Seeing the signs…
Last week Cristi and I woke up early and drove into Yellowstone for a day of fishing. We stopped in at Blue Ribbon Flies in West Yellowstone to pick up our permits and ask a little advice. Aaron suggested that, wherever we fish, we fish up high, since the water was overly warm. We decided to drive well up the Firehole River watershed to try our luck. We drove past Old Faithful, wound our way through the park and pulled off at the trailhead for the Lone Star Geyser.
The Firehole in this spot is small and wooded. We were well above the thermal features in the park. Above the Cascades. Close to the trailhead is a small, curved concrete dam that holds water levels a little higher. Big spruces soared overhead. The banks were overgrown with willows and the ground was spongy. It seemed more like a small stream in Western North Carolina than a Western River.
Fishing was slow. I hooked up a tiny brookie that shook loose. I landed a second before we walked back to the truck to check on Pedro.
Our plan was to fish the Gibbon River in the afternoon, and the trailhead was getting busy, so we climbed into the truck and headed back the way we came.
On a whim we pulled into the Old Faithful Inn. Cristi had seen it years ago. She wanted me to see it.
It was about 11 o’clock but the parking lot wasn’t full. We found a spot on the end away from the other cars and started walking toward the Inn. There was a crowd of people gathered at the Old Faithful overlook, so we wandered that way and asked when the show was going to start. The woman to our right said, “in about ten minutes.”
Five minutes later Old Faithful sputtered, steamed and went off.
“How about that?” I said to Cristi, “we just rolled in here randomly, just in time for it to go off”. I hadn’t even planned to see Old Faithful. I’m kindof a grouch that way. If everybody is doing something I don’t want to do it. Character flaw, I guess.
But I did see it. And there weren’t crowds. And we showed up just in time without checking the predictions.
It was a sign.
Not all by itself it wasn’t. No, one little data point doesn’t make a pattern. But we had a few other points to work into the graph.
Like Tuesday morning last week. When we woke up early to leave the Park and decided to stop off at the Norris Geyser Basin. On a whim. I was my usual difficult self, getting down the road. Not wanting to stop for scenic views or pullouts. When it’s time to move, it’s time to move.
I did want to see Norris though. It was on the way.
We hiked the Porcelain Basin loop, but had to cut it short because the boardwalk was under repair. Next we started on the Back Basin loop. We were going the wrong way so we had to read the little NPS guidebook in reverse. Somewhere near the dot on the map for Steamboat Geyser we heard a rumbling. And then cheers.
It took a second to register. There was a geyser on the map called Steamboat. And there was a bunch of noise coming from that direction. “IT’S STEAMBOAT!”
We ran. I didn’t know how long the eruption would last and I wanted to see it. We had been walking past dormant geysers for the last hour, thinking how cool it would be if one went off. We didn’t want to miss our chance.
When we pulled up to the observation area, sucking wind, there was a small crowd gathered. We were maybe twenty feet from the geyser. The noise was tremendous. Like a train. And it was blasting into the sky.
I didn’t think I was a geyser guy. Steamboat changed my mind.
We watched for about five minutes before the jet of hot water dropped from 50 feet down to the surface. Then we started back toward the car.
Cristi and I talked it through. We were so lucky to see that geyser. The last eruption had been a week earlier according to a sign written in Sharpie at the overlook. We had no idea it was about to happen. The small crowd of dedicated geyser watchers had a hunch, but we didn’t. We just showed up and it happened.
If we would have stopped to take pictures on the drive over we would have missed it. If the boardwalk hadn’t been under construction we would have missed it. If we had walked the Back Basin trail first we would have missed it. Fortune had smiled upon us.
Fortune smiled on us again when we were able to get a campsite at the Canyon Campground on no notice, extend for another day and then add another day at a different site. All at the height of the season when all the campgrounds were booked.
Fortune smiled on us when we left the park, saw a sign for a National Forest Campground (I won’t say which) and turned back around to take a look. The camp host suggested we try Site 65. It might still be open. Site 65 was right on the Madison River. We had our own private beach. We stayed all week.
That week we talked with Dennis, one of the other campers, and he suggested we drive over toward 287 and up to Quake Lake. There was an earthquake there in 1959 that buried the valley, dammed up the Madison and created a new lake. I’d never heard of it. It was a fascinating spot, with ruins of old resorts that had been washed away in the slide and a beautiful visitor center that overlooked the lake. We never would have seen it if we hadn’t struck up that conversation.
