“Hey,” Fred said this morning at camp, “I think we’re in Montana.” He held out the Yellowstone map for my inspection. While most of Yellowstone is in Wyoming, a thin sliver of the northern boundary of the park pushes into Montana. The afternoon before, we had hiked into the Lamar Valley in the northeast section. It did appear that, somewhere along the way, we had crossed into Montana without knowing it.
I found this deeply funny. I am a ridiculous, sentimental person sometimes, and I often accord deep meaning to arbitrary boundaries of time and geography. I had pictured the moment of crossing into Montana in a more dramatic way – perhaps prostrating myself before the “Welcome to Montana” highway sign or some such.
This was better. I’d been here all along and just didn’t know it.
The hike into the broad, beautiful meadow where we camped was only a few miles long, but taxing. This was only the second serious hike of the trip, and the slope felt like trying to scale the side of a glass skyscraper. I wished I had suction cups on my boot soles. Fred, because he is the soul of goodness, led us upward with all the speed of a stoned snail, stopping perhaps every ten feet to exclaim over a new plant, giving me an opportunity to catch my breath. I would often ask him the names of various plant species, and if he didn’t know, he would simply make it up.
“Here’s the thing that made me realize how upside down our understanding of nature is,” Fred said. “Plants communicate through their roots, and so if you think about it, we’re standing on this massive communications network underground. And plant roots are shaped a lot like our own dendrites,” he explained. “Flowers, on the other hand, are a plant’s reproductive organs. So really, plants live with their heads stuck in the ground and their butts sticking up.” I considered this for a minute. I know a few people who are the same way.
“So basically, every time we sniff a flower we’re burying our face in some plant’s junk,” I mused.
Fred nodded. “Exactly.”
“And we bring their junk into our houses and display it.” I marveled.
Fred nodded again. “Yep,” he affirmed. I imagined a plant decorating its own house with a vase full of penises, arranged like daffodils, and I decided I liked this way of looking at the world. We plodded on.
About a hundred yards later, I spotted a plant with tiny, clover-shaped leaves. “What’s this?” I asked. Fred took a look.
“Uhhhhh, queen daintyleaf,” he replied snappily, clearly making it up.
“Queen Daintybeef? I asked quizzically, mishearing.
Fred laughed. “Daintyleaf,” he corrected.
I had a trip name. I shall hereafter be called Queen Daintybeef.
We finally pushed over the saddle after what felt like hours of thankless upward trudging, and immediately began a descent that spilled us out on the banks of a broad, briskly-flowing creek. It wasn’t too deep, but it did reach over the tops of our ankles. We pondered how to cross. Fred was wearing Vibrams, and Trav and I were both wearing boots. Mine are Gore-Tex, but that does nothing to keep water from flowing into the tops of your boots. I had no interest in hiking in wet boots the next day. So I took them off and waded in hesitantly.
Christ. It was one of those streams, one of those snowmelt creeks that instantly drain all the warmth from your feet, numbing them just when you need to feel the sharp rocks to make your way safely across. We all wandered in, splashing and bitching and shrieking, each of us nearly tripping several times. I made it across first, because I had a trekking pole. Once on the other side, the blood cautiously seeped back into my feet. I rubbed them as I watched the spectacle of my companions finishing their cross.
“Jesus!” Travis sputtered. “What the shit –” He hobbled over the last stretch of rocks, grunting with every step until he emerged on the other side.
“Fuck,” he sputtered again, but laughing this time. “That was cold. Cold! Fuck! Cold!” he exclaimed again.
“I dub thee Cold Fuck Creek,” Fred said solemnly, if a little breathlessly.
We all nodded in agreement.
We donned our footwear again, drying off our heels and picking mud from between our toes before dragging ourselves upright again. I like to think we crossed into Montana at Cold Fuck Creek.
But I doubt it.