave every detail that I could see into memory. The even disbursement of tents and buffalo made me smile. This magical place where nature and civilization were existing perfectly with one and other gave me hope for the future of our planet and people.

I said a silent prayer that this wouldn’t be the last time I see this beautiful place. One day I would have to come back and make new memories. Until then I’d have to keep the current ones close to my heart.

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