Monthly Archives: September 2019

Creative Writing Class

I was lured into the hellish, hardscrabble hobby of writing when I was 16 years old. And due to brain damage, I’ve stuck with it.

In my junior year of high school I attended a creative writing class. My teacher’s name was Mrs. Utt. But we called her Mrs. Nutt. And sometimes, Mrs. Butt, and a few other things. She had a name we students could get very creative with. But I preferred Nutt, because I thought she was nutty for teaching creativity. How can anyone teach anyone to be creative?

She’d give us assignments to write about this, that, or the other thing, and I’d always turn them into something nonsensical. My purpose was to get laughs, while showing how much fun it is to break the teacher’s rules.

Mrs. Nutt would always dock my grade for straying from her assignments’ guidelines. And I would argue that you can’t be creative if you stay in a box. She never saw it that way.

I think there are two different kinds of writing: creative writing and journalism. And I think Mrs. Nutt was mixing the two up.

One day she asked, “Tippy, do you think you have a talent for writing?”

What a stupid fucking question. And I wish I had responded that way. I thought at the time that this was a matter of taste, so only the reader could make that judgment.

But I wondered if she was finally willing to admit she was wrong for docking my grades. So I answered, “I dunno.” But she just dropped the subject.

Looking back, I think a good answer to Mrs. Nutt’s question might be, “Hell yes! Everyone does.”

This is kind of nebulous. So let me put all my bullshitting skills to work, and explain what I’m trying to get at:

I believe that anyone who opens themselves up and bleeds all over their keyboard, has a talent for writing. Or at least, creative writing. And by bleeding, I don’t mean getting all emotional. That’s possible, but too much sentiment can make readers nauseous. What I’m really getting at is life. Creative writing is about finding your life within, and letting it gush forth.

It’s that which interests, intrigues, and excites you. It’s the life that is at the cutting edge of the progress of your soul. It’s the next step through your path down the vast unknown of eternal existence. You must capture this, and figure out how to articulate it.

And anybody can do this. Creative writing is not about skill, except perhaps the most basic of skills. If you can write, “See Spot run. Run Spot, run,” you can be a creative writer. Because it’s about talent, not skill. A talent we all possess, deep inside.

It doesn’t much matter your depth of vocabulary, grammatical skills, or syntax ability. So fuck you, Strunk and White. It’s about getting inside your heart and breaking it open. This is hard to do, but I believe when you accomplish this, you have as much talent at creative writing as anyone can ever possess.

Mrs. Nutt finally answered the question herself. She gave me a B in that class. But my fellow students gave me an A. The A came from all the laughs I got, whenever I was asked to read one of my short stories aloud. They might have been laughing at me, rather than with me, but that A was enough to lure me into the hellish, hardscrabble hobby of writing. Because all you have to do is laugh, to encourage me. Be warned.

A few years later I enrolled in another creative writing class, as a college sophomore. I expected this experience to be different. I was looking forward to a professor who would give me free rein to write whatever and however I wanted. A real pro, who knew creativity couldn’t be taught, but who could teach me a few techniques that might help express my creativity more effectively. After all, she was a college professor, for gawd’s sake.

Mrs. Mushroom. Or a reasonable facsimile.

But no. I got Mrs . . . Mrs . . ., aw hell, she had a very forgettable name. But she had a fungiform shape, so I’ll call her Mrs. Mushroom.

Just like Mrs. Nutt, Mrs. Mushroom gave us assignments, and expected us to confine our creativity to the bounds of those assignments. As if we were journalism students. I never did. And like Mrs. Nutt, she always docked my grade for straying out of bounds.

One of her assignments required us to write about a very intense, personal, emotional experience. Boy did I have fun with that one. When she graded my paper, she scribbled her little comments at the top. But before she handed it back, she made the near-fatal decision to read it to the entire class.

During this reading, Professor Mushroom started to giggle. She suppressed it. But a few paragraphs later, the giggling erupted again, a little louder. She tried to suppress it again, but to little avail. It just kept building louder and louder, while interrupting her reading more and more frequently. Suddenly she exploded into hysteria, like an inmate at a sanitarium.

Trying to suppress laughter can be dangerous. Mrs. Mushroom began to choke. Some of her saliva had apparently been sucked down the wrong tube, from the involuntary convulsions of her ribcage.

She choked and coughed and gagged and hacked, while her face turned redder and redder from anoxia. Finally she rose from her desk and rushed out of the classroom.

We got about a 20-minute break, from this tussive medical emergency, as we waited for the professor to apparently search for some water to treat her coughing. Or find a restroom hand dryer, to air out her wet panties. Or do whatever the heck she was doing.

We even speculated that maybe she was choking to death and dying, somewhere outside. But nobody bothered to check. We were too busy socializing with each other.

