“So how do you feel about the fact that we’re all here on top of a volcano?” The cheerful young ranger, a woman in her twenties, asked this question to those of us waiting for Old Faithful Geyser to erupt. Despite this ominous revelation, the crowd stood motionless in brave defiance of the potential for death-by-lava.
Well, maybe it was that they have waited a half hour for this geyser to go off and good viewing turf was at a premium. Besides, it has been 650,000 years since the last eruption. So the odds were good for folks to catch this show and get in a trip to the snack bar today, at the very least.
Kidding aside, it is true that the earth over the Yellowstone hot spot has risen 2.5 feet in 50 years. The magma chamber churns as close as 3 miles beneath the surface. At West Thumb, former mud pots cease to boil while new ones begin nearby.
Nothing stays the same, it seems, this side of Heaven.
This became something of a theme as I reflect on our two days in Grand Teton / Yellowstone. I found The Highlands, a lodge in the Tetons at which my family stayed when I was 7. It is now NPS employee housing, and I spent a few moments on the porch of what was the lodge office, now the rec hall. Nancy and I drove up Signal Mountain to re-live the views we shared as newlyweds in 74, trying to catch the first rays of sun on the Tetons and found the trees now blocking our sight. We scampered to another vantage point.
These changes delight rather than disappoint. Oh, yes, there are changes that disappoint—things in culture, politics or in the administration of public lands—but I’m writing here about the changes that make us notice new things.
We camped for three nights at Colter Bay. Thanks to much advance planning and the blessing of a nice person in the office, they assigned one of the few sites with a view of the lake and peaks. On each short walk to the shore, the range presented itself differently. On each glance the mountains seemed to change by the minute.
But the mountains do not change do they? They seemed to be the most permanent fixture of all, and if they have risen or slid westward by inches per year, those changes are not noticed by us. But what does change is our view of them.
So for today, never mind the magma or the movements of the North American Plate. I am happy to stand on this huge volcano unafraid, and note how this Old Faithful performance is glorious again, if even in today’s slightly different way.