Ryan and I journeyed east last week to Helena for the Montana Herb Gathering, and afterwards took a detour south to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons before heading home. I love watching the incremental changes in landscapes on a road trip—the changes in rock, flora, and fauna. As we passed through the Cascades into the high desert of eastern Washington the trees shrunk and became more spread out due to lack of water and cold, dormant winters. Sage brush dominated where there weren’t nearby human inhabitants or flowing waterways. Rock formations rose up from the earth, seeming to appear out of nowhere. Northern Idaho became more deeply forested with stubby pines and firs amidst burnt older growth, and the mountains became more vast as we wove through the valleys of western Montana.
Traveling through Yellowstone, the landscape began to change more significantly—it is a place valued in scientific study for its other-worldly landscape, which might give clues about other planets. And yet we found plants common to our own backyard: dalmatian toadflax, indian paintbrush, pearly everlasting, yarrow and even a larger version of our native garlic onion with the same exact delicious flowers.
Stunning volcanic rock and mineral formations emerged from this land through geysers, fumaroles, and hot limestone-infused streams steaming up out of the earth and depositing beautiful formations colored by various types of bacteria. The layers of minerals left by the flowing hot springs trap water and over time create opals, which we found at a town near an opal mine (discovered by lost hunters 70 years ago) in eastern Idaho. As I waited for Old Faithful to put on its show, I was fortunate to sit behind a woman who knew a lot about the geyser and the volcanic activity in the park. Old Faithful, known for its regularity in displaying a fountain of hot water after the build-up of pressure every hour and a half, used to to be predictable within 30 seconds, now it’s give or take 10 minutes. The woman said the change in its predictability indicates that Yellowstone’s active volcano, 600 years overdue for an eruption, is closer to exploding. The park monitors seismic activity, not for larger movements, but for increasing frequency of small quakes, like labor contractions indicating an imminent birth. A couple of years ago there was increased activity and the ground got so hot that hikers’ shoes were melting, but no eruption occurred. The smoke and ash from the predicted eruption is forecast to wipe out two-thirds of the U.S.
This reminder of our earth’s dynamic movements deepened my appreciation for the power of this moment, being able to witness the earth in a process of creation, bringing ancient minerals buried deep within out to the surface for us to see, in a constantly changing and reborn landscape. Never again would it be exactly as I had seen it in this moment.
In the spirit of the plants,
Kristy Bredin June 30, 2015