It was nice getting that break. Her class was usually boring.

Finally she returned, looking disheveled. She composed herself at her desk, the best she could, shakily picked up my paper, and slowly and carefully finished reading it while keeping her face as straight as possible.

Then she handed the paper back to me, with the comment she had superscribed, before her decision to read the paper to the class. The comment read, “Not sure if you were trying to be funny, but if you were, the humor didn’t come across. B-”

I didn’t argue with Mrs. Mushroom and accuse her of hypocrisy, because then I’d have to admit that I didn’t follow the assignment. And that I really was trying to be funny. And if I did that, she might have changed the grade to an F.

This illustrates why I consider creative writing classes to be a joke. To be successful, a creative writing class must be taught by someone who truly understands and appreciates creativity. Someone who doesn’t mistake it for journalism, by meting out rigid assignments.

But how could such a teacher give any grade to anyone, except an A? After all, how do you judge creativity?

If you want to write creatively, don’t attend a creative writing class. Just write. And write and write and write. You’ll probably suck at first, but after awhile you’ll figure it out. Sooner or later, when you penetrate deeply enough into your own heart, you’ll naturally know what to do.

Don’t worry about grammar, syntax, or any other bullshit rules for writing. They’re not necessary. There’s a lot of classical literature out there, whose authors threw those rules right out the window.

Mrs. Mushroom made us acquire Strunk and White’s Elements of Style. We were supposed to read this hallowed old tome cover-to-cover, and that was supposed to make us into great writers. Sadly, most of the students bought that shit and struggled through Strunk and White, trying to decipher the arcane answers to the great mysteries of creative writing.

I even tried Elements of Style, myself. But I found the going to be as thick as that time I tried to force myself through the Book of Mormon. But I still brought it to class every day, and set it on top of my desk, just to impress Mrs. Mushroom.

It must have worked. At the end of the semester she ended up giving me a B. So thank you, Strunk and White. That’s the most you’ve ever done for my writing.

After surviving Mushroom’s class, I kept writing. Because the memory of her laughter and, most importantly, her choking, still echoes in my brain. It’s the greatest encouragement I’ve ever received.

Most of the shit I’ve written has been for no one in particular. Over the years, I’ve occasionally been struck with a sudden inspiration, and acted upon the afflatus by putting pen to paper. And eventually, keyboard to software. And for the past decade, post to blog.

About nine years ago I compiled a collection of what I considered to be my best short stories, into a book. I put it on Amazon. It sold three copies. Yeah, this is what I mean about a hellish, hardscrabble hobby. If I still believed that only the reader can judge talent, I’d have to admit I’m a goddamned lousy writer. Which may be true. But I choose to live in my personal fool’s paradise, by going with the lengthy justification I presented above, explaining why everyone has talent.

I’ve decided to donate this book to the common cause of creativity. I’m going to share it on my blog, in a multi-part series, and make you suffer through it. It’s over 40,000 words long, so this series will take awhile to complete. I hope you’re not easily distracted.

After I’ve shared it with you, I’m going to assign it a Creative Commons license, and give it away to a general public that refused to buy it (except for those three very decent saints with exceptional taste).

Some of my short stories are serious, and others are an attempt to be humorous. I hope you will enjoy them all. But if on any occasion you don’t think I’ve succeeded at being funny, I must warn you. Please, do not read the story out loud to anyone.

Because you may want to live, to read another day.

Goodbye Yellowstone Roads

We said goodbye to the Yellowstone roads, as we drove them for one last time, on a Sunday afternoon. And after nearly a week of family reunion and sightseeing at Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, it was time to go the hell home.

We got our abrazos and valedictions out of the way in the evening. That way I could give my hungover relatives a chance to sleep in, while my wife and I hit the road early the next morning. I’m sure they appreciated that.

And we appreciated their company. They added to our Yellowstone experience, making our memories fuller and richer. I’m thankful for their presence.

Gratitude is a good thing, so I have some more thank you’s to pass out.

I want to thank the American taxpayer. If you pay taxes, thank you for the $4.27 that the average taxpayer contributes annually to our parks.

And I want to express my gratitude to our hosts at these two national parks. Both parks seemed orderly, very clean, and well-managed. So thank you, park rangers.

But they weren’t the true hosts. It’s the true hosts I want to thank the most. These would be the permanent residents of the parks. The animal kingdom citizens that contribute so much to the character of this wilderness.

They’re not hunted, and seem to possess little fear of humans. And so they went about their business, paying scant attention to all their biped admirers that slowed their cars or gathered in throngs by the sides of roads. And they nonchalantly and unwittingly posed for quite a few pictures for me, and so many others.

