slipped into Greater Yellowstone last night under a waning gibbous moon - the final
act of full-blown summer in the high country. A time of blue sky mornings, heartbreakingly
beautiful, pushing from the earth paintbrush and harebell blooms, turning the lupine flowers to seed. And
on a great many afternoons, a time of spectacular thunderstorms, full
of wonder and violence: Sheets of hail ripping through the aspen leaves. Creeks
turning to mud. And high above the valley, spears of lightning poking at the long
fingers of the tundra, sending hikers running for their lives.
Most of the elk are in the nosebleed seats now, feeding in the alpine meadows. Wolf pups, meanwhile, are no longer tucked away in so-called rendezvous sites, protected by relatives while the other adults are out hunting, but are instead starting to travel with the packs. Bears are one step closer to hyperphagia - a kind of eating frenzy that will begin in a few weeks, part of a frantic attempt to put on as much fat as possible before the onset of denning.
Just last week, on hot days I was prone to cowering in the woods, hiding under the branches of the lodgepole and Douglas-fir. But in August, knowing that a far different season is just around the corner, I'm walking as much as possible in the full light of the sun. And when my muscles and bones feel warm and long and loose I head to a certain mountain spring I'm fond of, get on my knees and cup my hands and drink. I know the taste by heart. It will be with me for months to come, even as the mountains are again buried in snow.