Summer of 1993
Chapter 14--Crazy Monday Nights
1: The Boiling River
Much of my tale
so far has been about introducing you to my wonder at the new world where
I was now living. I came to Yellowstone with a fairly narrow range
of experience, and a lot of this is about how a complicated kid with fairly
simple experiences was overwhelmed by a whole new and beautiful world.
In doing so, Iíve introduced you both to myself and to Yellowstone in ways
that Iíve hoped were somewhat unexpected. Rather than a simple travel
guide of the wondrous, Iíve tried to present a very complicated and real
picture of the Yellowstone I know so that the romanticism that really exists
in the place burns that much more true. So, I havenít fretted from
sharing ugly things, ugly feelings, and ďevil thoughts.Ē I havenít
fretted from sharing the mundane parts of my life, either. My purpose
in doing so besides sharing sides of the Yellowstone experience that many
have ignored was also to show how the wonder of Yellowstone soars not only
in spite of all the ugly and the mundane but in part because they are an
integral part of what Yellowstone means. For my own life, coming
to grips with many of the ugly things, coming to grips with my pluses and
minuses of my life and who I was, is awfully important and colored in many
ways by every memory I have of Yellowstone.
Sometimes, however, it is time for the
average to pass away into the more purely magical. Sometimes, all
the colors of life need to fade to black so that in such a background all
things can be seen and felt more simply and sharply. And, of course,
because this is Yellowstone, my metaphors are more literal than you might
imagine. In the last month or so of my summer of 1993, I had three
overwhelming experiences on Monday nights. These nights are my most
cherished moments of 1993, and they influence to this day not only how
I reflect on my past Yellowstone experience but also what I want for my
future Yellowstone experience. While Yellowstone is so colorful,
so wondrous by daylight, nothing stirs my entire being like Yellowstone
Read the following with caution.
Some people have taken adventures in Yellowstone that are simply amazing;
their backcountry tales are the stuff of legends. Inspired by their
tales, they are often imitated. Yet, the imitation often seems to
pollute the experience. If Yellowstone, for instance, was teeming
with people at night, I doubt my experiences would be the same. If
backcountry similarly was more populated than the highways themselves,
it could hardly be called backcountry. If Yellowstone by night inspires
you, then good. Go for it. However, pray that not many others
go with you. Isnít that the lesson of the frontier? We all
want a piece of it, and thatís why thereís no more frontier. So be
sure that this is what you want.
By the end of the summer, I was beginning
to be sure that I wanted to do more adventurous things. Remember
that I approached the summer with a very humble attitude, believing that
everything I saw or had the opportunity to do was a great bonus to me.
As the summer wore on, that attitude did not change. What began to
change was that I felt more and more comfortable with the people in my
life, especially Price. Likewise, although often occupied with Lynn,
he felt more comfortable with me.
For instance, one evening Price, Reuben,
and I went up to Canyon. I donít remember why. Maybe, we were
just going for a ride. The point here is that it was not hard for Price
to invite me to do something. As for Reuben, he tended to invite
himself or ask profusely. Price felt sorry for Reuben, felt bad about
looking at Rueben like we all inevitably did, and as a result of his guilt,
would often ask Reuben on his own to do things with us. Anyhow, that
trip to Canyon was an adventure in itself. You see, Priceís car,
a nameless brown monster from the early 1970s, didnít need a key to start.
Whatís more, it didnít even have a key that got into the trunk. For
that, a spoon would do. For some reason, Price drove us to the employee
area at Canyon Village; I think he had some errand to run. He had
worked there the year before, and maybe he was getting in touch with someone.
When he got back, the car would not start. The ignition switch had
gone to the lock position, and you did need the key when that happened.
I think I might have accidentally moved it the lock position, but I donít
remember. The key, of course, was conveniently in Grant Village.
