Have you ever walked through the steam of a geyser on a cool, crisp fall day, when there’s the tang of frost in the air?
If so, you know that I’m not going to come up with the words that capture the sensations of that moment. It’s deeply personal, that instant of being shrouded in the steamy cloud. The hot breath of the earth, filled with minerals and rich dark secrets beyond human ken, warms you as it curls around you, then wafts away, leaving the chill – until the next breath of sulfur-scented steam caresses you…
Then there’s the color of the hot pools, the vibrant blues, greens, blue-greens – the way they pull your focus to their centers, and maybe, like me, a part of you longs to dive in, to learn the secrets of the world beyond that funneling aperture…and yet, you know that you can’t, because the attempt would be hugely damaging to the fragile ecosystem – not to mention fatal. Hot pools can scald from outside in and inside out.
You might be sad to see the creeping-in of bacteria, the fading of colors caused by careless and disrespectful park visitors who throw garbage and coins – and now, a drone! – into the pool, clogging the vents, and upsetting the delicate balance – the brilliant colors of pools like Morning Glory and Grand Prismatic Springs come from the bacteria and minerals – an intricate ballet of growth, heat, pressure, and purity.
Not all guests in wild places come equipped with enough knowledge to be safe, and protect the environment as it is. Those who park in the middle of winding mountain roads because they see a grizzly bear and want to get really close to take pictures, or those who chase herds of elk with snowmobiles, might never consider that bears are predators who can sprint three times faster than a human, or that the energy those elk expend to outrun the snowmobilers might mean the difference between survival and death – because what’s a game to the humans on their machines is a matter of life-and-death for animals who have to live every moment in this wilderness, year-round, even when their food is buried under feet of snow.
We had a private name for these types of guests, at Yellowstone. We called them tourons, and, yes, it was a slur against their intelligence. Maybe it wasn’t very charitable – but is it really that difficult to learn a little about a place before your visit, or to read warning signs or literature printed in several languages, stop at the visitor center, or speak to a ranger… or just use common sense?
Tourons sometimes get themselves killed with their reckless actions, or get someone else killed. Children and untended dogs have fallen into hot pools and died. When a person dies in the park, it’s treated as a tragedy – and often followed by lawsuits and outcries about how dangerous this place is.
More often, though, it’s the place they’ve come to see, and the animals who live there, who suffer. It’s not just the clogged hot pools or the traumatized elk giving their precious and hard-earned energy plowing through the snow. It’s a general lack of understanding of how our world works, a disconnect with nature and its processes. Too often, these tragedies are unnoticed by other humans, and there’s no outcry, not even a whimper of protest.
But the implications, for the natives, can be devastating.
Please, go to the wild places. Learn about them. Marvel at them – they are awe-inspiring, and can shift our understanding of what it means to be human, or an Earthling. So much of our more “civilized” world inflates the importance of humanity at the cost of – well, everything else, sadly. Wild places can center and ground us. They show us that the world can get on just fine without us.
Just one thing.
Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, the Everglades – all the few wild places we’ve left in this world – they aren’t Disneyland. They aren’t amusement parks, or playgrounds for humans. They are wild, places where others live. Not human others, but fellow Earthlings.
Please respect them, and behave as a good guest in their homes.
Don’t be a touron.
This post is part of the #atozchallenge. For more tempting, terrifying, or theoretical “T” posts, click the banner.
Have you visited wild places? Seen bad behavior there? Learned, perhaps too late, that some of the things you’ve done there were unintentionally harmful or dangerous for yourself or others? Why not clear the air here? OK, here’s a primer on how NOT to interact with wildlife and wild places…how many “Touronic” mistakes do you see?