A few weeks ago I was putting the finishing touches and glazes on three different ceramic creations I had first started working on in the winter of 2013-14. There’s something about this time of year that often calls me back to completing projects started long ago, and I suspect it has something to do with how stripped down, slow, peaceful and quiet it is following the holidays, and from opportunities to enjoy and experience the relative silence of this season. I won’t know how these creations will turn out until after a kiln firing sometime later this month, so stay tuned for updates, and thanks for keeping your fingers crossed, too!
Last winter, a monstrous late February/early March blizzard broke our creative indoor evening time together in Erik’s ceramic studio. Following that storm, the tug to be outdoors pulled mighty hard. We came closer to completing the backyard cold frame greenhouse, planted lower maintenance vegetables and flowers, in the fall hired contractors to replace a no-longer weather resistant roof, and just before the most recent winter solstice finished replacing a front living room window.
But on blazing hot summer afternoons and evenings, we’d sometimes retreat to our basement studio. I usually ended up staring at all I had created the winter before but hadn’t done anything about yet, feeling guilty about “yet another unfinished project”, instead of slowing down and savoring the brief yet fleeting heat of summer in Montana.
“In the silence of the wild land, we can hear the earth” accurately describes not only winter, but every season in Big Sky and Yellowstone Country. I was fortunate to have guided two different groups over the holidays in Yellowstone for week-long tours, and enjoying the silence and sounds of nature was a huge take-away for all adventurers.
On Christmas Day morning, one of our drivers to the Lamar Valley encouraged us to stop and listen for wolves and to be as still as possible, at a place a few miles east of the Buffalo Ranch where people had heard wolves the morning before. We didn’t hear any wolves that day (we did see one later, but that will have to wait for another story), but instead were treated to the bubbling sounds of Soda Butte Creek, the buzzing and chirping of American dippers, winds whipping and dancing around our vehicles, the forlorn calls of a few ravens, and snow crunching underfoot.
Both groups were fortunate to see a lot of wildlife, including wolves, coyotes, moose, bison, elk and trumpeter swans, but what really resonated with many was listening to the sounds of the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone from Artist’s Point, bubbling mudpots, hissing fumaroles and thundering geysers in the Fourtain Paint Pots area, and the profound absence of human-generated sounds throughout the park.
Many expressed how much more fully alive they felt being where they could hear their own heartbeats and thoughts again. Being in Yellowstone in this stripped-down winter season allowed them to be more receptive to what nature was showing them in the moment. It re-opened a portal to where we all originally came from, whispering wild, urgent reminders of what was really important in our lives.
It was equally impressive and insightful to be journeying with a wide range of people, some from tropical countries adventurous to snowshoe and x-c ski for the first time, and of course to see wolves and other large critters. An energetic, exuberant and quickly cohesive group of kids and grandkids came along for the first winter holiday Yellowstone adventure with their families. That group witnessed balmy temperatures of 30F that preceded a one-foot snowfall on Christmas Eve, while the second group woke up to -28F at Old Faithful two consecutive mornings just before the new year.
Fast forward to later in January, a few nights later, a renewed sense of passion, purpose and vision inspired me to put those long-delayed finishing touches and glazes on three ceramic creations. Not everything that I hope will happen as a result of the kiln firing has to do with these recent Yellowstone winter experiences, but during those moments of profound silence and awe and gratitude, my heart opened even more to understanding and sharing why wild places are so crucial to our spirit and soul, and not to mention to future generations. That gift came roaring back into the present, and thankfully I was open to receiving and expressing it.
That same night I put on a CD I hadn’t listened to in a while, “From Yellowstone Soundscapes Throughout The Seasons”, and it brought me back to those Yellowstone moments experienced a few short weeks ago. It was entertaining to watch Flo-Jo our cat twitch her ears and perk up when she heard different sounds, reminding all three of us how powerful and undeniable our connection to the natural world is, and will always be, when we stop to be fully present and live in each moment.