Well, we were stuck. Grant is 38 miles from Canyon, which is about
an hour at night. We called the employee cavalry from Grant, and
I think during the meantime we watched the second Batman movie from the
employee lounge at Canyon. Just before Lynn, Patrick and the gang
arrived to save us, we managed to get the car started with a pair of scissors.
While this story is amusing and interesting in itself, my point here is
simply to say that I felt more comfort with my co-workers, and funny and
dramatic moments like this helped to make me feel like I was one of the
Of course, as usually happens in my life,
just when I felt completely comfortable, the year or season ended.
I always felt more in touch with my classmates in Spring than in Fall,
and it usually took me until late Spring to overcome all my walls and inhibitions.
(Unfortunately, thatís still quite true!) Well, it was now the beginning
of August, and Price was leaving for the University of Montana in just
a couple weeks. Many of my co-workers in fact were leaving for college
or home within the next couple of weeks. Exceptions to that were
Lynn, who was out of college looking for a job in social work, and Reuben,
whose summer would end rather unflatteringly (as I related in an earlier
Two weeks were left before Price left,
but three Monday nights remained in those two weeks since it was really
like 15 days. I didnít know Monday night was going to be significant
until the first Monday happened, and I was determined to make a little
tradition of it. Each Monday topped the previous in daring and in
depth. Each was just that much more magical. The first happened
almost by a kind of accident. The second one was planned by us as
a group. The third one was all me, thanks to a seed Price planted
earlier in the summer.
Monday was a work night for me, a ďFridayĒ
night for some before their days off. In other words, I worked the
next day. When a group came and asked me if I wanted to go to Einoís
with themóIíll explain Einoís belowóI think I was slightly hesitant.
However, because I enjoyed these people so much, I agreed because I really
enjoyed the company and remained flattered whenever anyone thought to include
me in what was going on.
So, this seems to be about an innocent
trip to some place called Einoís, which is hardly a unique part of the
average Yellowstone workerís experience. Einoís is unique for sure;
itís a cook your own steak place just north of West Yellowstone.
Itís especially popular with park employees. Itís a drive of an hour
and a half, but what isnít out there? This night is not about Einoís.
Itís about what we did after going to Einoís. However, magic things
arenít really like, ďPoof.Ē You canít appreciate the magic moment
without the context. The ďpoofĒ of magic works because you are accustomed
to something else, because you expect the world to present certain things
to you. Unless you see the world I saw, you wonít see the ďpoofĒ
very easily either. In worlds where rabbits jump regularly out of
hats (like our world, in fact), thereís nothing magical about the magic.
Where a fairly conservative boy with narrow experiences finds real magic,
heís never quite the same again.
In the week or so before the first Monday
in August, Price and I had another roommate. This person wasnít a
Hamiltonís employee, and that was against the rules. If we had been
found out, we would have been fired. The person was Priceís cousin,
whose name I believe was Matt. He needed a place to stay, and so
I didnít hesitate to say that he could stay with us. Price was usually
sleeping with Lynn, and so to some extent, Matt was my roommate.
This would be one of many times that I would break the Hamiltonís housing
rules over the years. Many young people traveling across the country
donít have money or reservations to stay at the campgrounds or the lodges.
So, if you know someone, you work a connection. I suppose people
can get all indignant about the preferential treatment, but I donít have
time to reduce ethics to such pettiness. From my point of view, this
was Priceís family, and he needed a place to stay, and I was happy enough
to put a small risk on my job so that he had a roof over his head.
I really liked Matt, besides. Everyone
did. He was just a really laid back guy. I donít remember too
much about him but that. I seem to recall that he was pretty good
on a bicycle. Apparently John Hyde had trouble keeping up with him
when they went biking one of the loops. What he brought was an adventurous
streak, and Iím pretty sure that it was his idea that we do what we did
that night. If not his alone, he certainly had something to do with
This would not be the last time that a
temporary visitor to Yellowstone had no small part in leading me to an
unforgettable and remarkable adventure. In 1996, another visitor
on a bicycle led us to another experience with an angel.
