A Kettle full of Stories Part 2

Story 3—A Tale of Two Boys

photo credit Evelyn Stam, vacation photos

There are three area of geyser density in Yellowstone National Park.  These are called Upper, Midway and Lower Geyser Basins.  Because the soil’s crust is so fragile and thin, each has a boardwalk to safely see the area.  There are many signs telling people to stay on the boardwalk.  These not only have words, but a picture of a child falling through the crust to scalding water below.  People have been boiled to death by stepping off the path.

So, one would think that any reasonably intelligent person would obey the signs.  One boy did, one, yeah, almost did.  Fortunately for him almost counted.  I met him first.  He was 16 or 17, old enough to know better, young enough to forget that fact.  He and six or seven like aged friends were ahead of me on the boardwalk.  They were talking, joking, but not causing trouble.  Then, the brilliant idea entered his mind that even though the sulfur scented air was hot and humid and the water was steaming, he needed to find out first hand if the water was hot.  I was taken aback for a moment that anyone would actually squat down, grab the guard rail with one hand and shove the other (and his head!) toward the nearest steaming pool.  By the time I collected myself to say anything, he was back up.  He then announced to his friends.  “It really is hot.”

Did I mention the boardwalk was slightly slippery?  And that there were signs advertising the fact?  It was made of composite wood to last a long time, but it was more slippery than genuine board.  His Guardian Angel was on duty.  The only thing I could think of to say was.  “That was not smart.”  Then I told him.  “The last guy who tried something like that, well, his friends went to his funeral.”  I don’t think it even fazed him.

As I walked back, I met the second boy.  I heard a young woman say something and a small voice repeatedly ask, “why”.  I turned to see a young mother carrying her 3-year-old son.  He wanted to know why the pools were called sapphire.  I told him what a sapphire was and that the pools were the same color.  He reacted with the typical toddler shy look.

His mother explained, “He’s confused that he’s in a park, but can’t play.”  I told him, “Yea, some parks have playgrounds and some trees and pools.”  My daughter Evelyn added and him mother nodded, “And some have boiling pools that can kill you.”

I thought about the two boys.  Maybe, if the second keeps asking why, by the time he’s as old as the first, he won’t need to do something dangerous to answer his question, because he’ll already know.

 

Story 4—The tale of Acoma, City in the Sky

photo credit https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acoma_Pueblo

Set up in the old West Yellowstone airfield was a Mountain Man Festival.  Dozens of white canvas, three sided tents formed a rectangle on the huge dirt and dried grass patch.  Merchants of all kinds filled the tents with their wares.  One held a knapper busily making a flint knife blade.  The weathered old man lives in Idaho, winters in Utah and gets his flint stone in Oregon.  In another tent, a furrier displayed his caps, coats, holsters and quivers.  There were jewelers, toy makers, musicians, “pioneer” clothing makers, painters, sculptures and music makers.  Every aspect of life in the 1800’s was represented.

One tent held my interest most of all.  It was an outdoor, mini antique shop.  Pottery, wood sculptures, old kitchen ware, were among the bric-a-brac sold by the spindly middle-aged gentleman decked out in buckskin, denim and straw (hat that is).  He was a cheerful, friendly, storyteller and magician.  He soon had a crowd of children engrossed in his rope and ring tricks, but his wares were what held my gaze.

photo credit hp scanner

I first saw this wooden Storyteller Doll.  I asked how much.  He replied, “Five dollars.”  I repeated that and he said, “It can be ten.”  I explained, “In town they’re asking fifty for something like this.”  He explained that he had bought it from a woman in Utah for five dollars and was selling it for five dollars.  He pointed out that it was weathered and so old, but he didn’t know the story behind the Storyteller.   If any reader recognizes this and knows the story, please comment.

However, he did know this one.

Did I know Acoma, City in the Sky?  No I didn’t.  Well, it seems about 2000 years ago, a group of Pueblo dwellers in present day New Mexico, USA, built their city on top of a mesa (flat topped, rocky hill).  This made for a nice stronghold.  In fact, the first Spanish visitors in 1540 were sorry they had tried to climb the thing.  The storyteller/merchant told me the Acoma people had rebuffed the Spanish completely.  This is only partly true.  It took until January, 1599, for the Spanish soldiers to turn peaceful trade into full blown conquest.  The Conquistadors managed to drag a cannon up the hill and blasted/burnt the village killing 800 of the 6000 people.  They mutilated and enslaved the rest as the brave Conquistadors were wont to do.  Well, the Soldiers died but the Acoma people lived and still live.  Having the last word is a good ending to a story.

