The week before friends were taking me to Yellowstone National Park I was weed-eating along the front fence and nearly put my left eye out. A rock kicked up and under my glasses and bounced off the bridge of my nose. Hand clamped tight to my face, I rushed for the house to assess the damage. All I could think was that I was finally going back to Yellowstone. But I feared that I’d not be able to see it at all.
I’d recently lost most of the vision in my right eye when a blood clot took out the blood supply to my optic nerve. The remaining peripheral vision is mostly a distraction. I’m aware movement, and can make out some shapes, but I can’t actually see.
Until that moment I hadn’t realized how much I wanted – needed – to see the landscape where some of my happiest childhood memories reside.
Luckily, the rock hadn’t actually hit my eye. My nose hurt for several days, but the tiny cut under my eye healed quickly with only minor bruising.
Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.` John Muir
The summer I was 13, my maternal grandparents took me and my 16 year-old cousin to Yellowstone. – Read more about them here: https://lindabittle.com/love-as-i-see-it/
Jennifer got to drive the new station wagon on the straight, flat Kansas highway. Granny wore pants for the first time in public. Granddaddy gave me my first lesson in fly fishing. And I caught my first rainbow trout in the Madison River while wrapped in a blanket off the bed during an August snow. Then my great Aunt Jean and Uncle Gerald showed us how to cook them in a cast iron skillet, served up with hush puppies and fried potatoes and onions. To date, that’s the single best meal I’ve ever had.
Uncle Gerald was one of Granddaddy’s brothers, and the one who did not marry one of the Haynes sisters from El Dorado Springs, Missouri. Aunt Jean wore blue jeans and red lipstick, went hunting and fishing with the men, and prioritized adventure over housework. I idolized her.
We all stayed at a little motel on Hebgen Lake, about 15 miles from West Yellowstone. An Appaloosa horse grazed in the pasture outside our rooms. Having spent time in the area, Aunt Jean and Uncle Gerald were our tour guides. They knew a lot about nature and were eager to share with interested teens.
I took pictures, but almost all of them have been lost over the years. However, there are things I remember as clearly as if they just happened: Sitting on Granddaddy’s lap while Old Faithful erupted. Seeing swans on Yellowstone Lake from the Fishing Bridge. The way insects rise off the rivers at dusk – and how the trout come up after them. Wanting to, but not seeing bears. Mud volcanoes spitting sulfured gasses up into the air. A distant moose feeding in a shallow lake. The glistening white Travertine terraces of Mammoth Hot Springs. The Grand Tetons and Jackson Hole…All fond memories of a simpler time, and of family members as gone as the pictures. Only my cousin and I remain.
I couldn’t help but wonder how the Yellowstone of today would compare to my memories of Yellowstone. I feared disappointment as much as I needed to see it all again while I still could.
In my next post I’ll share how things have changed – and how they’ve stayed the same.