Natalie Ogbourne

We wore the road to Norris thin. Home to a geyser our family favored, it was a must-stop. Every time.

Echinus’ eruption cycle was short, thirty-five to seventy-five minutes. A half-mile path through the woods led to the broad depression in the earth that was its pool. Draining at the completion of an eruption, it would fill again as another approached. Eruptions were short, lasting about four minutes, but they were spectacularly explosive.  Echinus did not disappoint.

Even a winter’s trudge over somewhat packed snow to wait for an eruption in the cold was worth it. The pool was empty when we arrived, and we lunched in the silence of a Yellowstone winter day. We weren’t alone. A dozen bison huddled together nearby, taking advantage of the warmth of the earth and the air.

One stood alone, disturbingly near the pool’s edge. I had seen skeletal remains of large mammals at the bottom of other thermal features. The ground is in thermal areas is thin and the bison was heavy. I worried that I would have to witness her demise, but I didn’t. She was alive and well when we walked away.

Frequent and predictable were all I had known of Echinus and this is how I thought it would always be. Silly girl.

We were back just over a year later, this time in May. We could see as we approached the geyser that our timing was perfect. Water was flowing into the pool. We waited, watching expectantly. The pool didn’t fill. We were joined by a guide accompanying a large herd of children on a field trip. His excitement over reaching Echinus at such a fortuitous time was evident as he explained to his young audience how Echinus worked and that it would soon fill and erupt. Except it didn’t. Water continually flowed in but the pool didn’t fill. He looked at his watch and he looked at us. He was puzzled. So were we.

This was not how Echinus was supposed to behave.

Geysers, I suppose, with their complicated and changing underground plumbing systems obscured even to scientists’ eyes, don’t consider that we might have expectations about their behavior. They erupt. We watch and enjoy. At least, we enjoy when there is something to watch.

Our skin was burned and our children were hungry. It was time to leave. Echinus had disappointed.

A shift had occurred in a hidden place; Echinus’ eruption cycle had changed and the change persists. Frequent and predictable are gone, replaced by occasional and sporadic. It happens.  Echinus is not the only one of Yellowstone’s geysers whose rhythm has changed. Water pathways break or clog. Geysers go dormant. Temperatures fluctuate. Hot springs become geysers. Geysers become springs.

Much like shifts in cracks and openings that bring water to thermal features in Yellowstone, I find that the circumstances of my life shift regularly, both near the surface and in hidden places far beneath. Children move from one developmental stage to another. School years end and begin again. We move. God works. Suddenly what has served marvelously serves no more. Life requires constant adjustment. It seems that just when I establish a routine, settle into a rhythm and find my groove, there is change, demanding that I adjust.

Adjusting is not my favorite part of life, but deep down I know it’s better to find a new groove than to wait by a pool which will never fill.

We have new must-stops now. Midway Geyser Basin is home to my husband’s favorite thermal feature, Great Excelsior, once a magnificent geyser which, for now, is a boiling hot spring. We walk Midway. Every time. And instead of waiting for Echinus, we enjoy a longer wait for Great Fountain. We have a new groove.

How about you? Do you like change? Are you adjusting to anything new?