The following is a photographic tribute to the animals that hosted our visit. Thanks all you critters, both large and small, for your hospitality, and for putting on so many interesting and entertaining shows. (Except you, mosquitoes. You know what you did.)

A black bear crossing Cottonwood Creek near Jenny Lake, in Grand Teton National Park. Thank you bear, for ignoring me, and not eating me.

This fearless pheasant was captured walking on a fence rail on Fairy Falls Trail, near Yellowstone’s Grand Prismatic Hot Spring.

A mule deer that has apparently never known the terror of hunting season. We encountered her while hiking around Mud Volcano, in Yellowstone’s Hayden Valley.

Canadian Geese beyond the steamy mist of Beryl Hot Spring, in Yellowstone.

I like bison, because they’re related to gnus. This gnu cousin in the Hayden Valley was rubbing up against the pine tree behind him. I don’t know bison well, but he kind of appeared ready to charge, when I snapped this photo. I can take a hint. I quickly got the hell out of there, retreating to my car.

While shooting bison like I was Buffalo Bill, I quickly recalibrated my camera to macro mode, to capture this Monarch butterfly. My next few shots of buffalo were also in macro mode. #%$*!

A marmot on a rocky hillside, behind Grand Geyser, in Yellowstone’s Upper Geyser Basin.

The best shot I could get of an osprey, hovering over the Firehole River at Biscuit Basin. This raptor put on an aerial acrobatic show for a gathering crowd, as it swooped, circled, and plunged into the water, searching for fish.

A duck in a buffalo watering hole, in the Lamar Valley.

A couple of bull elk by Yellowstone’s Madison River. It was rutting season, and one of the elk is calling some nearby females to join him for a party.

These guys were all over Yellowstone, and could be seen as reliably as Old Faithful. In fact, this chipmunk lives near some hot springs in the Upper Geyser Basin, near Old Faithful.

Old Faithful and Young Asshole

The Old Faithful area of Yellowstone is like a little town. It has souvenir shops, general stores, a hotel, a visitor center, a gas station, and about a thousand acres of parking lot.

You’d think parking would be easy, but the first day we tried to go there, the park rangers had half the parking lots closed. I don’t know why. But maybe that’s why they’re called “park” rangers.

The next try, we were successful. We found parking, but it was a long way from that famous teapot known as Old Faithful. My wife, Kay, and my sister-in-law, Connie, put on backpacks filled with snacks and water, for the long hike. My brother, Rowan, just carried his ever-present coffee mug. Which could also have been named Old Faithful.

I carried my camera and camera bag. And I also wore four layers of clothes, because it was in the frickin’ 40’s that early in the morning. My camera bag is very roomy, and I can use it for other things, besides cameras. Such as for storing my layers after I shed them, as the day warmed. My bag is sort of like a man purse. Or murse.

Wiley Jr is a real shutterbug. He carried not one, but two cameras. But no camera bag. And no backpack, either. One of his cameras is modern and lightweight, except for the one-ton bazooka zoom lens attached to it. The other is an old film camera, that would weigh a ton even without a big zoom lens. Yet it, too, was equipped with a giant heavy zoom. Like I say, he’s a real shutterbug, and is very much into photography.

But no worries. He’s young and strong, and if he’s willing to drape two cinder blocks around his neck, I figured more power to him.

So off we trudged toward Old Faithful, each with our own burdens dangling under our chins and off our backs.

The big teapot was a few minutes late. But when it went off, Wiley and I snapped a ton of photos as it sputtered, shot upward, and hosed the sky with its boiling hot gusher of water.

We watched this world famous geyser erupt three times. A large crowd begins to gather about a half-hour before the expected eruption. Rowan, ever the comedian, worked the crowd. He explained how geysers work. He said that park rangers operate large pumps below the surface. And when Old Faithful didn’t erupt at the exact, predicted time, Rowan sighed and opined, “Yep, that’s government for ya.”

After the excitement of the geyser died down, Rowan suggested we walk some of the trails in the area.

The Old Faithful area is also known as the Upper Geyser Basin. It’s loaded with hundreds of geysers and hot springs. And the roiling, Firehole River winds through it, gathering the boiling waters that spill from the earth.

The Firehole River. Or perhaps it’s one of the Five Rivers of Hades.

A reticulated network of trails and bridges covers the Upper Geyser Basin, with miles upon miles of hiking opportunities. Most of these trails are paved or boardwalk. They’re easy to walk, but seem labyrinthine and endless. I got the impression that you can hike all day and might not explore all the available footpaths.

But I was up to hiking some of it, and so was everyone else. So we shouldered our various burdens and followed Rowan through this wonderland of steam and boiling liquid.

