Here you can trace our 3 overnight stays at Yellowstone: from Bridge Bay, to Grant, to Madison.

Morning sat down on top of us in our tent at Madison campground — frigid, unfeeling, beautiful, and heavy. We unstuck ourselves from each other (much as chefs must twist ice cube trays halfway around in order to pop the ice out), scrambled through our morning routines, threw hot cereal into mugs, and vroomed out of the campsite early. We decided to drive leisurely through the western edge of Yellowstone before reality hit us in the head and we’d need to hightail it to Boise. So we did.

Who’d ‘ve thunk it, but as we drove towards the bank of the Madison river, where we planned to stretch our legs and make one last tobacco offering before condensing ourselves back into the car, we passed a lone buffalo who was breakfasting, bleary-eyed, just along the side of the road. And if we thought we’d come away with at least one wonderful shot of a buffalo from the Badlands, we most definitely were mistaken:

Beauty

It brought to mind a breathtaking Osage song, here translated by Francis La Flesche:

The Rising of the Buffalo Men (from the Osage Rite of Vigil)

I rise, I rise,
I, whose tread makes the earth to rumble.

I rise, I rise,
I, in whose thighs there is strength.

I rise, I rise,
I, who whips his back with his tail when in rage.

I rise, I rise,
I, in whose humped shoulder there is power.

I rise, I rise,
I, who shakes his mane when angered.

I rise, I rise,
I, whose horns are sharp and curved.

from Francis La Flesche, “The Osage Tribe:  The Rite of Vigil, “Thirty-ninth  Annual Report of the Bureau of American
Ethnology 1917-1918
, Vol. 39 (1925)

The Madison river soon curved out before us in cerulean, serpentine beauty:

Mickey and I warmed ourselves in the new sun which had begun to reignite the heart of the morning which earlier had so gracelessly sat down on our heads. And, unable to stop ourselves, we frolicked:

Minkey Moose!

Soaking it in.

Call of the Outdoorsman!

Yellowstone, we recounted in that chill, lightly scented morning, had been so good to us. It had gifted us with wonders beyond our previous imaginings. It had revealed so many of its wild creatures to us simply because we had desired to see them. It had coated our backs with sweat, wrung calories from our skinny bodies, gotten us hopelessly lost (or rather, our halfwitted GPS had done that), infused us — if only in instants — with an understanding of history and a fleeting sensation of belonging. It had pushed our patience (when trapped behind our car doors, en route in the midst of seas of tourists, or just plain hungry, at any given hour of the day), motivated us to dropkick our expectations and light a fire under our communication skills, nestled us in its pine-scented, life-teeming bosom, and proved to us that the beautiful West, the all-seeing trees, the instinct of the bear, the howl of the wolf, and the rustle of native wildflowers, all the beauties of which we’d heard, have been and always will be real, for as long as the federal government protects these 2, 219,789 precious acres.

How could we not love her?

Forever a Monkey.

We’d spent our last night camping for how long? Spent an evening cooking in bear country, surrounded by uppity ground squirrels, for the last time…for how long? We both understood that the rough-and-roadweary adventures we’d enjoyed would soon be replaced by a new, more challenging, and inevitably responsibility-laden kind. Ready or not, here WE would come, into the mouth of the West.

And so we made one last ceremonial tobacco offering to the river, mopped up my eyes (yes, collectively) and hightailed it to Boise. There was a feeling not unlike the swift, furrow-browed removal of a bandaid as we left. With eyes, minds and cameras full of memories, at least we had each other.

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