My spindly merchant told me this story to tell me the story of a small vase, similar to this one found on a google search.  An Acoma wedding vase.  I found a longer version than he told me on http://www.sfaol.com/store/wedding.html.

STORY OF THE WEDDING VASE

Usually a week or two before they are married by a priest, the future husband’s parents make the Wedding Vase.

When the vase has been made, the husband, along with his parents and all his relatives go to the bride’s house. The bride brings out everything she will need to establish their new home together: clothing, utensils, mattress, moccasins, corn and any other homemaking essentials, including her white manta wedding dress.

The parents of both the bride and the groom give the young couple advice to help them have a happy and successful marriage.

Indian holy water is placed in the wedding vase, and the vase is turned around and given to the bride.

She drinks from one side of the vase, turns it around again, and gives it to the groom, who then drinks from the opposite side. This ceremony unites them as one.

The couple will treasure the Vase throughout their married life. Should one of them outlive the other, the remaining person will give the vase to a couple known to be living a happily married life.

The wedding vase is treasured and protected always-it is never broken, discarded or destroyed.

http://www.arizonaflutes.com/wedding_vase.htm is another site listing a slightly different, longer version.  My storyteller was certain that I would be back for the vase and if I would have had the money, I would have been (it was much more than the $5 I “borrowed” from my husband).

 

Story 5—Old Man Coyote strikes again

I mentioned the humans at the festival and they were fun.  I talked to a woman wearing a tartan shawl over one shoulder and carrying a small dog.  A tartan is the colors of a Scottish clan (family).  I am part of the Southerland clan so I spoke with her.  Her clan, she said, was wrongly accused of being cattle thieves.  So, now when she and her husband attend Scottish Highland Festivals, they use this to have some fun.  A stuffed calf is placed somewhere among the booths.  It is then the goal of the youth attending to steal the calf, write their names on it and leave it somewhere else for someone else to steal.  The theft must be done with stealth or it will be stopped.

Well, there was a theft that day, but not by human hands.  By Coyote paws.  Now there are plenty of regular coyotes around the Yellowstone area, but I’m not talking about them.  I’m talking about the original, one and only, Old Man Coyote.  He is the eternal trickster who as often as not ends up tricking himself.  I guess he just didn’t want my pictures in this blog.  You see, at home I found an old roll of unexposed film and my old camera.  I loaded the camera, took it along and promptly lost it in the tent.  Okay, figured I’d find it—I mean really, how can something be lost in a six-man space?  And it was found, the day we went home.  Anyway, I didn’t worry because I had our camcorder and since our campsite had electrical hook-ups, I even charged it at night.  I guess the batteries didn’t like almost freezing nighttime temperatures because I only got 4 pictures per charge.  But I figured that’s 4 pictures.

So, I took a couple of pictures at the festival and decided to put the camcorder away until we arrived at the park—after I used the port-a-potty.  Okay, so I placed both the Storyteller Doll and the camcorder on the small shelf in the plastic pit toilet, did my do, sanitized my hands and walked to our van to store the items.  So I had both hands full.  I transferred the Doll to my left hand, with the camcorder, pulled keys out of my pocket with my right hand and opened the van door.  The keys went back into the pocket, the Doll went into the right hand and onto a cooler on the back seat.  Then, I looked for a good place to put the camcorder and put it there with my left hand.  Or at least that’s what I think I remember.  When I looked for the camcorder, it wasn’t there.  I checked the entire back seat area, including the garbage sack, and the floor of the van.  And it wasn’t in any of the suitcases and boxes we packed.  I hope Coyote likes my photo of Dragon’s Mouth cave.

I can’t blame this on Old Man.  I neglected to write down the name of the woman’s clan.  So, Scottish Sister, if you are reading this, please comment.  Thanks for reading.