Heart Spring and Lion Geyser. Unlike Rowan’s explanation, geysers actually come from hot water, heated by the underground magma of volcanoes (remember, Yellowstone is a volcano).

We did a lot of walking, and it was getting tiring. But an hour into it I was still having a great old time with my family, snapping hundreds of photos of all the natural marvels bubbling up from the ground. But if I had realized that Wiley Jr was as cunning as a coyote, perhaps I would have been more circumspect.

He walks up with his film camera in hand. “Hey Uncle Tippy! I’m out of film and don’t need this camera anymore. Can I put it in your camera bag? It’s getting kind of heavy.”

I imagined so. That fucking barbell must have been breaking his neck. But he’s the young asshole who brought it. And he’s the stupid son-of-a-bitch who didn’t bother to bring along a camera bag or backpack. Why the hell would he expect me to carry his lead weight?

Lion Geyser, erupting. The magma-heated water of a geyser passes through a narrow channel on its way to the earth’s surface. But heavier, cooler water at the top of the channel caps the heated water. This pressurizes it, allowing it to heat up to the boiling point. And when it boils, it flashes into steam, violently forcing the water up the channel, and erupting into a geyser.

But I’m a fucking idiot, too. I have a hard time telling people no sometimes. And I really liked Wiley. Up until this point. He was always so nice and well-mannered.

I peered inside my camera bag, looking for an excuse. I prevaricated.“Uh, let’s see . . . um, um, nope, I don’t think I have enough room here.” And that made me look stupider than hell, because there was all kinds of room in the bag, which Wiley could clearly see. But I was saving that room to store my layers.

The cunning Wiley seized upon my stupidity before I could come up with a better excuse. “Yeah, sure Uncle Tippy,” he helpfully offered, “You’ve got all kinds of room in there. How about here?” And in he thrust the camera. I immediately felt a tugging strain upon my neck.

A colorful hot spring near the edge of the forest.

Well fuck. Just fuck. Goddamn that asshole!

I silently bore my new burden like I was Christ at the 12 stations. I staggered from hot spring to hot spring, geyser to geyser, with my own geysers of hot sweat pumping off my neck.

Meanwhile, Wiley was delightfully skipping way ahead so he could take the time to compose his photos with his digital camera, using all kinds of complicated special settings. Little fucker.

Grand Geyser. The column of steam and water at the left is in constant eruption. But the main geyser erupts every 7 to 15 hours. It’s the tallest predictable geyser known, achieving heights up to 200 feet (Old Faithful averages 145 feet).

I was getting worn out. But the coffee drinkers learned that the nearest pit toilet was more than a mile further down the trail. So we doggedly headed for it, me bringing up the rear with my extra burden, dragging feet, and lack of urgency.

There are two kinds of geysers: Pool geysers, which erupt through pools of water, in violent bursts; and cone geysers, which erupt in steady, tall streams. Old Faithful is a cone geyser. And these are a few other examples of the cone variety.

By the time I arrived at the toilet, the late-morning sun had raised the mercury to the 80s. Everyone had already relieved themselves, and was sitting on a log, waiting for me while eating lunch.

This is a pool geyser. Notice the narrow channel in the middle, just waiting to spew forth superheated water?

I was on the verge of a heat stroke with my four layers of jacket, vest, shirt, and teeshirt. I decided to put on a demonstration for Wiley. I removed the camera bag from my neck, with a stagger of exaggerated weariness (but I didn’t have to exaggerate much). I exclaimed to no one in particular, “I’m about to die here, with all these layers. I need a place to store them.”

Wiley said nothing. Acted as if he didn’t even notice. The unconscious prick.

The erupting waters of a small, pool geyser.

So I did a striptease for him. I removed my jacket, then my vest, then both shirts. And, while barechested, I mused aloud about how little room there was in my camera bag, for these articles of clothing.

The young asshole stared off into space, as if he was in another world.

Giant Geyser has an unusual shape. It formed in a group of trees, resulting in a cone shaped like a hollowed out tree trunk.

Making a big show of it, I rolled my jacket up super tight, and searched for any available space in my camera bag. And I surprised myself. I found room. I repeated this process with my vest, straining dramaturgically. And again I found room. And I found room for the teeshirt too, goddamnit.

Granted, it took great effort to stuff the clothes in, and they stuck about halfway out of the bag. But there was room.

Now Wiley had no reason to act on my hints and volunteer to take his one-ton camera back. I was stuck.

Another example of the many colorful hot springs at Yellowstone.

We slogged back to the car, over long miles of trail, sidewalk, and parking lot, before I could finally remove the yoke from my neck. I mentioned to Rowan what a lazy bastard his grandson was. With burden lightened, my mood lightened. We both laughed about it.

