You Can’t Go Back, but You Can Go Again

A few weeks ago I had the chance to do something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time: go back to Yellowstone National Park.

I worked there for one summer after my sophomore year. In hotel housekeeping, which wasn’t that bad.  I actually liked it.  And I also really liked the trip out there on the Greyhound, even though it was supposed to take 24 hours but ended up taking 48. It had to have been some kind of archetypal transition period for me. It all happened during the middle of a much longer period of depression, which stretched back through the college year before and forward across the next year, when I studied abroad. I had a very hard time making friends and generally functioning in a normal social way among people … and had just put myself among only strangers, very far from home, in a place where it was still cold and snowy and full of bears in mid-May, on purpose.

I don’t remember being unhappy, though I was lonely a good bit and may have been homesick  because of my fear of all the strangers.  Somehow I got through, found people willing to hang out with me and drive me places — maybe due to my roommates and all of my early contacts being missionaries, or at the very least active in the Bible studies that my roommates led.  That was cool with me! I remember it being a summer of spiritual searching even before these people entered my life. I appreciated the Bible studies and the discussions about God and morality. I was reading about God — the book God: A Biography, which appealed to my not-yet-quite-admitting-I’m-an-English-major mind with its exploration of who God would be as a person, based on his character traits as revealed by the stories about him in the Bible. I also read a short and unassuming book on reincarnation which drastically reshaped my beliefs (or call them superstitions) about what happens after death and between lives. It was called Life Before Life, and my mom had mailed it to me because it had so rocked her world after she picked it up at Goodwill for, probably, a quarter! (I mention that only because for some reason it seems that a new, mass market paperback edition of that book now goes for $439.11 on Amazon!  :-O )

I was very into build-your-own-religion in those years, even as I was trying on Christianity, particularly Catholicism, one more time. I still made up my own nature rituals. And when I revisited Yellowstone this summer, the presence of nature in its immense power and beauty struck me immediately and deeply. Strong memories came back of how I fell ridiculously in love with the aspen trees and how amazed I had been at the cold, crystal clear waters of the lakes. Especially Yellowstone Lake. Oh man … Now I have always been a fool for bodies of water, and lakes are some of my favorites. And the hugeness and the clarity of this one just blew me away. I remembered on this trip how the lake had been frozen when I first arrived in Grant Village (where I lived, which was on the shore) and how I had heard it when it cracked. I could feel the Holy Spirit’s presence almost tangibly, and I felt the life energy in the molecules of water, and all around me.



clouds and lake

I would go to the West Thumb Geyser Basin — or sometimes just the shore where I was, by the restaurant and everything — and watch the silvery water. Sometimes I was the night maid, and I got to watch her at night. Can you tell I was in love?

Going back, maybe because I have since read all of those Clan of the Cave Bear books, it struck me how sacred and mysterious this place must have been to the people who lived in that area before the Europeans … the landscape of the geyser basins, the steam rising among the pine trees, the deep pools. I thought that the hot springs must have been seen as beings with their own life forces — I wished for more time to stay and get to know them again. I fantasized about sitting quietly there and tuning in to whatever the energies were, whatever whispers might be in the air.

blue pool




basin view

Sitting quietly or spending a long time anywhere weren’t to be had on this trip, it seemed. Instead, we encountered an amazing abundance of wildlife! Badgers on the trail, snakes, an elderly fox carrying a dead marmot (!), the requisite herds of elk and bison, and an incredible NINE bears! We watched a coyote being steered away from the grazing herds by a few matter-of-fact pronghorns. All of these run-ins, glimpses, and outright ogle-fests were simply spellbinding.

Still, I think my favorite hour of all was the one I spent at the lake. And if I didn’t get to linger on the misty, mysterious, mystical lakeshore or wander among the pines, I now have an escape fantasy that will last me at least the next fifteen years. But hopefully it won’t be that long before I return next time.

And here are some more pictures that are just cool.  🙂

floating tree


deep pool 2


heart geyser 1

Good Luck

Sometime in college, living in the dorm and under the spiritual influence of Girl Scout camp and comparative religious studies, I got it into my head that you could just declare a new belief or tradition, and that would establish it as existing and valid (although it might die with you if you could never convince anybody else to carry it on).  I said, Okay, from now on finding a spider in your house means good luck.  I remembered this whenever I saw a spider, and repeated the “superstition” to myself until it became comfortable.  Even knowing intellectually, “Oh, you just made this up, and didn’t you steal it from some other belief anyway?” (I was never sure if I’d heard it somewhere before), it became “real” to me in a light-hearted sort of way, with the effect that encountering a spider in my house started giving me a warm, happy feeling — a lucky state in itself, I guess, in retrospect.  Eventually, when I saw a spider in OTHER PEOPLE’s houses, or in their space in any way, I would tell them, “That’s good luck, you know!” 

A couple of weeks ago my partner and I were hiking in Ha Ha Tonka State Park and picking up pieces of trash as we went.  It occurred to me, Wouldn’t it be cool if we could propagate the idea, the legend, shall we say, that if you pick up a piece of trash when you’re in nature, that’s good luck?  I had a vision of kids competing with each other to see who had the most good luck — who could bring back the most pieces of litter out of the woods. 

Of course, it would be good “luck” — create more favorable circumstances for positive things to happen to us — in the literal sense, by improving the health of the environment (no losers in that game).  But also, those kinds of superstitions operate from a different part of the brain than logic (“It is smart to pick up litter”) or right and wrong (“It is a moral necessity that I pick up litter”) — both of which, as we can see, fail frequently in the prevention of littering and litter cleanup. There’s nobody who hasn’t heard that we shouldn’t and should do those things. respectively, yet obviously, lots of people do.  Maybe connecting doing a very specific good act — picking up litter from nature — with a magical sort of reward (“good luck”) taps into a different pleasure center than the one tapped by “doing the right thing.”  It’s more of a game. 

A lot of the things we are taught as children as superstitions stay with us as adults — many a grown-up stops to pick up a lucky penny.  I think that is superstition, traditional or “home-made,” can be worth having if it makes us more inclined to do a positive thing, helpful to others or ouselves, and connects us lightly to a sense of fun and pleasure in the doing of it.  It can be another way to help make that helpful act a habit.  We don’t need to believe that a leprechaun will come and giveus a potof gold if we do something nice for someone, but for those of us who welcome any little burst of good feeling, cosmic or human, that comes our way, it seems worth our while.  Play around with the idea.  What little thing could you connect to magic in your life?  See if it sticks.  And have fun!

Ha Ha Tonka State Park

Ha Ha Tonka State Park

Good Luck and Good Fortune to All!