A Stranger Among Us

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One of These Things is Not Like the Others

One of These Things is Not the Same

Which one is it? Personally I think it’s the fish on the far left side. The faded one. It looks kind of funny to me.

If you picked the pink flower it shows that you go for the obvious every time. Not that there is anything wrong with that, probably keeps you from getting hit by a bus when you cross the street.

If you picked the fish in the center of the school to the left, it means that you focus on the sharp things in life. Everything needs to be crystal clear to you or you get nervous and start to shake, maybe even have trouble keeping your breakfast down.

If you chose the fish nibbling on the flower, it means you probably have a blood thirsty monster in you ready to break loose at the slightest provocation ready to rend and tear with psychotic abandonment. There’s not much hope for you, sorry. You need to relax a little, calm down.

If you chose the water as the one that was different, ohhh man….., that means you’re one of those. One who sees things slightly askew, you’re not out of the box, there was no box for you, ever. You’re one of those that doesn’t keep regular hours. Not only do you march to a different drummer you are that drummer. Good for you. Let’s hang out.

Blood Moon Eclipse

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On September 27 the Institute’s observatory began to record a serious anomaly with the moon. We had noticed that the moon had started getting bigger and rounder than it usually did but that wasn’t all that unnerving as we had seen it do that once before. It was several years ago and one of our observatory personnel came screeching into the Director’s office saying the moon was going to explode because it was getting bigger and we should all run for our lives. He dove under the settee and it took all manner of prodding and poking with the cattle prod the Director keeps near his desk kept just for situations like this.

It turned out that it was nothing at all to be alarmed about. Apparently one of our observatory interns read somewhere that the moon would occasionally do this. Get all big and swollen-like and all we had to do was wait a few days and all that swelling and bloating would go down. The moon apparently embarrassed by its behavior began to shrink until it was just a pale sliver of itself and the potential catastrophe was averted. We were relieved to say the least and made copious notes in our Observatories Moon book. This is what is called “A Natural Phenomenon” by scientists and other guys and it has added hugely to the sum total of our knowledge of the moon and other celestial bodies.

This was a different kettle of moonbeams this time though. Rumors and mutinous comments about this being a “Blood” moon began to spread quickly through the interns camp and soon you couldn’t find a chicken left alive as they huddled around their smoky campfires and chanted, casting fearful looks towards the sky. When there was no apparent change in the moons behavior, in fact it was getting worse, darkening and a strange shadow began appearing across its blood red face, that they realized that the sacrifices they were making were not big enough. That’s when they really flew into a frenzy and began looking at the Staff hoping to find one alone and unarmed. We had to call all our critical staff back to the main Institute’s center and activate the mine field around the building. A few Bouncing Betty’s and they pulled back. We lost three good oxen and a mule but they didn’t breach the walls of the main hall. It was a long night fraught with terror as the weaker among us wept with fear, but our defenses held and morning came none too soon.

When it was finally concluded that this was a harmless natural event although startling in its intensity, we immediately began an instructional program to educate the interns. A few beatings, some sleep deprivation, waterboarding for the more recalcitrant ones who still had the blood lust in their eyes and we were almost back to normal. One of our Observatoryologists who watches Fox news constantly said that although this event was uncommon it was not rare and we should all just calm the hell down and worry about something important, like our upcoming national elections. Now that is really freaky.

If you look at the image above, it’s scary for sure, being all over red like that, but it’s not disastrous, except for the oxen and the mule and the eight interns that charged the minefield. They found it pretty darn scary. It’s a natural event sent to us by Mother Nature to instruct us. We added a huge store of knowledge both to our Moon book and to our HR manual in how to handle employees during a crisis. The moral I guess, is don’t like totally freak just because it looks like the end of the world. Save that energy for something important.

The IQ Tree

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This is the I.Q. Tree. For centuries it has lived on the edge of a precipice overlooking the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone just a few feet away. It has been called many names over its lifetime. The tripod tree, even though it actually has four legs. The Crow who hunted this area called the tree ‘bii shiilik’*, which means “trap of souls” in their language, and as a society, that would be us, that was mesmerized by investigating the inner working of our minds it became the I.Q. Tree.

It is called the I.Q. tree because it is a test set up by Mother Nature as another way of assuring that the most intelligent of our species survived to breed and produce off-spring with even greater intelligence than the preceding one, thereby improving the human race.

It’s intriguing shape, with the four legs holding up the main trunk is a natural attraction drawing the curious in. That by itself wasn’t the test. The test was after those who had lesser intelligence than say, your average toaster, had tired of being in and under the tree, taking selfies, throwing stones over the edge, daring themselves or each other to go stand on the crumbly yet unstable edge of the precipice, where they would fall into the canyon, screaming as they fell for the 20 minutes or so that it took to reach the bottom, did so. Thereby failing the test. Those with a higher degree of intelligence, after seeing several people go over the edge would not go under  the tree, or go stand on the treacherous edge of the canyon. They would pass the test and pass on their intelligent genes to their progeny.