The night I went to Einoís I wasnít in
the mood for steak. I had already eaten at the EDR, and Iím pretty
sure that I was asked to go at the last minute. If thatís not true,
I know that I didnít eat much. The whole group from the A shift was
going after work, and it must have been that Patrick was off that day because
he joined us as well. I know that Lynn and Leigh Ann were there.
I canít remember if Reuben was around. Matt was there, of course.
Iím pretty sure Mary Harris was there, and it may have been that Brandon
and Julie also came. Regardless, a large group of people were going
to the famous Einoís that everyone talked about.
To tell you the truth, I wasnít that excited
about it. The reason for it was simple enough. I didnít understand
what the appeal was in cooking my own steak. To this day, I dislike
cooking, and I definitely prefer to have someone else prepare my steak
(though, right now, Iím a vegetarian). I certainly had never cooked
a steak, and I wasnít particularly in the mood to be that adventurous.
I was along for the ride, for the comradery. The drive itself was
special enough. Yellowstone was still so new to me, and I hadnít
exactly been to West Yellowstone a million times. I might have been
there only once at that time (I went another time during the summer, but
I donít remember whether it was slightly before or slightly after this).
So, just to drive through the geyser basins again was a treat in itself.
I remember going by the lower geyser basin amazed at all the activity.
Iím pretty sure I saw the constant eruptions of Clepsydra Geyser, not knowing
its name or that the eruptions were constant. The early evening sky
was still beautiful. It was wide open. Having friends near
by made it even more exciting for me. They loved what they were seeing,
too. The destination was Einoís but in Yellowstone there are no sudden
leaps. You donít just go from here to there. There is a continuous
experience for the senses at each place flowing effortlessly into the next.
For me, Einoís was secondary. For others, it likely wasnít.
Yet, one and the same this trip meant a lot more to us all than the average
ride back in our respective home states.
I seem to recall that we got a little lost
finding Einoís, but it was nothing too serious.
So, what did I do at the illustrious Einoís?
I played the poker machine for an hour. Thatís not only not all that
interesting in itself, itís not even in my character. I simply donít
gamble. I donít do friendly wagers; I donít play the lottery.
I donít gamble at all. In part, I donít think thereís much to gain
by it, in part Iím afraid of the addiction, in part I see it as a repressive
tax on poor people. In Ohio, we donít have poker machines, though,
and so I was fascinated to see one. I simply wanted to know how it
worked. Well, I put a dollar in, and then I won and won again and
won again, and I didnít know how to stop the machine. I mean, I didnít
have a clue. I wanted to stop, but I kept winning. At one point,
I was over $20 a head, and then by the time someone showed me how to stop
the machine (they must have been worried about me), I was only about $4
ahead. During that time, people made their steaks and were already
eating them. I basically missed out on the whole Einoís experience.
Since Iíve never been back, I canít tell you much about the place.
It was fairly dark, if I recall, and crowded. It seemed festive,
but I was preoccupied by my video poker experience. It wasnít exactly
an auspicious omen. I had basically spent an hour by myself at a
machine while everyone else was enjoying each otherís company and taking
part in a Yellowstone employee rite of passage. So, in some sense,
I felt like my evening had been wasted. Still, I was having an okay
time. I didnít know my night was going to get much better.
Soon after, I believe Matt and some others
began talking about doing something after Einoís. It was already
about 9:30 or so, and I had to be up for work at about 6 in the morning.
I canít recall what I felt at first, but I imagine I was probably somewhat
apprehensive. On the other hand, I was made for the night, and I
might have been up for anything that sounded like it fit my night instincts.
Where they wanted to go was a place called the Boiling River, which I honestly
had never heard of and didnít know where it was. So, when they decided
to go there after Einoís I think my instinct was that I wanted to go along.
I figured I might be back late, but I thought that for sure Iíd be back
around 1 am or so. If it took an hour to get there and an hour back
and we spent a few minutes there, weíd be back at a decent hour.
Most of our group, however, decided that it was too late to go anywhere.
