Boiling River

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In the Summer of 1976, I was walking alone in the forest outside of my hometown (West Glacier, Montana USA) returning to my house from a visit to some Blackfeet Indians staying in a tipi a mile or so away. Not paying attention to the fact I was not on a trail but walking through the forest simply by familiarity with the terrain, my foot rolled into a small depression concealed by leaves and I heard a bone in my ankle break (the talus) with the sound equivalent to the crack of a 22 caliber pistol. I was about 1/2 way home, out of earshot of anyone and thought  .. ‘well, this is pretty stupid circumstance’

Sitting on the ground, I felt over my foot and determined what to do. I tore my shirt into a makeshift wrap for my ankle, to give it some support, stood up and leaning against a tree, looked around for a suitably strong walking stick. I spotted one and hopped on one leg to retrieve it, and completed my journey home.

My ‘home’ at that time was a metal shed with a dirt floor, I was unemployed and pretty much broke and seeing a doctor or using an emergency room and being billed, was not an appealing thought. So I packed up minimal camping and survival gear and a few paperback books, and hitch-hiked to the north entrance of Yellowstone National Park.

Just inside the park, you won’t see this in any of the official literature, is the natural drain of the ‘Mammoth Hot Spring’, where a large stream of very hot water erupts from the ground and flows a short distance into the Gardiner River. It is in the river canyon below Mammoth, about 2-3 miles south of Gardner, Montana, where the road from Gardner to Mammoth crosses the Gardner River (there is a sign marking the 45th Parallel) is a parking area my last ride had dropped me at. With a makeshift crutch, I hobbled the 1/2 mile or so upstream along the riverside trail and arrived at Boiling River for my convalesce.

For the next ten days or so I spent my days soaking my foot (at times my entire body) in the natural beauty of my surroundings, taking breaks to sun myself while reading paperbacks on the ledge above the river. Elk and Bison had wandered by, the sky was big and beautiful. The river has cut away much of the bank since those days, as it slowly moves in a seasonal migration towards the opening in the ground whence the hot water flows, one day the flow of the hot water will likely emerge directly into the cold flow of the Gardiner River. But still today as in times past, one should be able to find the place in the mixed hot and cold water flows to suit your desire, it is quite a marvelous experience to shift ones body from hot to cold and back to hot with minimal effort.

America was less fascist and our National parks less policed in those days, there was no one giving me any problem for having a small tent pitched 50 or so yards from the Boiling River hot spring. Nor was it any big deal, in those days, to ‘skinny dip’ (bathe in the nude) at Boiling River, people worked these things out with common sense, or as in the case of what I had witnessed one day while sunning like an Iguana (in my cut-off blue jeans), sometimes fate works these things out for us, and that is ok. Or mostly that would be the case and people who could not handle the nude bathers would find somewhere else or another time to enjoy. Life was more relaxed.

It was late mid-morning, I was reading ‘The Greening of America’ (it never happened, obviously) and a group of about a dozen hippies or so had arrived and all had jumped into the river naked, no big deal. They were enjoying the varying pools where the hot mixed with the cold, after each season’s high water people would gather the smooth river stones and build submerged dikes to shape the current into bathing pools of varying temperatures. Not everyone was naked but those who were not, did not seem to mind those who were.

But then .. it happened a Girl Scouts troop was coming up the trail, from my perch above things, I could see what the others could not, an old and a young scout master and about 15 teenage girl scouts with towels about to discover at near point blank range that their planned soak was populated with naked people.

The older woman was up at the point of the troop and coming upon the place where the trail first opened to a view of a dozen naked hippies in the water a mere 15 or 20 meters distant, she turned like a drill sergeant and ordered her girls to stop in their tracks. The girls obediently did so, but also you could see there was a certain spirit of rebellion stirring, obviously the nude hippies were no threat, they were women and kids among them, it was not like some motley lot of dirty old men. These were more lenient times and the girls were not horrified, they only wanted into the water, real hippies being a common social phenomena of that era, they’d yet to become extinct and this was no big deal to the girls, it was plain to see.

Now, the scoutmaster ladies had separated themselves to one side to have a ‘Plan B’ conversation out of the girls hearing and I swear it must have been the serpent from the garden that freaks out the misogynist Christians, had something to say about what happened next.

It just so happened a very large Bull Snake, six foot (two meter) length, frequented that area and liked a pile of old lava slabs to sunbathe himself and the two scout masters had picked those very lava slabs to stand on and have their conversation. The Bull Snake choose that very time to come up for his morning sun and emerged precisely between the women at their very feet .. sending the two scout masters into what appeared to be opposite direction levitations with accompanying screams. By the time they had recovered their composure, too late, all discipline had been lost, and their girls were in the water with the naked hippies.

Recipe for recreating an outdoor hot spring in your bathtub:

Hot water on demand, a large window open to a beautiful day and one packet of ‘natron’ (baking soda or Epsom salts will substitute for Americans) and a deep tub. Close your eyes while soaking and engage memories of more innocent times, all the while imagining any sound of traffic is French and Japanese tourists soon to be gored while posing for photos with Bison…

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The Satires