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Touched by Yellowstone

June 20, 2012

The 2012 Yellowstone Ecology Institute has come to an end. What began as a trip to renew the creative spirit and learn about the unique environments and connections among ecology, geology, and natural resources of the world’s first national park became a powerful experience that has forever inspired the lifelong learner and teacher in each of us. Yellowstone National Park awakened our senses in a multitude of ways.

We felt the deep vibrations of the earth beneath us at Black Sands Pool; the frosty morning air on our fingertips while watching wolves just after sunrise; the soft tufts of bison fur clinging to tree bark; and the surprisingly cool water that drifted in the air from nearby geysers after they had erupted.

We smelled the sulfur odors from various thermal features in the park: the fumaroles, geyers, hot springs and mudpots; detected the unique odor of a nearby black bear and her two cubs before actually seeing her; and the familiar smell of coffee after chilly early morning trips to Lamar Valley.

We sensed how sweet the white clover flowers tasted to the golden mantled ground squirrel that we observed just beyond the Morning Glory hot spring; sampled the variety of huckleberry foodstuffs and drinks found all across northwestern Wyoming and southern Montana; and a handful of us experienced what droplets of geyser water from Old Faithful tasted like as we were unexpectedly rained upon by it’s air-cooled water drifting in the wind.

We heard the bubbling mudpots as gas bubbles rose up and bursted before our eyes; the rush of water escaping from Old Faithful in the quiet of a bright morning; the barking of a coyote in the Little America area of the park; the trill of the chorus frog at Floating Island Lake; and the hauntingly beautiful call of majestic sandhill cranes.

We saw the vivid colors of a rainbow at Grand Prismatic hot spring; the different rock textures and geologic patterns in the mountains around us; the speed of a pronghorn running through the valley; the strength of spawning of cutthroat trout struggling against a swift stream current; the fluffiness of two young owls and the huge eyes of the Great Gray owl mother protecting them nearby; the impressive scale of a bison herd as hundreds of bison crossed the park road in front of our vehicles; and the mural of colors in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River.

Yellowstone National Park has linked our understanding of the internal workings of our planet to the dramatic thermal features, the dynamic shifts of wildlife populations and behavior, and the rocks and plants that blanket the landscape. Our childlike sense of wonder at this stunning and unspoiled territory has reinvigorated the teacher in each of us, providing us with the knowledge to explain to others how the ecological connections, geological history, and cycles of life apply to our experiences in North Carolina and beyond. Nature and wilderness are as essential to our survival as are water and air, and our direct experience of this will shape our understanding of the planet we live upon, and our place in the grand web of life.

By Meg, Meghan and Blair

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