Transcending Habitats, Hemispheres and Hormones: Paradigm Lost, Paradise Found!
Two days in the primal serenity of Yellowstone National Park and in the snowmobileing intensity of Cooke City provide jarring contrasts. For the Stress Doc, it's a tension that compels an attempt at a mind-body-spirit synthesis.
Today, whats the driving force and status symbol for the cerebrally cool and the semantically savvy, for folks who are also mystical skeptical or cosmically-impaired? Why having your very own paradigm shift, of course. This is the rational creatures, "I think therefore I am," sublime moment. In ancient times, BC (Before Cyber), paradigm shifts would require a fair amount of study exploration, grappling with gaps between the real and ideal or inconsistencies in accepted knowledge. Now with one click you can downshift from the real to the virtual. With our lives and minds moving (or being pulled) at the speed of DSL lines and fiber optics, it may be time for a counterrevolutionary shift. And I seemed to have found the perfect mindscape Old West mountainous back country. (And no, I was not hanging with Unabomber clones.)
Once again I recently withdrew from Washington, DC (The District of Complexity) into my retreat haven in Livingston, MT. Which, if not a full blown shift, definitely begins shaking the mind-body-spirit ground. And this time, a day each in Yellowstone Park and Cooke City, MT completed the psychic/cosmic transformation.
Yellowstone Park is my Yin, the overwhelming yet serene expanse, the everflowing background of rounded slopes and valleys, a sense of natural and primal wholeness. Conversely, Cooke City is the jagged mountain mecca for snowmobileing. Its the Yang world of speed, noise, man-made powerbeing focused and on the edge. Six miles outside the park, yet dramatic world views apart. Lets see if the written word can help me delineate, if not synthesize, these compelling yet contradictory encounters. Heres to the quest for both paradigm shift and bihemispheric peace of minds.
Yellow and White
Lets begin with Yin Yellowstone Park in the depths of Winter. The two most compelling sensations: the endless horizon of quiet and white with that celestial blue "Big Sky," surprisingly, providing some edge to the infinite, silent space-time. While the snow is nowhere near legendary heights, the open expanse of snowfield valleys gently butting up to the dapple-colored mountains has me holding my breath.
Its not just the quiet, but the stillness. Apart from a coyote loping across a road, the animals are statue-like. Looka herd of fifty elk and proghorn sheep just off the road. There, a lone, six point bull elk, majestically holding aloft his crown of horns. A whitish gray big horn sheep almost blended into the mountain side, adroitly positioned at an angle that seems to defy gravity. And, of course, the bison. A small herd nestled together as if they are sharing communal body heat. Yet, invariably theres one large sized animal aloof from the herd sunk in the snow. Has this bison been shunned by the group? Or is it just a bison who listens to its own inner drum, preferring solitude to security? Perhaps it is ill? Could it have bad bison breath (the warm air being the only perceptible movement)? Clearly we should be studying the bison in this ecological niche for some clues on overcoming ADHD (Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder) in our kids. Maybe some children need more time hiking mountain trails before doing medication trials.
Snowmobile vs. Immobile
And speaking of hyperactivitythen theres Cooke City, less than ten miles outside Yellowstone, our snowmobileing destination. At a higher elevation than Yellowstone, its packed with snow. Im traveling with a best buddy from those off the Type A track New Orleans days. Paul, an MD and research manager for the Center of Disease Control in Atlanta, has given himself a five-day respite from work and family. Hes joined me in Livingston to retreat and to work on a book chapter. But first our Yellowstone-Cooke City escapade.
A quick bite to eat before hitting the trails. A guy at the next table regales us with the joys of snowmobileing but also manages to elaborate one close call. While in Yellowstone, his machine got stuck in gear. Hes revving the motor to engage. Suddenly, he realizes that a bison is first trotting toward, then fairly charging at, him. His life is flashing before his eyes. Finally, it desperate dawns upon him that perhaps the noise of the machine is like a red flag for the bison. He immediately shuts down the engine and the shaggy, galloping tank swerves away at the last possible moment. It was a close enough call for him to vividly remember feeling the heat of the bisons breath. (Damn, I forgot to ask about the breath quality.)
Thanks fellah. Good storybut did I really need to hear this just before my maiden mobile voyage?