A Kettle full of Stories Part 1

Story 1—The Yellowstone Caldera

My family and I spent last week, Monday, August 7th to Friday, August 11th exploring Yellowstone National Park.  Once upon a time, oh, 640,000 years ago a hot spot, of magma from Earth’s core built up enough pressure to blow its way to the surface.  It turned everything above it in a 35-mile (56.33 km) by 50-mile (80.47 km) ragged oval to ashes and took the ash up with it.  Scientists have identified deposits of this ash in California, Iowa, and Louisiana.  Then the hot spot “cooled down” to power geysers, mud pots, hot springs and meadows that are warm enough to grow grass in the winter.  What’s that?  The perfect area for a Spa?  Well, okay, if you like bathing in superheated, boiling water, sipping on a sulfuric acid cocktail or enjoying a heat loving bacteria mud pack.  If however, you value your health (and life!), it is a Spa for the spirit.  To be enjoyed with the eyes, not with the hands.  (Or any other body part.  Except the hearing, there are some wonderfully interesting sounds made as steam and gas blast out of rock tunnels.  You might want to leave your nose home though.  Rotten egg gas is not the most enticing perfume.)  The depression remaining after the explosion is called the Yellowstone Caldera.

Caldera is the Spanish word for large pot or kettle.  Instead of Grandma’s stew or 5-Alarm Chili, this kettle cooked some of the most fascinating acreage on Earth.  Interspersed between verdant green Lodgepole Pine and Fir forest are rock meadows, thinly crusted earth between “bottomless” holes spewing forth demonically scented gas and steam.  Some of these holes contain crystal clear water bubbling with both heat and more gas.  The colors in this Hades inspired place are heavenly.  Sapphire, emerald and beryl describe the ponds and waterfalls.  Yellow orange and ochers decorate the pool edges and follow the runoff rivulets.  These vibrant, larger than life colors are made by microscopic, heat loving, or thermophilic, bacteria.                                                                     As the bacteria ages, dries and dies, the color fades into the grays and white of the surrounding rock.  A few places have bacteria and mineral combinations of dark brown and black.  Elsewhere in the park are sub-alpine areas filled with gorgeous red, yellow, blue and violet flowers.  The North swath is carpeted by a silver-green Juniper-Sage forest to rival anything Southeastern Idaho or Northern Utah has to offer.

Small warm water lakes and their accompanying rivers dot the park.  The central Southeastern portion houses the very large, very blue Yellowstone Lake.  It is 7,732 feet (2,357 m) above sea level, has 110 miles (180 km) of shoreline, and covers 136 square miles (350 km2).  The lake bed has just recently been explored with camera containing robotic craft.  The deepest areas are about 400 ft (120 m) and contain gray, white and green rock        pillars made of fossil diatoms, single celled aquatic creatures.  Cutthroat Trout are the native fish.  From a bird’s eye view, it looks like a hiker, a hitch-hiker with one arm and a huge fist and thumb.  (The area is called Thumb Point.)

Bison, Elk, Mule Deer, Trumpeter Swan, Pelican, Canadian Geese, Ducks and lots of friendly Squirrels can be seen in and around the Caldera.  If you travel to the Northeast Range, away from lodges, hiking trails, boardwalks, roads, in short, away from people, you will also find Wolves, Coyotes, Pronghorn Antelope, Bobcats, Cougars and yes, Bears.  The days of feeding the Bears garbage as a crowd gathering spectacle are, thank heaven, long gone.  The rule of thumb now is “you have your spot, we have ours and with 100 yards between us, we’ll be just fine.”  There were also the largest butterflies I have ever seen with orange and brown colors to rival the rocks.

(photo credits = 1-4, 6  Evelyn Stam vacation photos, 5 Yellowstone Lake as seen from space, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yellowstone_Lake

Story 2—The only thing constant is change

One day, in the galactic timeline, Earth’s crust will have floated itself over the magma hot spot and Old Faithful, the most celebrated geyser, will be just another cold-water spring.  Until then, the interaction between inside and out constantly changes the look of the park.  Two examples:  In August of 1959, when I was just over two years old, an earthquake rocked Hebgen Lake, 15 miles (24.14 km) away in Montana.  The shock caused a plot of grass to spew forth red mud and earn the name Red Squirter.  Since then the area has doubled.  It spews mud mostly in the spring when there is the most water and whistles “scented” steam as the area dries.  Dragon’s Mouth, a cave out of which used to come a stream of hot water shot out to the outlook boardwalk a good 30 or 40 feet (9.14 m or 12.19 m) away.  In 1994 the Dragon must have found something to be happy about and he quit “flaming”.  Now the water simply pours out, bubbling up and down to be sure, with a spray that mists the platform now and then.  He expresses his opinion though.  As the gasses, water and air flow through the underground tunnels, they make a growling, howling noise like, well, a dragon.

I wish I could be there when the mud pots plop their last sulfur spewing plop to see what other wonders Mother Nature has made.  I could too, if I could figure out how to live for another 640,000 or so years.  Until then (if ever) I’ll have to return to see what else has popped up.