Monday, September 23, 2013

Watching Star Stuff

My relatives and I are standing in awe of the geyser basin at Old Faithful, Yellowstone National Park.  From the green hills of Tennessee to the wide open spaces of the West, Yellowstone, the drive up from Salt Lake City, this massive display of nature’s unrelenting push to survive, adds up to some revelation about star stuff.

They tell us that the geyser mounds grow at the rate of an inch per year. Castle Geyser shoots up through a doughnut that must be ten feet high, maybe eight feet across, with the inner doughnut hole being four across, at least. The walls are perhaps two or three feet wide. You’re not allowed to walk up there with your measuring tape to confirm these things. As a chunk of earth it doesn’t seem very impressive. But try to imagine building a ten-foot-tall mound, one spec of sand at a time! Or one accumulation of dust bunny at a time as we were told by Robert Fulgum. Or one trace mineral randomly pooped out of earth’s insides piled on top of another one.

In our rather screwed up morality of American-wealth lust, a lifetime is all we’re allowed in order to accumulate more gold than the next guy. So, a million or twenty-million years is so incomprehensible to be of no particular value to our faith or reference of thinking. If we are to live forever in heaven then will we outlast the geysers?

It is from the runoff of the geysers that give us the colorful golds and greens that flow underneath our feet on towards the Firehole River. The greens represent cyanobacteria which is itself a life form born of the innards of the earth and then exposed to the brilliant power of the sun. (My sunburn is an immeasurable absorption of the heat and light poring into the geyser basin.) I bet, if we could dig deep enough into our DNA, we’d find a microcosmic tinge of cyanobacteria in everyone of us on this earth. Despite all the differences we’ve created for ourselves here and the around the world, first and foremost we are products of the same bio-juice. We contain the same gravel and microbes spewed from these holes poked into the ribs of the globe.

Earthquakes cause some of the splits in the surface structure that allow the geysers to appear. Subsequent earthquakes shut them off, too. Old Faithful depends on a fist-sized hole to manage its eruptions. Plume Geyser, for example, started in 1922. During the earthquake of 1988, 37 geysers blasted off at once. Just as easily, those same 37 geysers could go quiet for a very long time, too!

From our vantage on the boardwalk we view a spectrum of the universe. There is new earth under under construction under my feet. I can see off in the distance the green of lodgepole pine. In the mud five feet away is a bear paw print. Over there is a bison-patty. The trees nearest the geysers are spray painted white where the layers of silica and steam heat has left them like bones with branches. A shift of the wind saves or kills other trees. But in the hard pan of recent Earth is a patch of grass or a stunted pine struggling still towards the sun. Above, the sky is brilliant blue and the sun beats with relentless force on us and the trees and this crust we inhabit.

 Across the way is Old Faithful Inn, tall and brown, with flags on top and cars and people standing around with their sippy cups of coffee and phone cameras waiting for the next performance. I know that all the food and materials and garbage and recycling are hauled in and out on truck to the nearest worldly city either Pocatello, Idaho, to the west, or to Cody, Wyoming, to the east. Jackson Hole, to the south, doesn’t get the truck anywhere useful. To the north is the great endless plains of Montana.

The parking lots are mostly empty now. The seasonal help are packing up. Inventory will have to be confirmed, packaged, and shipped out. The post office will close, I suppose. It’s an old fashioned post office like many offered in rural America. Next to it is the 20-foot-diameter radio/phone-link that is tilted up from horizontal towards some peak too far for me to see.
Any errant radio wave goes on into space. Forever.