June 20, 2013 I arrived in West Yellowstone anxious. After stopping at the venue I took my dry eyes and dusty joints for a walk around town, three or four square blocks. Buffalo This, Buffalo That. As with most nights I worried not about my performance but where the hell I was going to sleep, whether I’d make money, and getting to tomorrow’s gig in time. Romantic, isn’t it? But this is how touring dissolves performance anxiety. There simply isn’t enough energy left after all the other anxiety.
After weeks of crossing the Rockies to the West Coast and back, and with a ten hour drive to the Black Hills looming (assuming there wouldn’t be any bison traffic jams), I wasn’t looking forward to singing for three hours to people eating burgers and watching the basketball game above my head. I wanted to sleep. But this strange oasis of gimmicky motels, bars, and German tourists was going to be a tough place to find a host. Who wants a singer crashing their vacation? (Oy - I stayed with those people once - not good.)
Mostly I was irritable because I came all this way and I wasn’t going to be able to see Yellowstone National Park. It was my own doing - I could have scheduled days off. But didn’t think I could afford to. Summer in the Rockies is comparatively lucrative for touring musicians, but by that I mean we can likely cover gas and basmati for three-four hours of performing and then drive all day to repeat, and repeat, and repeat. It’s a crazy way to make a living, but love is crazy. And we love it. And love tends to work itself out.
So I sang while my audience ate burgers and watched the basketball game above my head. And, as with every night, all that deep breathing and toning massaged my heart open and I loved my job again. Wheels stopped spinning. Something shifted. Music. Life. Bliss.
I finished my last set and began to pack up, contemplating my next move, when a young woman from North Carolina approached and asked if I needed a place to stay. She and her boyfriend were working at the park for the summer, and if I wanted to I could stay with them - inside Yellowstone Park.
Do you see how this crazy love magic becomes addictive?!
So a little before midnight I drove us into the park. We convinced a skeptical ranger that I was driving Ellen’s car because she’d been drinking, and then we followed the almost-full moon into the forest. With windows cracked the cold air broke to the sound of heavy breathing - a glass-eyed bison clopped alongside us mechanically, alarmingly large from within an arm’s reach. Steam rose ghostlike from Grand Prismatic as my new friend and I discussed ancient matters of the heart and mine exploded: awe, gratitude, wonder, joy, excitement, love. Who was that cranky girl on the sidewalk a few hours ago?
We went to the boys’ room, where bottles of beer covered every surface - tables, floor, bathroom sink, behind the toilet. Cases stacked by the door. They offered me one of the bare mattresses and took to the floor between the two twins. Curled up in my sleeping bag I woke up two hours later, too excited to sleep. Plus I needed to leave by four to make soundcheck in South Dakota and bison traffic jams are a real thing. So I eased into the cool darkness as a blue glow rose over Yellowstone Lake, where trees scattered across the massive slopes like matchsticks and my spirit drank deeply.
If a picture is worth 1000 words Yellowstone National Park is worth at least 1000 pictures. Thank you, Ellen and Brian. Thank you, National Park Service. Thank you, Earth.