But I made a mental note. Watch out for Wiley Cody, Jr. That nice, well-mannered little fucker is one cunning coyote.

Geysers are very rare geological phenomena. They only occur in volcanic areas, and only with a small percentage of volcanoes. Most geysers require the presence of rhyolite rock. This rock dissolves in hot water, forming a mineral called geyserite. The geyserite cements and seals the channel walls of the geyser, preventing them from breaking down during eruptions.

Reconquering California

It’s been a few months since my Conquering California series of posts. This was a history about how illegal immigrants from America took California from Mexico. Remember? I know, it’s hard. I barely recall it myself.

But now I’ve rewritten history. I proofread all of those posts and made some corrections and other revisions. And I put them all together with some Gorilla glue, and transmogrified them into a small book.

I gave Conquering California a Creative Commons license, and am now distributing it free of charge to any sucker interested person who is willing to take the time to read it. So in case you were sleeping while you read all those posts this summer, here’s another chance to read Conquering California. And to take more naps.

You can find it in PDF format, by clicking on the Free Bookstore page, at the top of this blog. Or, just click any link in this post, entitled Conquering California. You’ll have to search hard for these Conquering California links, because I buried them in inconspicuous places. But I’m sure you’ll find them eventually. Conquering California.

If you decide to reconquer California, by rereading Conquering California, I hope you’ll enjoy the convenience and ease of this book format. And don’t forget, you can also go to www.obooko.com, and find this and some other propaganda I’ve penned, all free of charge.

Motorhomes Vs. Motels

The Grand Prismatic Spring, at Yellowstone National Park, from above. To get a shot of this spring in all its colorific glory, conditions must be perfect. You must have a clear sky and warm temperatures. And you must capture it in the afternoon, when only a little steam is coming off it. Unfortunately, all the parking spots were taken at this time of day, so I had to rely upon Wikipedia for this polychromatic picture. Photo by Brocken Inaglory, Creative Commons License CC BY-SA 3.0. https://sites.google.com/site/thebrockeninglory/.

My brother, Rowan, is a motorhome fanatic. Over the course of his life he’s owned various kinds of camping vehicles, including travel trailers, pop-up trailers, and fifth-wheels. But his preference is the Class C motorhome.

He hates motels.

And I hate motorhomes.

Rowan, my grandnephew Wiley, and I hiked the Fairy Falls trail to reach this overlook of the Grand Prismatic Spring. This shot was taken by me at about 8:30 am, with the temperature in the 50’s. Unfortunately the sun is too low, the spring is too steamy, and the air is not warm enough, to bring out the prismatic colors.

One problem with a motorhome is that everywhere you drive it, there it is. It’s a big, giant behemoth that doesn’t fit well into parking spaces, and that requires awkward and time-consuming unhooking and then hooking back up, every time you leave a campsite and return.

That’s why our car came in so handy during our Yellowstone trip. My wife, Kay, and I stayed in a cabin, in an RV park, while my brother hooked his motorhome up to a campsite in the same park. Every day, he and his family climbed into the back of my Outback, and off we’d go sightseeing. We left his atrocity-on-wheels behind, connected to its life support.

Rowan has been trying to convince me for years, to buy one of these snail shells. But I hate the idea of owning a motorhome. When I go on a road trip, I like to relax. But I imagine if I was driving one of those awkward galoots, I’d be constantly worried about sideswiping some bastard in my blind spot, or cutting a corner and taking out a stop sign, or backing over a troop of girl scouts.

I was able to catch a hint of iridescence with this shot.

But he found a way to tempt me. He told me that motorhome travel saves a ton of money over expensive motels. Now that’s the way to my heart. Money.

And he has a point. Motels are getting to be damned costly these days. If you want to stay at a motel where you don’t have to hide a pistol under your pillow, or use anti-itch creme after you get out of bed, or call the front desk for a plunger at 2:00 am, you have to put up a small ransom.

Generally, a halfway decent motel room will set a traveler back about $150 per night.

The runoff from Grand Prismatic creates a wide, foliated field of mineral-rich mud.

Rowan has also pointed out that I can save a lot of money on meals when owning a motorhome, by getting my wife to fix dinner rather than restaurants. But for some reason, Kay is not as enthusiastic about this point, as me.

My brother is a good salesman. However I like to analyze. And I’ve known Rowan since I was a kid. Even though he’s now a tax pro, I’ve never felt confident with his math. So I decided to put his claims under a microscope.

I put a spreadsheet together to analyze the financial pluses and minuses of owning a motorhome, versus using motels. I factored in the extra cost of fuel, driving these gas guzzlers, along with the cost of renting campsites; against savings in motel rooms and dining expenses.

A ground’s eye view of the Grand Prismatic Spring.

