Day 5: Buffalo to Yellowstone

Marriage is such a funny thing. We have always admired how other married people seem to be gently and faithfully helping each other to learn and grow. The safety of marriage opens up a channel for kindly accountability. “Darling, the way you swallow when you drink is shockingly loud” (I just get really thirsty, ok?) and “Dream of my dreams, your toenails are in need of attention”. We are really trying to help each other. But then kids really clog up the channel because then everything seems to be happening faster and with higher stakes.

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Usually when we go away from home, we count on arguing the first day. We just schedule it in. We are both adjusting to the complication of both parenting simultaneously in new territory, instead of tag team parenting on home turf.

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So, by day five, Caleb and I were carefully eyeing each other, “We haven’t argued yet.”

 

“I know. Maybe we’re not going to”

This kind of conversation is usually the harbinger of elaborate future crashing and burning. Remember how the architect of the Titanic bragged, “Not even God could sink this ship”? Well, our ship had made it all the way to the foothills of the Rockies, and we were just trying to stay cool and give grace to each other.

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The time zone situation is confusing to me (Central, Mountain, Pacific–and some of our devices update, and some just stay behind), so I didn’t really know what time it was as I fed the children breakfast, but it all seemed to be going on for a long time. My husband cannot be rushed when it comes to packing the van, so I hung back and tempered my drive to ADVANCE, ADVANCE, ADVANCE.

 

Around 11:30, I was doing careful deep breathing. Caleb declared the time had come and we loaded up. I beamed at him, “Didn’t I do a great job? I was dying to leave, but I didn’t say one word! I’m the super wife!” Then we both chuckled, because the van clock showed the actual local time of 9:30. Whatever.

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We drove right up into the mountains we had admired last night. When we stepped out into the cold, clear air at 8,000 feet on the mountain pass, we were delighted. The children disappeared up the hill to climb and probably to meet their deaths, and we scrambled after them. After the heat of the Badlands, the fresh mountain air felt like a whole world of new possibilities.

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We drove on through hundreds of miles of Wyoming hills. Red and yellow for miles and miles on highway 16. We knew this road would lead us to Yellowstone, so our eyes were eager and hearts hopeful for beauty on this drive.

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We were not disappointed, the hills got bigger and the views more extravagant, and the mountains streams more inviting. Then the service engine light came on. If there’s anything that can put strain on a marriage, it’s a service engine light. He thinks I don’t take these things seriously, and I think he put too much stock in whether or not a little light is on.

Once the light came on, a tightness filled the air. We were driving through the most beautiful place we’d seen yet, but we couldn’t stop, we had to just keep rolling until we got to a garage. It gave me great pain not to stop at all the mountain streams and overlooks. It gave him great pain to consider that our van might be in trouble in 100 degrees in the mountains. Either way, the thing we both agreed on was that the children needed to just sit tight and stop asking for snacks.

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Once we got out of the mountains we stopped in a little town called Tensleep. (I know! What does it mean? Ten people sleep there? Ten sleeps until Yellowstone? Ten dead people sleep in the ground? The mind staggers.) In Tensleep, Caleb got signal and called around in hopes of finding a garage open on a Sunday. I ushered the kids in and out of a park bathroom. Beatrice found a tiny library and eagerly asked if she could exchange one of her completed Boxcar Children books for a new one. Yes and of course! How delightful!

She ran over, book in hand to scour the tiny library for a new, more interesting book. I slipped into sweet musings about my little reader, how she is growing up, what a dear girl she is…and when I looked up she had thrown her little yellow copy of Boxcar Children and run across the parking lot screaming for her life.

Wasps, man. They were hiding among the books, hoping to make her leave a book behind and not take a new one. And my tender little lady was stung. Full of comfort and a desire to get the car checked out, we pulled out of the park. From the back seat, Gus shouted, “Hey, where’s Moses?”

Still in the bathroom. Almost got left in Tensleep. So, if you’re keeping score, we are 0 for 3 so far.

After we got the van checked out, we doggedly continued our drive toward Yellowstone. Stopping to get gas in Cody, the van wouldn’t turn back on. Caleb grieved and I considered how it might be nice to just stay in Cody. We were not arguing, we were problem solving. Together. Turns out it was a security lock out, and Caleb fixed it. We got on the road again. This time for sure.

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I didn’t want Yellowstone to see us like this, so I vowed to pull it together. The road that leads into the east entrance of Yellowstone is the most beautiful road I have ever seen. If you think superlatives are ridiculous, you need to just get off this ship right now, because Yellowstone is the best thing in the world, ever.

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The land looks like Eden; it looks like how the earth should look. The sagebrush that covers much of the park is a minty green, and it has the effect of softening all the greens so it looks like a new, young world. Our route took us right to Yellowstone lake, it’s the highest and largest alpine lake in the world (it’s not, but I don’t care). When we got out of the van and ran to its shores, I was taken aback by the waves. It has regular waves and a strong wind like the ocean, or at least Lake Michigan. I introduced myself, and promised to love Yellowstone lake forever.

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I expected a mountain lake near mountainous glaciers to be frigid. But my darling Yellowstone lake is heated by thermal vents, and I literally cannot say any more about it because I’m saving it for my next book: How a Girl Fell in Love with a Lake: The True Story of Rebecca at Yellowstone.

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Heartened by all this beauty, we tooled around the park with new energy. We looked a bubbling mud pits, a terrifying “dragon’s mouth” audibly belching out steam and boiling water, and saw a black bear foraging in the sagebrush. Our hearts were glad. Yellowstone fills you up with so much beauty, you just can’t be mean to your husband and kids while you’re there.

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Obviously, we still found a way. We hiked up to view Yellowstone Falls cascading into a breathtaking gorge in the setting sun.  And by the time we made it back to the parking lot we lined up the children (in order of their horrifying misdeeds—not really) and told them that they would never see sunlight again if they didn’t stop trying to completely fall off cliffs. And that’s not punitive, that’s just natural consequences. And don’t ask me what punitive means. You are not allowed to talk again for seven full days and nights.

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