Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach
On our way out of Idaho today I saw a great billboard about wind power. It gave me hope for the future.
Here’s what the billboard said:
We rolled out toward Yellowstone Park. My thanks to whoever suggested that we take the Mesa Waterfall loop road, it was absolutely lovely. It’s a winding country road, full of the smell of the high northern forest. Here are the falls …
In the town of West Yellowstone, just outside the Park, we stopped for lunch. I was reminded of the religious nature of the folks in the American West by this translation of the Ten Commandments into a foreign language …
From there, we went into Yellowstone Park. The only other time I was in Yellowstone was in 1964, when I was seventeen. My mom was a wonderful woman who was also a binge drinker. She eventually ran off with a cowboy when I was a senior in high school. I finished school and took the $1,000 dollars I’d been awarded by the Bank of America for being the best high school student in California, in their obviously flawed opinion at least, and I used $450 to buy a brand-new Honda 90 cc motorcycle. I strapped my guitar on the back of the Honda, and drove it from San Francisco to Yellowstone Park, trading music for dinners along the way. At the time I was totally amazed by the wilderness of Yellowstone, and by the animals.
So now, a full fifty years later, I find myself on the same road, still playing music along the way … and still amazed by the wilderness and the animals. First we saw a mother and baby elk grazing just on the other side of a stream by the road. Then, an amazing sight—a buffalo lying at the edge of the forest, perhaps ill or wounded, with a wolf circling it, going in, coming back out, clearly respecting the enormous power of the buffalo. The wolf was much larger than I’d expected, and also more nimble. It almost bounced around the buffalo. Looking at that kind of a life-and-death game certainly puts my world into a much different perspective …
So we left the wolf and the buffalo to whatever their individual fates might be, and went on. The road circled up and up. I was surprised to see the spring flowers of my childhood, shooting stars, lupine in their shades of blue, and the always shockingly bold scarlet of indian paintbrush. But then I realized that up where we were, at about 8,500 feet (2,600 metres) elevation … it is spring.
The weather today was spectacular. In the morning it was cool and clear. Soon, the unimpeded power of the sun heated up the mountains. Then the clouds appeared. At about 2:00 it started to rain, and immediately the temperature dropped significantly … another of the endless individual examples of the temperature regulation system of the planet at work, warming the surface when it’s cool, and cooling it when it’s warm.
I had a curious thought driving through the high forests. Many of the trees were showing signs of heat stress. What I realized was that at high elevations, there is less CO2. As a result, in order to get the CO2 they need, the trees and plants need to open up the “stomata”, the holes in their leaves through which they inhale CO2. However, the stomata also work the other way, in that they are a major source of water loss to the atmosphere. And the larger the stomata, the greater the water loss.
I’d never considered the effect of elevation on stomata size. It seems like the increase of CO2 in the atmosphere should have the effect of allowing the plants to live at higher elevations, because they wouldn’t need to open their stomata as far … always more questions than answers.
Then we came around a corner, and about 20 yards (metres) off the road, a big buffalo suddenly stood up out of a “buffalo wallow” and shook the dust off … awe inspiring. I’d seen them before in zoos, but never in the wild, and up that close, they are a force of nature.
We saw one more buffalo, also by itself, and we had the same reaction—open-mouthed amazement. Everything about the park is amazing, actually. Here’s a view from one of the roads running high above one of the rivers …
Finally, just before leaving the Park, a pika ran across the road. This is an endearing little creature, much smaller than a rabbit, with no tail and huge ears. It is supposed to be threatened by climate change. I got to thinking about that … the temperature in the park ranges from over 100°F (37°C) in the summer to minus 40°F (-40°C) in the winter. The pika survives that without a problem … and he’s supposed to be endangered by a change in average temperature of a couple of degrees? Seems quite doubtful …
However, finally and sadly, we had to leave the Park and its amazing sights and animals behind. Just outside the North Entrance we stopped for coffee. At a table outside the cafe, a guy had a tiny travel guitar, made by “Kapok”. I asked if I could play it, and I sang a tune … the guy at the next table said it sounded good to him. I asked what he did for a living … he said he teaches guitar. Go figure. So he got his guitar out of his car and we played a jazz tune, with his playing full of lovely swings and trills and all the fripperies that make for a wondrous sound.
I thanked him, and we drove on. We’re spending the night in Bozeman, Montana, a most congenial college town. We walked the length of the business district, it’s full of street art and interesting folks. My favorite sign was in the window of a bar, it said:
My best regards to everyone,