Those who were game for the trip to the Boiling River were Price, Matt,
Patrick, and I. I think Patrick seemed especially enthusiastic about
this adventure. I didnít know where we were going; I just enjoyed
I knew something was up when we got to
Madison Junction, and instead of taking a right turn toward Old Faithful
and Grant Village, we took a left turn toward Norris and Mammoth Hot Springs.
In fact, they told me soon after I asked that the Boiling River was just
north of Mammoth Hot Springs. For those of you who havenít been to
Yellowstone, please consult a map right now. Mammoth and Grant are
on opposite ends of Yellowstone. It takes over 2 hours to go between
them. Remember, it was already quite late, and I had to work the
early shift in the morning. For everyone else, it was a day off (or
in Mattís case, another day of his vacation).
Well, okay, I was now along for the ride.
I already had the sense that what I was doing was just a little nuts because
I wasnít exactly going to get much sleep. Whatís more, I felt a great
sense of irony. We were going by and through Mammoth Hot Springs.
These are some amazing feature in a very beautiful part of Yellowstone.
Well, although I went right by the hot springs, I didnít actually see any
of them. We might as well have been back home in Ohio. It was
just dark, and the only thing to look for was an elk, or a deer, or a bison
to destroy our evening.
So, all we had were the sound of each otherís
voices, that big brown monstrosity of a car that Price drove, darkness,
and silence. Time went quickly because we laughed and joked along
I said above that this ďmight as well have
been Ohio,Ē but thatís not at all true. While it is true that all
we could see were vague silhouettes of the mountains and a very dark and
narrow and badly paved road, this was not anything like my Ohio experience.
There were no houses littered along the way, no lights every quarter or
half mile. This was real darkness. But, besides the look, the
feel was different. I felt the adventure, I felt the friends in the
car, I felt that better things were waiting for us. In Ohio, if you
try going anywhere at night, you are bound to run into a cop whoís going
to send you home (trust me, Iíve tried to recapture my Yellowstone nights
in Ohioówhere do you go that theyíll even let you go?)
And, yet, even in Yellowstone, we became
wary of the rangers. As we drove past the lights of Mammoth (Iíll
describe the village another time) and north toward the so-called Boiling
River, a discussion began about where we should park. As I soon learned,
it was not legal to go in the Boiling River after dark. Later, and
thankfully I didnít know this at the time, we discovered that a $500 fine
came with being caught. So, even here, we were some place we were
not allowed to be, but if we could get there and not be disturbed, this
was going to be something great. So, a lot of the nervousness and
excitement was amplified by our fear of being discovered by the rangers.
So, we drove past the Boiling River and cached the car on some pull out
about a half mile down the road. Iím not sure why that seemed to
be less suspicious, but they seemed fairly sure that it would be okay there.
In philosophy, one of the great problems
is presented by Plato in his masterpiece, The Republic. In
Book II, Glaucon, one of the characters, tells the story about a famous
ring belonging to a man named Gyges that could make you invisible.
The real power of the ring was that whoever used it could do whatever they
wanted without being caught. Glaucon tries to argue that anyone who
had such a ring would use it or would be rather foolish not to. He
reasons that the only reason we have laws is in order to protect us from
each other, and if anyone could circumvent those laws without fear of being
caught, he naturally would. Socrates spends most of the rest of the
entire work trying to reject that argument by Glaucon, arguing instead
that justice should be practiced for its own sake and is actually most
beneficial to us EVEN IF we have a ring like Gyges has.
I raise this question about the nature
of justice quite obviously because it seems that we were breaking the law
because the rewards of breaking the law seemed to be so great. Iím
not sure, though, that we were in fact breaking the law that counted, though.
Yes, we broke federal law by going to the Boiling River, and those laws
are there for good reason (I appreciate some of them more now than I did
then). However, in my conscience, in that particular time and place,
that body of water was calling me. If I had not gone, I would have
been guilty. How does that make sense? In what way would I
have been guilty by not breaking federal law and going to the river?