I won’t get into the weeds with every boring detail. I’ll just summarize. So you can save your nap for later. My spreadsheet indicates that on a typical 300-mile road trip day, I’d save a whopping $153 by driving a motorhome, as opposed to staying at a motel.

Zounds!

So this is why I see so many tin cans on wheels out there on the highway. The Great American Tourist has figured out a nifty way to save money. I felt like a chump not having purchased a motorhome years ago.

The Grand Prismatic Spring is the largest hot spring in the United States, and the third largest in the world. It is 370 feet wide, and 160 feet deep.

But then it occurred to me that I hadn’t finished my analysis. Motorhomes don’t just cost money when being driven. They also cost money when they’re parked in a driveway. Which for most owners is about 345 days out of the year.

So I put my numeracy skills to work again, and crunched more numbers.

First, a brand new, standard-sized Class C motorhome, of about 20-30 feet long, costs an average of about $75,000. If that $75,000 is invested in blue-chip stocks instead, it will earn about 6% annually. This is called opportunity cost. By shelling out $75,000 for a motorhome, I lose the opportunity to invest the money, as well as the potential earnings from that investment.

The annual opportunity cost of owning a motorhome is $75,000 * 6%, or $4,500.

The first Europeans to lay eyes upon this amazing spring were fur trappers, in 1839. They described it as a “boiling lake.”

My research indicates that a motorhome depreciates about 60% over a ten-year period, or an average of 6% per year. Thus, the depreciation cost adds another $4,500 per year to the expense of ownership.

Insurance will probably cost about $1,000 per year, and keeping it registered with the DMV will cost maybe $500 annually.

I understand that motorhomes need constant care. Even when they’re sitting around not being driven. So I’m going to throw in storage costs of $500 annually, even if my money-whirlpool sits on my own property.

No, this is not lava. Bacterial mats color the spring with greens, reds, and this striking orange.

That brings me to fixed annual costs of a staggering $11,000, for the privilege of owning a motorhome. Whether it’s driven anywhere or not.

To justify these high fixed costs, the motorhome would have to be driven 71.9 days per year, on road trips. That’s $11,000, divided by daily road trips savings of $153.

We aren’t musicians, traveling salespeople, or involved in any other peripatetic profession. So there’s no way we’d be needing to drive a motorhome that much. At most, my wife and I would probably drive one about 20 days per year.

And at 20 days per year, it would cost us an extra $7,840 per year to own a motor home, versus renting halfway decent motel rooms.

About 560 gallons of water per minute discharge from the Grand Prismatic Spring, along with more water from nearby Excelsior Geyser. The hot water flows in every direction away from the spring’s crater. This green runnel is cascading toward the nearby Firehole River.

And so, maybe I’m not such a chump after all. Motels win this battle of the budget. I’m sticking with my Outback, which I’ll keep using to handily pass these metallic slugs of the highway, as Kay and I travel America along a trail of roadside inns.

Sorry Rowan. You’re my brother, and I respect you. But you’ve gotta learn how to use a spreadsheet.

A boiling hot waterfall showers the Firehole River with runoff from the Grand Prismatic Spring and Excelsior Geyser.

The Lamar Valley

The Lamar Valley is where you’ll find most of the bison in Yellowstone. We encountered about a dozen herds, sometimes with hundreds of head.

Just north of Tower Fall we came to an intersection. If we turned right we’d head into the Lamar Valley, where we could end up driving two or three extra hours, sightseeing. Everyone in the car was all for it, notwithstanding their sore asses, so to the right I cranked the wheel.

Poachers reduced the Yellowstone bison numbers to about two dozen, by 1902. Then the U.S. Army stepped in and saved them from extinction. In August, 2018, their population was estimated at 4,527.

One of my blogging buddies, Jason Frels, recommended this drive. Jason has a photography blog, and if you want to learn some fine points of photography, or if you’re just into admiring beautiful photos, you’ll want to check out his blog. He maintains that he’s an amateur, but he could’ve fooled me. His pictures are professional looking, and he provides meticulous explanations for how he achieves them.

In winter, bison congregate in herds of about 20. But in summer they coalesce into an average of 200 per herd, with a maximum of 1,000.

But I’m just into admiring his beautiful photos, so I must admit that I haven’t learned much. I’m content with my hybrid, point-and-shoot Nikon Coolpix B700.

Older females direct the herds, while the bulls just run around fighting each other over which cow they’re going to screw. The bulls weigh about 2,000 lbs, while the cows only weigh about 1,100 lbs. Both genders have humps and horns, but a cow’s horns tend to be slightly shorter than a bull’s.

