The Yellowstone River: much to hear for those who listen

Yellowstone River

Cal Cumin

The mighty, the beautiful Yellowstone River.

The Yellowstone River speaks to those who listen, but most people don’t hear her whispers. It’s an old adage that in order to experience miracles, one has to be open to them. Her voice is such a phenomenon—quiet, elegant, pervasive, primal and spiritual.

Most people can hear the slush ice moving under a full moon on dark winter nights—a busy, exotic, going-places kind of sound. Some also know the loud, freight train roar of floodwater carrying upstream downstream—unstoppable, primitive, sheer power and exuberance.

But when she’s quieter, one can hear the echoes of all that has happened on her broad sparkling back—the generations of Lakota, Absáaloke and Piegan that lived with her; the great buffalo wolves and plains grizzlies; the splashing of Cavalry troopers leaving the dust of a hard day’s march in the clear water of summer; the dark hour’s blast of a .45/70 beginning the Battle of Poker Flats; the yip of Texas drovers glad to finally reach her but dreading the crossing; the lonesome whistle of the first locomotive elbowing its way up the river’s edge; the moans of Little Bighhorn wounded passing quietly downstream on the Far West; the chunk of the woodhawk’s axe.

There is still in the music of the river the cacophony from vast seas of buffalo boiling across her wide waters, the great bulls bellowing, calves bawling, flared nostrils blowing mist that rises with great clouds of fine gumbo dust blurring the prairie sun, the endless swarm of flies.

Listen also for the dim ragged voices of the miners, land speculators, outlaws, surveyors, bushwhackers, mountain men, and—too—the laughter of generations of young enjoying her grassy banks.

Although the crescendo of noise increased greatly with the coming of the white man, the river also heard and still carries in her native heart the whispers of the ancients when the land was a vast silence, glaciers and sabertooth were her neighbors, and the bipeds few.

As part of the way things work, she also recorded for those who listen the voice of the stars which have graced her proud mane in all the bright nights since she was born, a history of the universe in her flowing bounty—all that she is.

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