Does it compare with healing someone against the law on the Sabbath or
disobeying laws that are inherently racist like many did in the South in
the 50s and 60s or refusing to go into the draft for religious reasons?
It seems very presumptuous to say ďyes.Ē And, yet, I must answer
that way. What I was faced with in my life was isolationóisolation
from myself, from my environment, from those I loved. Isolation is
harmful in every way. What I was faced with was not a question of
breaking the law or not breaking the law. Thatís not how it appeared
to me. What I was faced with was overcoming my fear to reach out
and do something new and different against continuing to live in the nervous,
tense box. Thatís the choice as it appeared to me. Now, my
choice would be different. I know more about fragile natural features,
am more careful about the ways I reach out, and so forth. Tomorrow,
I donít go back to the Boiling River faced with the same choice.
That night, I did, and it was imperative that I do so.
I was nervous, excited, and tense.
I was worried about getting back to Grant Village. I was never much
for going in the water. The others were serene. They did not let
the gnat of my tenseness bother them at all. I remember that that
impressed me. There was something about them that I still hadnít
gotten. I was an incredible bundle of nerves. There was more
peace in them, even a soul as tortured as Priceís. Now, I donít want
an absolute serenity. I want complexity, storm and strife.
But, storm and strife without also peace is just a lot of thunder without
the gentle touch of rain. We also need sunshine, too. On some
nights, the moon and stars do just fine.
The Boiling River is on the border of Montana
and Wyoming and isnít really a river at all. Itís an outflow of thermal
springs that pour into the very cold Gardiner River. During the day,
it is a popular swimming hole for tourists. It can be crowded, but
it is still a great place to go. A lot of tourists donít know about
it, but since it is fairly close to the road and very popular with locals,
is a hot spot of a different sort. During the winter, people sometimes
come to bathe in the waters. One of these days, that will be something
I have to do.
We took a small path to the river that
wound around. I noticed that the others got more and more quiet the
closer we got to it. I guess we all got naked or into our underwear
before we walked into the shallow pool of very warm water. Obviously,
we didnít have shorts on since this was an impromptu trip. Itís remarkable
for someone as prudish as I was back then that I canít remember the precise
details of it more clearly. It seems like thatís something that would
have stuck out.
But, talk, talk, talk. Thatís the
jabber in my mind even then. It was out of whack for this very peaceful
and quiet and majestical place. I got in the water, and it was glorious.
It was as warm as bath water. Pockets of cool water from the Gardiner
River sometimes hit my body giving me a jolt of cold to mix with the warm.
When I felt too warm, mere feet away was the cold Gardiner where I could
instantly refresh myself. On the banks of the Boiling River were
these cute little two or three foot waterfalls flowing with more warm water.
Some poured over large rocks. It was possible to sit on the rocks
and be splashed by the jets of the warm waterfalls.
The night outside had a lightness to it.
The stars reflected on the Gardiner River making it easily possible to
make out the terrain on the other side of us. It was simply stunning.
Soon after, the four of us said almost nothing to each other for over an
hour as we soaked it all in and simply let the magic work us over.
At first, what I wanted to do was chitter
and chatter over it all. I was excited, having a great time, still
anxious about rangers and about the time. I never completely got
over that, but again the calm faces surrounded me. The river absorbed
my anxiety. The beauty before me in the dark shades of black and
gray sprinkled with white lights soothed me. And, then I began to
get it. ďThis is what Yellowstone is about.Ē It wasnít just
a land, it wasnít just a people, it wasnít just a wonder of the world,
it wasnít even just the mere chemistry of all those things. There
was something more. There was this intoxicating hour of silence that
kept speaking volumes. ďHello darkness my old friend, Iíve come to
talk with you again.Ē You think that is depressing? No.
I was among friends, among a new love, in warm waters, seeing the stars
like I had never seen them before. There were the mountains.