In Yellowstone, I alternated between Auto Mode and Landscape Mode, with occasional forays into the Macro setting. But sometimes I’d forget which mode I was in, and then have a hell of a time focusing. And that should help you gauge my skill level at photography.

Most bison can be found in the Lamar Valley, but we spotted isolated bison all over Yellowstone. This giant was caught napping in the Washburn Range area, a little ways southwest of the Lamar Valley.

There was a time when I was more into the camera hobby. I knew that F-stop didn’t stand for, “Fuck! Stop and get a shot of that!” I had a comprehension of things like depth-of-field, aperture, and shutter speed. And I usually shot in Manual Mode. So sometimes when I’m reading Frel’s blog, I have a vague idea of what he’s talking about. But mostly, the fine points of shutterbugging have escaped my memory, and left me feeling grateful for Auto Mode.

Buffaloes can run up to 35 mph, and can jump over objects five feet high. So maintaining the required 25 yard distance from them gives you a sporting chance to escape a charge.

My Nikon has a fantastic 60X zoom, that will put you right on the horns of a buffalo, a mile away. And this came in very handy on our spin through the Lamar Valley, because this area is loaded with bison.

The rutting season is in July and August. And we indeed got stuck in a rut, waiting around hoping for these two lovers to put on a show. But she wasn’t having it.

All the park literature warns you to stay well clear of these shaggy beasts. At least 25 yards. But with my powerful zoom lens, I doubt I got any closer than 26. Actually, we unintentionally got much closer than that, because these big galoots have a funny habit of crossing the highway and causing huge traffic jams.

Why did the buffalo cross the road? To get to its photogenic side.

My wife took this photo with her cell phone, while I was driving. We were the warp in the woof of a traffic jam. These two bison are waiting for us and others to pass before taking their turn to weave their way across the road.

We witnessed massive herds, containing hundreds of bison, stippling the valley like the stubble on my wife’s unshaven legs. And these herds in Yellowstone are descendants of the original herds that have thrived here since prehistoric times. They have not been hybridized by interbreeding with cattle, like many other buffalo. Nope, these are the real McCoys.

The gestation period for buffaloes is about the same as for humans, about nine to nine-and-a-half months. In fact I’ve known a few humans who’ve given birth to buffaloes. At least that’s what I surmised when the proud parents showed me their “cute” baby pictures.

The bison are a sight to behold, but even without these animals, this would have been a sensational drive. The Lamar Valley is lush, with rolling green hills surrounded by higher mountains. And through the valley winds the Lamar River, a blue ribbon about 20 to 30 feet wide, banked by verdant tall grass, and smattered with riparian boscages.

Some Yellowstone bison are infected with brucellosis, which they can spread to livestock. During winter they often wander into Montana to graze on range land. Ranchers feel nervous about this, and sometimes kill these bison. This has resulted in much controversy and debate.

It was like a scene from history, going back to the days before our wide-open spaces filled up with people.

After humans, wolves and grizzly bears also prey on adult buffaloes. This tired old bag of bones seems like an easy target. Perhaps I should have warned him.

We drove all the way to Silver Gate, Montana, which is a small tourist trap a few miles past the park’s northeastern entrance. We returned the same way, to drink in this valley again. And though our asses were quite sore upon our return to our campsite, we were glad we did it. We considered this to be the most scenic of all our drives through Yellowstone.

So thank you, Jason Frels, for the suggestion.

A typical scene from the Lamar Valley.

Tippling

Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces display their beauty about five miles south of the Montana border, in northwestern Yellowstone National Park. They’re one of the most popular features of Yellowstone, and are packed with my least favorite of all wild animals. The Tourist.

Alcoholism runs in my family. But I doubt we’re special. It probably runs in every family. My Dad, Orin Scully Gnu, was a wonderful, beautiful person to know. But he was also an alcoholic. I know this because he died of the DTs. And I believe you don’t die of the DTs unless you’re an alky.

Like father, like son. My brother, Rowan Waters Gnu, is also an alky. At least in my opinion. And so is his wife, Connie Tipples Gnu. In my opinion. And perhaps you’re thinking I am too, from of all these crazy family names I invented.

Mammoth Hot Springs is actually a complex of many hot springs, created over thousands of years.

But no, I quit drinking alcohol several decades ago, before any addiction could set in. I consider alcohol to be one of the deadliest poisons human beings commonly consume. It’s even worse than coffee. According to Psychology Today, alcohol kills nearly three times more people than all other drugs, combined (88,000 per year, compared to 30,000).

The largest known carbonate-depositing spring in the world is found at Mammoth. In fact, more than two tons of calcium carbonate flow into Mammoth each day. Which is probably enough to keep the whole world permanently free from heartburn.