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This is the view those who failed the test saw as their final destination several miles below. One would think that you would first hit several or all of those rocky projections sticking up so precariously but as luck would have it there is usually a strong wind blowing through the canyon and it would carry you out far enough that you would normally land in the river or close to it.

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As second prize Mother Nature provides several intriguing views for you to gaze on as you made your descent. Here is a nice view of the falls. Unfortunately it is hard to hear its roar due to the wind screaming past their ears but it  was pretty anyway.

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And they met some interesting folks on the way down. In fact this would be the last one they would meet due to their imminent arrival with the river’s surface or at least the bank next to it. This is Raven or as he will soon be known to the new arrival as KWEKWAXA’WE or the Sorter. He will convey your soul, depending in his estimation of how you comported yourself on the way down to its final destination. If he decides you were completely devoid of any redeeming qualities he would carry you that place where you might be returned to our life as a lesser being to learn humility. If he found that you were constructed of more admirable traits but simply of lesser intelligence, he would convey you to that place that returned you to our sphere as a higher being, like a Golden Retriever or a reoccurring sunset over the Tetons.

However, in our enlightened society the powers that be made the decision to cut down the I.Q. Tree as they deemed it too harsh a test of societies general intelligence, plus it was working KWEKWAXA’WE to death, what with people dropping out the sky constantly. They thought that by tying the I.Q test of the I.Q. Tree to the general level of education in our country, that it placed a huge segment of our society, the dumb ones, at an unfair advantage. It sort of permanently held them back, as it were. It also raised a cry of ” Save the Dumb Ones” and “Dumb Ain’t Bad” from the lefties. At first KWEKWAXA’WE was dismayed as it seemed he might be out of job but then he took a look at us and thought “If ever there was a group who will find a way to take the test , it is this one.” and he went back to taking a short break satisfied that his job was secure.

If you go to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and go to the first lookout you will see that the tree is gone. There isn’t even a spot, or spots, where the roots entered the ground. So this is one of the last images you will see of it. However if you look closely you will see that they neglected to put up a guard rail to keep the curious from going over to that crumbly yet unstable edge and standing in the spot where so many have taken the test. So be careful if you go there. If you lean way out and look straight down you can see Raven lazily circling down there at the very bottom of the canyon, waiting, occasionally looking back up at you, wondering, will you pass the test.

* Note: bii shiilik is a Crow word meaning ‘Yellow Stone’ which became Yellowstone and as we all know if you have ever been there it is a Trap of Souls, as once you have spent any time there your soul is trapped by it beauty.

When The Sun Comes Out

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When the sun comes out and the color is at its peak in Yellowstone National Park this kind of thing happens. This is what makes color photographers go absolutely gonzo nuts. At this time of year there is always a cloud cover of sorts going on. From high gray clouds that act like a filter on your lens and make the colors deeper and richer and more muted than average daylight, to the other side of the spectrum where the clouds are singular but very large, covering huge parts of the landscape. When the bright sun breaks through them and hits an open spot along the stream bed this happens. An explosion of color that looks like flames that give off no heat. It hits your eye and you are instantly mesmerized unable to look away. Especially when you know its only going to last a few moments.

This is the Gibbon river as it flows through the Virginia Cascade on its way down into the Norris valley. This is a narrow canyon with steep vertical walls that forces the river into a narrow channel and sends it over several beautiful waterfalls. At the lower end of the valley there is room for foliage and grasses to grow. This foliage is part of the few plants that turn into the reds  and golds and oranges you see in the park. When they are in contrast with the deep dark greens of the pines and the natural purplish shadows formed by the canyon walls you get these incredible bursts of color. Intense, vibrant, profusion’s of color that are set into the river bank like jewels in a crown. This view is not a constant unchanging scene, as soon as the clouds move it will be gone. When it returns it will most likely look entirely different, providing a slow-moving kaleidoscope of visual delight. The trick is to be there when it happens.

Quiet River

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Early in the morning when only you and the river are up, before the day gets going and the noise and activity starts, there is a quiet time that Mother Natures creates just for those that get up and seek it out. It varies with each viewing. Sometimes you get the full sun glinting off the river’s surface. Every rock, stem, ripple in perfect focus. A notice that the day is going to be blindingly beautiful.

Sometimes you get this. A gentle mist flowing down the river, hiding this, revealing that, letting you know that today could be a day for reflection. One that you can proceed through at a more leisurely pace. A time for seeing and thinking and figuring out just where you belong in the over all scheme of things. One that makes you slow down until your heartbeat matches the rivers flow.