Paul and I are cautious and initially share a machine. I have flashbacks of frustrating early bike lessons with my father. I suspect he had bought a bike that was too big; I couldnt master the balance. (Just waithistory once again will repeat itself.) He got impatient, I felt humiliated and we both gave up. And several years had to go by before I, if only to quiet a sense of incompetence, borrowed a neighbors 20" bike one afternoon and tenaciously taught myself to ride. But balance activities like biking or skiing have never been my forte. So theres definitely some performance anxiety.
We get a brief tutorial. So far it doesnt seem like rocket science; though the red crash helmets with plastic face shield look like something out of Star Wars. We approach our machine, saddle up (Pauls riding back seat shot gun) and were off. The owner of the Yamaha store had mentioned a trail near the river where moose congregate. We make it down a short yet steep snowy incline, almost like a chute, and start bumpily cruising along at 10, 20finally 30 miles an hour. Butterflies are churning; its scary, exciting and fun, just about in that order.
Suddenly, whoawhere is the trail? Reluctantly we follow one or two tracks to the right and soon we are plowing into snowy unmarked drifts. Hit the brake. Try to get in reverse. Hey, it seemed much easier getting into reverse back at the shop. Oh, oh! Our instruction wasnt given on this machine.
Despite almost no turning radius we manage a very inefficient 180. Were back on the main "intersection," that is, there are some old tracks. Okay, this time follow the trail farthest from the river. Engines roar, we/re off andwheres the trail? WHRRRRRRR(thats either me growling or the sound of a stalled machine.) We are spinning our wheels. Definitely stuck in a snowbank; cant move forward, cant reverse. Digging out by hand, kicking the snow isnt working. The machine is too big for us to move any appreciable distance.
Theres only one option left. As Paul notes, we are doing our best Dr. Zhivago and Lara imitation trekking through snow that, initially in soft spots, is thigh high. (With nothing else to do but trudge, one halting step after another, I cant help but surmise that this fiasco was both destined from the past and had been hexed in the present. The evening before, a sociology professor at Montana State University upon hearing of my snowmobileling intentions crossed her fingers in Voodoo-like fashion and gave me the evil eye. Snowmobileing was definitely ecologically incorrect! (At least we didnt do it in the Park.)
About an hour later (good thing our novice status came out fairly quickly), back in the Yamaha shop, totally humbled, we cry out, "Help, we got stuck." I was feeling pretty pathetic until learning about a contributing factor to our aborted mission: I had mistakenly chosen big "Bertha." Berthas an old war-horse machine that usually isnt rented out. Its near impossible getting it in reverse and you need to be Arnold Schwarzenagger to make any kind of sharply angled turn.
One of the guys in the shop hitched a shovel to a new machine, I jumped on the back seat and we were off. Of course, it only took him a few strategic strokes by the front wheel to release the machine. (Alas, Paul and I had been mostly digging out from the back.) Mr. Yamaha drove Bertha, I trailed behind now realizing how much more control I had with the newer and sleeker craft.
What a Difference a Day Makes
And, like true cowboys, the next morning we dusted off the bruised egos and were back in the saddles. This time, however, on separate machines cruising the trail-marked back country. (We both agreed, the shop owner should have cautioned us to look for orange-diamond trail markers.) The up close encounter with jagged, snow-covered peaks or a butte-like structure at Daisy Pass, shrouded in a soft gray haze and falling snow was hauntingly beautiful. The mist, wind and swirling flakes periodically blind you. The earthen mound takes on an ethereal quality; a massive looming ghost with somewhat defined outlines whose essential configuration remains a mystery.
And while the sensations of speed and power are testosterone pumping and the excitement of blasting through a curve is heart thumping, two hours of noise and a driven pace contrary to meditative communion is enough. Snowmobileing is the Yang-doing to my Yellowstone Yin-being. One day, cross country skiing in the Park will be the multisensorial synthesis.
Perhaps its not surprising driving home I feel a sense of paradigmatic fulfillment and psychospiritual wholeness. I have stimulated and nurtured both my hemispheres, hormones and my active and receptive modes. (Also, there was the complementary connection with nature and a best buddy.) What good and graceful fortune to experience these majestic and human-made worlds. Its a brief yet transcendent encounter that sculpts a lasting memory, that paves the way for transformational shifts and is both an insightful and ineffable path that encourages one toPractice Safe Stress!