By Ricky Robertson

Art of Biography and Autobiography

The steamy air swirled around us as we walked along. The geysers of Lower Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park periodically spewed their scalding, Hydrogen Sulfide laden water into the air, creating a pervading stench of aged eggs. Our ultimate goal was a cliff some miles distant. I think I had seen it on a map and decided to hike to it. My brothers Bill and Jim agreed and we set out.

We followed a path that ran from Rainbow Pool, across the Firehole River and between the geysers to the road in front of the Old Faithful Lodge, the largest completely wood building in the world. Several notable geysers erupt along this path. Daisy Geyser has an interpretive sign showing how to predict its eruptions. Castle Geyser was named Castle because its vent is at the top of a large lump of rock created by the minerals dissolved in the water. Grand Geyser, the tallest predictable geyser in the world, erupts along this path, also. Between these larger geysers, many small obscure pools and geysers bubble. We came to the end of that path at Rainbow Pool. The pool was named Rainbow because of the beautiful colors produced by the microorganisms in the different temperature zones. Now its colors are different and less vivid than when it received its name because its vent has been choked and the temperatures changed by the many coins and other objects thrown into it by tourists in the intervening years.

We picked up the next trail, and walked out of the Basin and into the forest. The fresh earthy aroma of the forest contrasted pleasantly with the steamy egg smell of the Basin. Bears actively roamed that area, so posters and rangers warned hikers to be sure they didn t walk too quietly so they wouldn t surprise bears. The bears are more afraid of running into humans than vice versa, so if you make some noise they hear you coming and go the other way. I tried to keep a conversation going for that reason. It must have worked, for we never saw a bear. In the forest we saw some charred trees downed by the extensive forest fires two years previous. We saw one other group of people on the way. They were generally noisy and reckless, not really the outdoors type and appeared sorry they had attempted such a long hike. The path meandered through the woods for a couple of miles and then we came to the back side of the hill or mountain, whatever it was, that the cliff was on. Here the trail started getting steeper. There were switchbacks galore. Erosion on the trail exposed many roots whose sole purpose in life was to trip ambitious hikers. Here we met the group of people, strung out, tired, and tripping down the trail back toward the more developed areas of the park.

We reached the top of the hill, but a problem awaited us: which trail do we follow? The trail divided into several branches that proceeded in different directions through the relatively sparce trees. There were two lookout points and we weren t sure which one we were nearer to or how to get to either of them. Some of the last few stragglers pointed us in a direction. After some minutes of wandering on the hilltop, we found the cliff. A fence stood at the edge, though I don t know if it was actually strong enough to stop anyone from falling off or not. We were not alone here. A couple enjoying their lunch sat looking at the scenery. We exchanged pleasantries and began talking. At the beginning the conversation sounded like a German I assignment:

They: Hello.

We: Hello, it's a nice view from here.

They: Yes, it's really beautiful. Where are you guys from?

We: We're from Berrien Springs, Michigan.

They: Where's that?

We: In the extreme Southwestern corner of Michigan. Michigan s like a mitten, you know, and it s right here.... Where are you from?

They: Well, we're from Washington state. How old are you guys?

We: I'm 17. I'm 15. And I'm 13

Then, of course, they asked a question Bill, Jim, and I are always asked: Are you guys all brothers? The concept of meeting three relatively intelligent brothers who actually get along with each other, and enjoy the outdoors, is quite amazing to some people.

During the conversation they filled us in on all the best places to go and what they liked to do.

"If you get the chance, you'll want to go to . It s in the northern part of the park. On clear days you can almost see Mount Rushmore. It s incredible. There s also a nice lodge at . They have great rooms and a nice restaurant, the pastries are the best of anywhere. Joe likes it alot because they deliver food and as many complimentary drinks to your room as you like....

"We like places like this alot, too. We can make a lunch and eat it alone and have some of our wine and ...

The conversation wasn t nearly so one sided as it appears here. We discovered that the man was in the Air Force. The lady appeared to be from another country. She had an accent that I couldn t identify, somewhat like a Spanish accent, but I wasn t sure. They were nice people and very knowledgeable about the area.

As we talked, a stray glance of mine snatched a glimpse of an erupting geyser.

"Is that Old Faithful?" I asked, pointing out over the Basin.

"I think so. It's about the right time, I think. Let me look through my binoculars." the man replied, "They don t help much at this distance but, it is Old Faithful all right. You want to look through the binoculars?"

It was an extraordinary experience. We had seen Old Faithful erupt the previous day from the normal place. An interpretive center stands near the famous geyser. A large concrete sidewalk leads from the interpretive center to a broad wood platform, about a foot off the ground, close to the geyser, for watching the eruptions. We stood on that platform the day before, and watched Old Faithful erupt. It erupted a little late that time, and people impatiently stood around and complained. People cracked dry jokes about selling shirts that said, I was there the day Old Faithful was Unfaithful . When it finally erupted, we stood close enough we could hear the rush of the water and steam coming out of the vent and feel and smell the warm vapor.

The eruption seemed different and detached from atop the cliff, four and a half miles away. It was like watching a silent movie. We saw the steam rise into the sky, but couldn t hear the roar of the water, nor could we feel the warm vapor blow past us. We saw the people, but we couldn t hear the Ooo s and Ahhh s of the crowd. Our perspective shrunk everything, even the gigantic, sprawling Old Faithful Lodge appeared tiny.

Perspectives can change everything. Whether in a literal or figurative sense, when one views a situation from a different place in time or space or maturity and experience, it changes everything. Only the previous day I had observed exactly the same scene from up close. It seemed so large, magnificent, and impressive, but when I took a step back, well, maybe more than just a step, it was not so domineering. From our distant perch upon the cliff, far above what we were observing, the scene took on the appearance of a model railroad layout, with miniature buildings, cars, trees, roads, and people. And this one even had a geyser.

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