This is a forgotten bend in the Yellowstone river as it finds its way through the Hayden valley. In a few moments or maybe a few minutes depending on its flow it will start to accelerate and rush towards the precipice of Yellowstone Falls a few miles downstream. There it will rush headlong over the brink to tumble and splash its way as it careens down the tumultuous channel of the Yellowstone gorge. It will be a different river then. But for right now that is something for the future. This is the time to stand still, immersed in the wonderful stillness, letting the calmness flow over you as the river flows through its banks. Today is a good day to be here.

The Bighorn Ewe and The Stone of Secrets

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Deep in the heart of Yellowstone National Park there is a place that is holy to the Bighorn sheep that reside there. Every year they make the arduous and dangerous Pilgrimage from Calcite Springs, high up on the cliffs of the Tower falls area, where the Yellowstone river can be seen flowing deeply along the canyon’s floor below. A place where they birth their lambs and find safety on the vertical cliff walls, safe from predators, their only neighbors the Fisher Kings, or as we know them, the Osprey, to this hidden valley near the Gardner river. A place a short distance from the gray stone pathway with its shiny noisy beasts full of screaming beings that pass through here on their way to somewhere, perhaps they’re on their own pilgrimage. Most do not notice the valley and its stone, or the animals who come to pay it homage.

Upstream a short distance the Fawn, Panther, Indian and Obsidian creeks join to form the main body of the Gardner river. The Bighorn sheep don’t care about that, they’re here for a completely different reason. This is after all, a spiritual place. A place where they make a single pilgrimage to each year, to do one thing and one thing only. And that one thing is to visit the Stone of Secrets.

The Stone is a common enough looking boulder shaped by unknown forces millenniums ago and deposited with several others in the bottom of the valley where it has lain unmoving to this day. Unlike its brethren very little lichen has formed on the stone, perhaps due to what it holds inside its rough-hewn exterior.

This is the Stone of Secrets and it contains the countless secrets, dreams and desires, the wants and hopes of the Bighorns who lean up against it and tell it their innermost desires. Some of the younger ewes want to be selected by the most majestic ram, others want the lambs they have been unable to produce and pour forth the most heart-wrenching pleas, hoping that this year their wish will be granted. The young rams secretly and embarrassed by their wants, lean tightly against it, whispering, asking for bigger horns. The older ewes want to lean against it and feel the warmth and contentment that washes over them, some of them ask for just one more year to make the trek back and forth from here to there again.

The stone has been here for as long as it and the untold multitude of Bighorns have been living here, which has been a very long time. Originally the stone did not have the flat spot the ewe is leaning against. The countless animals, and it has been countless animals, for occasionally other creatures came and used the stone too. Rubbed against the stone, feeling its strength and wisdom, letting  their secrets pour out like a  roaring river of emotion, washing and wearing the stone away until it attained the shape it has now. The flat area becoming infinitesimally larger each year.

It is unknown if the stone will work its magic on humans. Occasionally you will see one carefully approach it and lay their hands on it rough surface. Some rest their faces against the stone, or spread their arms against it as if they’re trying to lift the stone from of its resting place. But the stone is unmovable, the only thing you can take from it is the strength of it presence. Some say they have received more, some say it’s just a stone. You will have to go there and see for yourself.

 

The Last Hurrah

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On the Going To The Sun highway, just a little ways from Logan’s Visitor Center there is a valley that will take your breath away. There are many valleys in Glacier National Park but this one is spellbinding. It has all the features that make a valley spectacular. Towering cliff walls, verdant green trees reaching up its sides, an echoing view that recedes back into the distance. Plus a small stream called Lunch Creek that runs down out of the mountains to drop into quickly onto the valley floor below.

Who or what was lunch is not explained. This is a place where you can let your imagination run wild. Personally there’s a preference for mammoth grizzly bears and Mountain men with damp powder but then that’s just me. Your mileage may vary.

While there a constant stream of clouds formed over the mountains in the background and flowed down through the valley sometimes obscuring it completely. Then the wind would kick up and run them out only to complete the cycle over and over again. The emerald greenness of the valley did nothing to discourage intermittent snow squalls that sometimes brought the visibility down to zero. But the ground was still too warm and the snow never had a chance.

It wouldn’t be long though. There was a bitterness in the wind that would not be denied. Soon the snow would stick, so this was pretty much the last hurrah as far as Summer went. The road, Going To the Sun, would be closed before long and then there’d be the long wait as we slogged through Winter before we could get back up there and see the valley again. Start crossing the days off your calendar. You don’t want to miss this sight.