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83 d ay 5 To Drive or Not to Drive This is an ideal country for the trail traveler, and ought to be reserved forever for people who desire to get a bit of wholly unsoiled nature. —Superintendent Horace Albright, 1920 There is fog on the far shore as we crawl out of our tents, an indication that the night was clear and cold. Cold enough, in fact, to freeze a few of the raindrops still clinging to our tents. Beads of frozen pearls, another reminder that we stand on the cusp of autumn. We shiver as we break our fast, trying to stay warm by following the shafts of sunlight as they wend their way through the trees. Today is another layover day, and with the promise of sunshine, a hike is afoot for the three others. Eric and Josh soon take off for a climb of Langford Cairn, a point to our south affording a sweeping view of the upper Yellowstone River Valley and delta. It is as good a look into the Thorofare as one can get. Sean will stay back in camp with me and putter around until the hikers return, at which point he will stretch his legs. I relax for the day, reading, enjoying the view, and luxuriating in nature’s silence. Sean takes Eric’s kayak out to familiarize himself with it. He is gone about an hour, during which time I close my eyes and listen. The soundscape (everything that reaches one’s ears in a particular place) with which we Americans live is surprisingly motorized or automated, so much so that true silence, or a completely nonhuman soundscape, is hard to find.1 Even in the national parks, where most of us would expect the soundscape to be dominated by nature, noise from automobiles, jet traffic, and motorcycles (especially Harley-Davidsons with altered 84 DAY 5 pipes) pervades, often even in backcountry areas. Searching for a nature -dominated soundscape in Yellowstone in 2014, for example, I did not have success, limited as I was to locations accessible by car or by foot with my walker (boardwalks and paved paths). Today, though, is different, with only the sounds of nature for company . Seated at the edge of the small clearing, I first notice red squirrels chattering in long cadences to me, upset that I dare sit quietly in their front yard. They are low to the ground in the trees to my left; higher up chickadees murmur quietly, audible only when the squirrels take a breather. Behind me, gray jays take a different approach to communication , boisterously expressing their disappointment about the general lack of food dropped by these temporary campsite occupants. A chipmunk rustles the grasses on my right, standing on its hind legs to pull a seed head down and nibble. Done with that one, it turns its head in a movement too fast to see or hear, then scurries off to another grass stalk. In the background, puffs of wind sigh softly in the pines to the accompaniment of wavelet rhythm on the gravel beach I am facing. The infrequent fly buzz and mosquito whine in my ear are reminders that summer is hanging on, if barely (and that few soundscapes are perfect!). Only an occasional jet interrupts the reverie, the plane’s noise drifting down from thirty thousand feet and unnoticeable if a squirrel has my attention. For once, I have found a predominantly natural soundscape, about as good as one can find in America today. I bask in it, trying to memorize the sumptuous experience. I bask as well in the warming sun, which gradually replaces the morning smells of damp grass with the spicier aroma of dried pine needles and resin. The strengthening sun also deepens the blue dominating my view, subtly transforming aquamarine into turquoise, the lake and sky racing each other to cobalt. My senses are full, the exuberant life around me hard to ignore. Of all the sensory experiences of this trip, that hour immersed in the sounds of nature is perhaps the most vivid. It was to my ears as the views at Trail Creek were to my eyes: pure tranquility, peaceful silence that will last me far longer than that one hour. Along with Trail Creek and another experience yet to come, it becomes one of the three most sensual, powerful, and enduring times of the trip. TO DRIVE OR NOT TO DRIVE 85 Such an experience is not only hard...


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