Since the Fall of 2018, about this time of year I am reminded of an event that changed me to the core and inspired me to share my experiences in the wild with as many people as possible.
The event that changed me forever was foretold in the early spring of 2018 during a FaceTime call with a dear friend who was challenging my choice of certain places as I planned my travel itinerary for that year. He knew that I had made countless trips to Yellowstone already, so he suddenly challenged me to explain it: “What is it that keeps you going back to Yellowstone year after year?”
His question caught me off guard. I had to think for a second or two. “It is wild,” I told him. Those words came from somewhere deep down inside me, and I know this because I had never said that before. But I immediately knew it was true. There was silence between us.
“It is wild,” I told him.Larry Rogers
“What do you mean, wild?” he asked after a while. By the time he broke the silence, I had realized a couple of things. On the one hand, he had likely never experienced a truly wild place, and on the other hand I was suddenly crystal clear about the answer to his question.
“A truly wild place is a place where you can go, and you cannot see the hand of man from horizon to horizon, north, south, east, west, and yet you will see the hand of God everywhere around.” I sensed that he was happy with my answer.
Now, I’ll explain the event that changed me forever. Soon after the springtime FaceTime call, my friend made plans to visit Yellowstone. He and his wife visited Ohio and spent a couple of days here, during which I shared stories of Yellowstone and some advice for his first visit. I remember clearly discussing how to experience the ‘wild’ nature of a place like Yellowstone.
“You will need to leave the boardwalks behind for a full day. Just set one full day aside. On that day, leave the lodge area and drive out into the back country. After driving a while, find a safe place to pull over. Safely step out of the car, and turn 360 degrees watching the horizon. If you see any structure, other cars, or other people, drive a bit further. Once you find the right place, find a log or a rock to sit on or lean back, and read a book. Just listen to nature.” We had a great visit those two days in Ohio.
I talked to him again a few months later, after he had made final plans to travel. As fate would have it, his plans included exactly one day that would overlap with my plans for the Fall of 2018 when we would both be in Yellowstone. We tentatively made plans to connect and possibly have dinner in Yellowstone in the Fall.
My Fall travel for 2018 included making a presentation at a biennial conference of naturalists, educators, rangers and National Park Service folks. The conference lasted four days, and I planned a few days either side of it for hiking and photography. The timing worked out. We were able to meet at the Old Faithful Inn late in the afternoon one day, enjoy dinner and drinks for a couple of hours, and make plans to meet early the following morning at Midway Geyser Basin, where I would ‘guide’ the group to a somewhat lesser-known (at that time) trail to a feature called Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook. It’s a spectacular, colorful, and simply amazing sight to see.
At one point during our after-dinner conversation, my friend’s sister-in-law leaned over to me and said, “Larry, I’m so glad you shared so much advice to us leading up to the trip. I feel like I am witnessing something truly amazing – beyond anything I have experienced before. You told us to find a shady spot and just listen – we did that, and then I went off by myself so I could experience the sounds of nature for a while. Thank you from my heart.”
I went off by myself so I could experience the sounds of nature for a while. Thank you from my heart.Name Witheld
Everyone in the group echoed the same sentiment. And that is the moment that changed me forever. I did not ever want to forget the magic that happened that week in a far off place in wild Wyoming, in the western United States of America. There were six other people at dinner that night, and we all felt the magic of a new perspective happening before our eyes.
In November of 2018, I sat down to document that two-week period in September 2018 that changed several lives for the better. I know for sure it changed mine. My journal from that trip became a book entitled, Yellowstone: Engima in Fire & Water, which follows my small group of three around Yellowstone in text and pictures for two weeks. The book opens with a few pages about my friend’s question, “What is it about Yellowstone that keeps you going back year after year?”
As I am writing this post in the Fall of 2020, I keep hearing that question, “What is it…?”
I’ll never again hear my friend ask. In the months that followed, he shared with me that he was dealing with some medical problems. I visited him in a recovery center for a few days, during which we reminisced about meeting up at Yellowstone. We talked about doing it again as soon as we could. He told me how much he enjoyed his time time there and looked forward to the next time.
He is gone now. I am changed forever. I am a better person for it.