A Week on the Yellowstone

A Week on the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers

June 3, 2004

Henry David Thoreau wrote “A Week on the Concord and Merrimac Rivers”, a dry read. When an admirer puts his book down, one who has begun fully expecting to enjoy it, one who has eagerly read Civil Disobedience, Walden, and An Ode to John Brown, when such a one abandons the book on rivers, something dire has happened. As I now remember it, the tedious part was the botany; what was missing was his opinions about people and life.

My title is a lie. We, Mike Jones and I, will voyage only three days. We won’t navigate any waters. We will pass by two rivers, coming within their view. We count that. Our travels are for botany, history and scenery. And friendship.

So far the botany has been mundane. My favorite so far is a little purple flower, having four petals, growing within 3/8” of its root. It appears to grow out of moss. I spied it at 12,200 feet. Its 1/8” long leaves seemed fat and fleshy, in their miniature way. Sedum leaves were the closest thing in my experience. At 9,000 feet, on our descent, I picked  yellow-blossomed flower, whose leaves and odor were that of the carrot family.

We drove from Bozeman to an “emergency” stopping place south of Livingston. We smelled antifreeze and the temperature gauge registered higher than I remember being normal. We discussed water pumps, thermostats, radiators and hoses. We decided to continue. We thought we could buy a thermostat in Gardiner and a 9/16” wrench to carry with us. In Gardiner we purchased gasoline from Jim Blatter’s convenience store. Gardiner has no auto parts store. When we discovered this, though our fears had melted. The temperature indicator seemed to stay at a point just below midpoint.

I saw new country nearly all day, from Gardiner on. The Lamar Valley is where wolves can frequently be seen. We saw one. Just his head was visible. Then the wolf got up and moved. He was one half mile away. I was surprised by its darkness. Was he surprised by my lightness? (He surely didn’t care one whit for me.)

Park workers shad stopped traffic so they could load up an elk they had to kill due to its having had its hind quarters eaten out. Other mega-fauna we saw include deer, buffalo and marmot.

At the Beartooth Highway summit, I don’t remember seeing any shrubs, just grass, moss and lichen. At slightly lower elevations low shrubs ventured, then fir, Albicolus Pine, Limber Pine and juniper. Presently we are camped among Lodgeploe Pines here at the Greenough Campground. The campground is nearly empty. Our nearest neighbor, a retired motorsports dealer from northern California, came and greeted us.

The birds make our place happy with their half-dozen sounds. Nearby there is a 20’x15’ boulder whose passable routes have been slickened by use. It exists to give children a sense of mastery. I miss having my children here, so that I might watch them use it.

The views of rock faces, pinnacles, snow drifts, mountain ranges, gorges, gravelly mountain sides swooping 2,000 feet, partly frozen lakes, the subtle danger of driving narrow, curvey roads, and the marvel of road double backs all combined to inspire awe.

I mentioned to Mike,” I”d like to see a fast forward movie of this area being formed, really fast.”

He added, “Yes, me too, and from a safe distance!”

One pinnacle reminded me of the Matterhorn: Pilot Peak. We think we identified Lookout Mountain. I saw a tall, thin waterfall.

I have lately noticed that I have a short attention span. I carve my day into vignettes. I rarely do a task that requires two or more hours. I do email. Then I scan internet news. I read Epstein. I write Parley. I call people for a few minutes each. I read a magazine. I mow for 45 minutes. I go to a store. I review Portuguese for a few minutes. These are all short 20-45 minute activities.

Anything that requires more time gives the impression of bogging me down.

What would happen if I require of myself, or allowed myself, projects or sessions of productivity that were 2 hours long? Or a half-day? I could read and write. I could compose music. I could research. I could call and mail people about a single purpose, bundling the contacting.

A novelist cannot write a novel in ten-minute segments. How can my purposes be met dealing in snippets?

That is partly why I got unsettled that Sunday in Salem, Oregon years ago. I had no series of engagements to occupy me. I quickly ran out of the few activities that were available to me which seemed fitting for the Sabbath.

I have noted that I don’t watch television. The twenty-eight hours other men spend every week watching, I fill with other things. Neither do I watch videos. Most of my time is spent communicating with others. These others are:
My wife- in person
My children- through phone calls with Jessica and Emily, emails with Parley, and visits to Abe.
Bishop and Greg- in meetings, a little by phone and email
Governor’s Council members- in meetings, by phone or email
Roger and Anne Koopman- during this primary election season
My parents
My siblings
Missionaries- from our extended family, 3rd Ward priests- and former University Ward members
My employees- informal questions they pose, assignments I give them, questions I ask them, sit-down “short visits” and reviews
Bill Slingsby and other contractors
Customers- with problems and concerns or questions, or selling them what they want
Suppliers- straightening out mistakes they or we made, negotiating price, asking them for special items
Advertising salespeople- asking them questions to better understand their proposal, the validity of their claims, evaluating their price/viewer-reader.
Calling church members to positions
Stewardship interviews with auxiliary leaders
Attending bishopbric training meeting

All of the above are face-to-face, telephone and written communications. I ought to be concerned that my voice, words, praise and training are uplifting and purposeful.



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