And, it was more than that. It was this inner dialogue, this great
call, this great love all over me giving me the rest I needed even though
I was not even remotely asleep. We were in that water for over two
hours, and it felt like I had slept eight hours or more.
I could have gone to bed without making
this trip. I could have gone to work happily the next day, and I
would still have been in paradise. But, I needed this. I needed
to explore like few have explored, to be enveloped by the beauty around
me, to see Yellowstone in a different lightóstarlight. And, yet,
this was not just a sensuous experience, an experience of smell and sight
and warm feeling. Here I could sense so clearly what was The Beautiful
even though obscured in darkness, even though it was silent.
After that night, I was inspired not to
miss another chance to be a part of the Yellowstone magic, the night spectacular
where the noise is muffled and sweet music fills the air. This was
the first of many such nights over five years.
So, where was the magic? That all
seems like it makes some sense. People have experiences like this
all the time, or at least some do. And, yet, do they? Where
were they on that night? Skepticism, I suppose, is a fine thing,
but dance with me on those sandbars and youíll know what I mean.
Donít dance with anyone, though. Dance with me. And, if by
chance, you canít dance with me, dance with someone who knows. My
friends helped me get something that night, and yet I still talk too much
So, where were you that night? Maybe,
you were one of the two drunk people we ran into on our way out of the
Boiling River. I guess the magic abruptly ended once we got out of
the river and put our clothes back on. Soon after we saw a couple
of very drunk people stumbling on the path toward the river. They
seemed to be just the sort of people for whom the curfew policy on the
river was intended. At more than one point, the people almost fell
into a thermal feature. It was very disturbing, though we kept a
sense of humor about it. To be honest, we were this close to calling
the rangers on them for their own safety. It seemed amazing to us
that they didnít wind up killing themselves. In fact, we hung around
a little extra to make sure that they didnít. For me, while on the
one hand funny, they seemed to be cheapening the experience. What
had just been an intense spiritual experience was now just the vulgar end
of someoneís party. Itís hard to be self righteous when we went also
at first for enjoyment, and I donít think we were that self righteous at
the time. I have a distinct memory that Matt instigated the idea,
and I was charmed by the ironic evil of it. We recognized the irony
of the situation. We had just broken the law, and now here was an
extension of that principle in these people. Now we had the audacity
to want to report them, in part because we believed we loved Yellowstone
and they were just drunk. Perhaps, it was that which kept us from
actually going forward with a report. More likely, it was the fear
that reporting them would make us equally suspicious. In any respect,
I guess they made out okay because I didnít read any bad news about them.
The way home was very long. It was
already 3:30 in the morning when we left for home (yes, Grant Village felt
more and more like home). It had been an amazing night. Price
or someone popped a Violent Femmes tape in. Something of the angst
of that music helped put the edge back on a very peaceful night.
The craziness of the night, doing something most of our co-workers thought
was nuts, made sense in light of their music. I mean, you donít often
associate the lyrics, ďWhy canít I get just one fuckĒ with a peaceful spiritual
experience, but I did. The two fit together in perfect harmony.
In me, this is where inner tumult met divine peace. ďWhy canít I
get just one screwĒ seemed fitting on too many different levels, though
a good Christian puritan boy I remained. The road was changing, though.
The poetry was moving me into a newer, less sacrosanct holinessówhere a
full embrace wasnít always inconsistent with risks and violations of societal
norms, where eros was still consistent with godliness. Iím getting
years ahead of myself, but the seeds were truly on this night.
We got home at 5:30 in the morning, I slept
for half an hour, and I was up for work feeling remarkably rested.
Our co-workers indeed thought we were nuts, but many looked approvingly
with a kind of admiration. I know thatís what I sensed from Jim and
Sandy. I was starting to learn a little of their world, and I know
they were starting to rediscover their world, too. As for me, I was
now determined to get that high again, but not just for the sake of a high.
I wanted to do something more. I wanted the Crazy Mondays to meet
the truly divine in newer and more daring ways. And, thatís exactly
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