I was a binge-drinker when I did drink. And I could get pie-eyed. There was that time a designated driver took me to a concert. I got so sozzled, that after the concert I insisted on finding my own car and driving home. I’d forgotten someone had driven me to the concert. And when I couldn’t find my car in the parking lot, I wanted to call the cops and report it stolen.

I shudder at what might have happened, had I not had a designated driver that day.

The calcium carbonate at these springs comes from limestone along a fault line that runs from within the Yellowstone caldera to Mammoth, which is outside the caldera.

But I’m a lightweight. A lot of drinkers handle booze better than I could. And some function better drunk than sober. Babe Ruth’s performance-enhancing drugs of choice were beer and Scotch whiskey. My Dad became superman after a six-pack. Alcohol is a miracle drug for my brother, too.

Travertine comes from geothermal vents, and there’s plenty of travertine at Mammoth. It accounts for the fibrous and concentric textures and patterns in the terraces, and the polychromatic appearance of white, tan, cream, and rust. Algae also accounts for some of the colors, especially the browns, oranges, reds, and greens.

Rowan and Connie have made a drinking rule for themselves. They don’t tipple until after 6:00 pm. But along about 4:00 or 5:00, you can hear them talking, salivating, and counting down for six. And as soon as that magic witching hour rolls around, pop go the beverage tops.

There’s a labyrinth of of stairways at these springs, that can seem endless, dragging your feet to higher and higher heights. My wife, Kay’s, coxalgia kicked in, and she quickly gave up and returned to the car. But not before gaining an eyeful of beauty that can be found at the bottommost level.

Rowan’s a beer man. He guzzles that shit down like water. Like he’s rowin’ in water. His preferred brand is Corona. But Connie tipples the hard stuff. She pours Diet Dr. Pepper into a tall tumbler, and tops it up with rum.

Up another level, and Connie stopped for a rest, with panting, sweating resignation. “D-don’t worry about me,” she heroically gasped,“I-I-I’ll be okay. I-I’ll catch up with you guys. Y-yes, yes, I-I’ll catch up. And if I can’t make it. I’ll find Kay. Back at the car.” So we continued on without her. And we never saw her again.

Rowan has a game called “Washers” that involves tossing large round, metal washers, into a box. It’s similar to horseshoes. We played that game at his campsite during the evenings, after finishing our Yellowstone sightseeing. And he kicked my ass most every game.

My grandnephew, Wiley Cody, Jr, was being a clever coyote. At 20-years-old, he could outwalk all of us old folks, and he got way ahead. He wasn’t about to let Rowan and me call him back so we could return to the soft, inviting comforts of my automobile, and drive back to our cozy campground.

You’d think with all his drinking, I could beat him. But no, in fact with each beer he only got better. And his sense of humor only got sharper and wittier. He’s just like my Dad. Dad’s game was pool. And you wouldn’t want to play pool against my father for money, after he’d put away a six-pack or two. But you wouldn’t mind hearing the laughter and humor. He was funny as hell. Just like my brother.

So we had to chase the fucker down. But the faster Rowan and I walked, the swifter he proceeded, disappearing higher and higher up staircases and hiding between hot springs terraces. Goddamned coyote.

The best way to beat my brother at a game of manual skill and dexterity, is to wait until he’s upset about something. The same strategy was effective against my Dad.

One thing that made it hard to catch up with Wiley, was that every 10 or 20 feet I was stopping to take a picture. How could I resist? There was new beauty found at every step. We were chasing a coyote through heaven.

One late afternoon around 5:45, Rowan was trying to resolve a computer issue over the phone with someone at his tax office. Nothing seemed to work, and he was feeling more and more frustrated. After he finished the call, he made the mistake of challenging me to a game of Washers.

I kicked his ass, 11-1.

We reached a top level and found a parking lot that was nearly empty. What the hell? The bottom levels were packed with cars, and we’d thought ourselves extremely lucky to pull into a spot right after somebody pulled out. But if we’d only gone around a corner and up a hill, we would have encountered a parking paradise, and been close to sensational sights like this.

Fortunately for him, the game finished at 6:00. A beer later, he narrowly edged me, 11-10. And by 7:00, I was on the wrong end of scores like 11-6, 11-3, etc, to a giggling sibling spouting one-liners a mile a minute.

That’s when I gave up and headed back to my cabin. I had to hit the hay, so I could get up at 4:00 and drag everyone else out of bed for another fun day at Yellowstone.

With wobbly legs, we finally cornered Wiley at a dead-end, in this remote location, far from my parked car. And in my view, this was the most beautiful hot spring of all of Mammoth. We spent a few minutes here, stunned by the visual, while keeping our cameras busy. I couldn’t be mad at Wiley. This spot made the chase all worthwhile. He truly was a cunning coyote, who’d won a place in my heart.

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