Yellow stone

If you’ve seen picture-postcard images of Yellowstone National Park, with its vivid yellow and pink volcanic rock, you know how it got its name — or you think you know. Contrary to popular belief, the park was named for the Yellowstone River, which itself the Indians named for towering yellow-sandstone cliffs hundreds of miles downstream (east) in Montana.

Some of those cliffs are directly across from Billings, and they’re visible from our campsite. The river’s edge is a five-minute saunter from where I’m typing this. Early this afternoon we made the short walk.

This isn’t a pristine stretch of the 700-mile river, but the setting is dramatic and today it was deserted. We weren’t alone, however — we were joined by two bald eagles, probably a mating pair, soaring over our heads.

Just us and a coupla bald eagles. We’re talkin’ goosebumps.

One year ago right now we were on a weekend “escape” with the Bumper Bunker to Alum Creek State Park. The weather was perfect, though chilly for central Ohio in September, and we had an ideal campsite nestled among tall maples and oaks.

Hiking through the woodlands with the dogs on a cool afternoon. A warm campfire after the sun went down. S’mores. We were pretty sure that life couldn’t get much better.

We were wrong.

Nothing could’ve predicted or prepared us for the freedom and the unbounded joy we’re living today. Had someone told us then that in 12 months we’d be over 1,500 miles west, walking the sandy shoals along the Yellowstone River in Montana, we would’ve laughed at such a ridiculous notion.

And yet here we are.

There’s something important to take from that when-pigs-fly scenario. A passage from Thoreau’s Walden, often misquoted or horribly mangled, comes to my mind.

“I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. … If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”

Deb and I are living the life we imagined — hell, this American Life of ours surpasses imagination. We had dreams and moved toward them. We built solid foundations to support those dreams. Most important, we acted on our dreams.

And here we are.

When Deb’s not navigating or otherwise bucking me up, she photographs the America outside Ernie’s windshield and the window beside her co-pilot’s seat. And today I want to share the best of (hundreds of) cell-phone images she captured yesterday as we traveled from Great Falls to Billings — the Otter Creek Valley, the snowy Crazy (Woman) Mountains, the expanse of the plains and the Musselshell River Basin.

The journey’s the thing. I’m grateful to Deb for preserving memories of the landscape through which we pass. Thanks to her, those moments will live forever.

Tomorrow: Wyoming.

Take care of yourselves, Patriots. Stay calm. Stay sharp. Stay free.

#WiseUp #LibertyOrDeath

(A 360-degree panorama of today’s vantage point on the Yellowstone River.)

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