We waited on the westernmost mesa, looking out past the guard rail down to a wide valley.
“For those who haven’t been to Yellowstone National Park,” continued our guide, a ranger—this was her third year at the migration after having come from Yellowstone. She kept bringing up Yellowstone—“first, you need to go. It’s a beautiful, amazing place. I was there once taking a picture and when I turned there’s a bison walking toward me, maybe twenty feet away, air blowing out of its nose into the cold air. I’ll never forget it.”
A girl child tugged at her mom, whispered up to her.
“My daughter has a question.”
“What’s a bison?”
“Do you know what a buffalo is?”
“Same thing, just different. See, they’re not really buffalo, they’re actually bison. Buffalo are totally different beasts in other lands. Okay?”
The girl nodded. Her eyes suggested that the answer warranted more words.
“Continuing, they have a geyser called Old Faithful. This geyser erupts about every 76 minutes, almost as if it’s on a manmade timer.”
A woman, half of a couple, raised a hand and didn’t wait to be called on, only for the guide to take a breath. “I’ve been there, too. I recommend going as well.”
“Yes, and for those who go, you really need to see the whole park.”
“What more is there?” the same woman asked.
Our guide stared at the woman for an uncomfortable amount of time. Finally, “There’s lots. Folks, my point about the geyser is that it is predictable. You can expect it. It’s that reliable.” She looked at her watch. “It’s a natural marvel, much like today. This southward migration happens every year. Now nobody say a word.”
She turned toward the valley and our group slid forward, many placing hands on the railing, some double and triple checking their cameras or waking up their phones.
“If you don’t breathe, you’ll feel them before you hear or see them.”
The vibrations started first on the rail. And then the earth trembled. Imagine silence suddenly giving way to oceans of water crashing onto the earth. Imagine the silence before the gulls, crabs, everything, screeching as if the world was ending. Imagine that first there’s nothing and then a distant noise charges toward you, engulfing everything in its wake.
“There,” the girl said and, with half of us, pointed. The first one became visible, immediately surrounded by ten, then fifty other RVs. Then more. They arrived, uncountable, all shapes and sizes, drawn on hitches behind trucks or complete in themselves, pulling small, standard cars, bikes riding piggyback, an occasional canoe. As they got nearer, we could make out bespectacled male drivers, female passengers, some with maps. There seemed to be no ending to the wave. Closer. We watched a female look up and see us. She looked to the driver and we were afraid there’d be panic. They both looked up and smiled. She waved. A quick moment and we waved back. “Snowbirds,” yelled the girl, just audible over the rumble. “They’re beautiful.”
Cameras clicked. A couple pointed at particular RVs while the man talked. “There’s a ‘56 Airstream. I’d bet it’s an original. You just don’t see that anymore.”
The girl waved like an awestruck child queen in her own parade. Here and there a passenger waved back. “I wished the Parkinson’s could’ve made it,” said one man to his wife. “Pictures won’t do. They just won’t do.”
The parade continued for hours. We had lunch, sandwiches, chips and soda or water, provided by the park service. The girl napped on her mom’s blanket.
“I saw that one on TV,” the man who knew his RVs said. He seemed in awe. He ate standing up, watching, not missing anything. “It’s got two full baths. And you can fit a car inside it. Imagine.”
After six hours, the width tapered like a lizard’s tail and, before the sun set, we could see the end of the main body. Beyond them were stragglers. “There always are,” the ranger explained, “for as many reasons as there are vehicles. Those who study the phenomenon say that some appear to just not be in a rush. Others are loners or sight seers, or maybe they came from Canada.”
We watched a solo RV a mile from the body. Its color was faded. It seemed to struggle to keep up.
“Will it make it?” the girl asked.
“Oh, it’ll be fine,” the ranger replied. “They all will. For another six weeks more’ll be trickling through.” She turned away from the lone RV, and like dutiful students, we moved to stand before her. “As many of you know, from here they’ll go to various parts of the southern United States, settling in for the winter, hiding from cold and snow in little sanctuaries that people have set up for them. Then, almost like they have an internal calendar that comes with an imperceptible warmth in the weather, they’ll make the long trip north to the homes they came from. Some to the exact spot where they were born. The migration north isn’t so dramatic, no one movement quite so massive.” She sighed, looked at the girl who had her hand raised. “Yes.”
“We have a place near where we live that they come to. Mom says I can’t go there.”
“Your mom’s a smart woman. It’s best to just watch them, maybe wave but not to get to close. We don’t want to scare them.”
She turned back to the valley. “For now, though, it’s a wonderful thing to witness.”
The evening air chilled. We started to leave without the ranger. She lingered. We’d seen why in her eyes. She also wanted to make that trek south across our nation. Maybe one day. She’d have to make it past Yellowstone and shooting hot water and bison. But then, yes, she too could find her own warm spot in the sun.
Geecy is currently working on his youth novel series, Girl & Dragon. His first love, though, is the short short. He’s currently living in Arizona with his wife and their three dragon riders.