The point I’m getting to here is that we’ve had a real string of improbable events happen to us in the past week. I choose to see them as signs.
Now, the hard boiled materialists among you will point out that I’m likely suffering from confirmation bias. I’m remembering the hits and forgetting the misses. What about all the improbable things that didn’t happen? None of those other geysers went off.
I get the critique. It might even be correct. But I don’t buy it. Because that’s not a useful way to see the world. It does nothing to counteract fear and doubt.
Fear is the most natural thing in the world. We’re evolved to feel it. It keeps us safe.
But fear holds us back.
Fear tries to keep us from being our best selves. From doing the things that will help us to grow. Fear wants to keep us in line. It makes us doubt.
Fear of the unknown is what I’m talking about here. Fear of what might happen. What sort of bad consequence might come from quitting your job, moving to a different town, ending a bad relationship or starting a new business. Anything that requires a real effort, that takes us outside of our day-to-day routine, can trigger fear. And if we can’t overcome that fear, we’ll never try.
Fear leads to doubt. Doubt erodes confidence. Without confidence we can’t move forward.
The other day, when we got our second flat tire of the trip, I got a shot of fear. I began to doubt. What if this kept happening? What if we ran out of money? What if we were making a huge mistake? That flat tire triggered my fear of the unknown. It shook my confidence.
I believe that we all have a store of confidence, like a bank account. Some people are confidence millionaires. It seems like nothing will drain their account. Most of us watch our balance fluctuate up and down, sometimes building into a nice nest egg, sometimes going into the red.
It’s easy to see the withdrawals. Flat tires, unexpected expenses, illness, failures of any kind deplete our accounts rapidly. And life is filled with failures.
We all need a way to add into our accounts, to build out confidence and to overcome doubt.
Which brings me back to signs.
If I wanted to be completely rational, I would choose to see the improbable events of the last week as completely random. Things happen. Just because they seem improbable doesn’t mean there is some kind of invisible hand at work helping us along on our journey.
That might be rational, but I don’t think it’s practical. The practical way to look at positive improbable events is to see them as signs that you are on the right path. That there IS an invisible hand helping you along on your journey. To believe something like this, you need to have faith.
Faith is a religious word, and I’m not a particularly religious person. Still, I think faith is essential to overcoming fear and doubt.
Faith is to confidence what fear is to doubt. You use faith to choose to see the world in a positive way, to believe that things are going to work out. It’s an outlook on life. A tool that can help to keep your confidence account topped up, even in the face of adversity.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think faith makes any sense in a rational way. The world is filled with challenges, injustice, failure. There is no reason to have faith that you will succeed in life. Faith is deeply irrational.
At the same time, faith is profoundly useful. So you have to make a choice. Are you going to take advantage of a powerful tool to overcome fear and doubt? Or are you going to leave it on the table?
I think it’s foolish not to use all the tools at my disposal to try to make my way through the challenges of life, so I’ve chosen to develop faith.
Develop. Because for me, faith doesn’t come naturally. Faith is a sort of skill that must be trained and perfected. The skill involves seeing the events of the day in a positive way. Thinking through the positive aspects of every event, even those that shake your confidence. Recognizing the improbable as a gift. Seeing the signs.
That’s what I choose to do. I choose to try to see the world as if it is working on my behalf. To see the positive side of any setbacks. To expect things to work out for the best. It isn’t easy. It doesn’t come naturally, but when things get tough, it helps a lot.
At the beginning of this week we made a run up to Moscow, Idaho to visit our friends Steve and Emily. It was brutally hot in Moscow, over 100 degrees, so after a couple days we decided to flee the heat and drive back to our favorite campground on the Madison River. I texted one of our campground friends to ask if there were any sites available. He said they were usually taken by noon.
We stopped in Dillon, Montana on the day down and stayed at the Southside RV Park. The next morning we made a quick visit to the Patagonia Outlet in Dillon before jumping on 41 north toward Twin Bridges. From there we swung down 278 through Virginia City and Ennis. The drive took longer than I expected. They always do. It was exactly 2PM when we pulled into the campground. We were late. Odds were that all the sites would be taken.
As luck would have it, there were four sites available.
But not unexpected.
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