We arrived at the ranch just when the sun had begun to set; the wind was bit­ing­ly cold and the air was filled with a strong smell of earth and dry­ing grass. It had start­ed to snow— the first snow­fall of the sea­son. The sky looked like iron, and the blonde grass took on a ghost­ly hue; white flakes whirled every­where, van­ish­ing into the dark rocks.

We were sup­posed to spend the night in a Teepee but as soon as we set­tled into the tent, Mag­gie decid­ed it was too cold and we upgrad­ed to a pri­vate cab­in that came with a Japan­ese hot tub, a sauna, and a fire­place. Like a good mule, I start­ed trans­port­ing all our lug­gage up the hill, from the Teepee to the cabin.

By the time I was get­ting the last load up, I was com­plete­ly out of breath and decid­ed to just drop every­thing and lie down, supine. The sky hung low; I gasped for breath. I could hear the wind play with the tall grass. Every­thing was so still; I was over­come with hap­pi­ness. I felt like some­thing just lying under the sky, like a rock or a leaf, and didn’t want to be any­thing more. Per­haps that’s what death feels like—to feel like a part of some­thing grander than your­self. It was as nat­ur­al as sleep.

But unfor­tu­nate­ly, sleep did not come to me that night. I got so excit­ed about the ameni­ties the cab­in offered that I spent the entire nights writ­ing post­cards in the Japan­ese hot tub, fol­lowed by a show­er, and then a long, relax­ing hour in the sauna. The storm and the wind burst­ing out­side both excit­ed and soothed me at the same time.


The next day, noth­ing went as planned. I bare­ly slept and woke up with an intense headache pound­ing my brain dry. Sleep sliced my eyes, but dreams did­n’t follow.

Mag­gie and I went to the host’s house for a cow­boy break­fast. Two of the friend­liest dogs I had ever seen—Border col­lies that worked on the farm herd­ing livestock—were rest­ing on the chair, their fur damp and friz­zled­by the frosty cold. We took off our coats and shoes in the wood­en vestibule, and pro­ceed­ed towards the din­ing area. We poured our­selves cof­fee from the French press, and had a stim­u­lat­ing con­ver­sa­tion with our host and anoth­er guest— a mem­ber of the West Vir­ginia Divi­sion of Nat­ur­al Resources fish­eries man­age­ment. We dis­cussed every­thing from the beau­ty of the Unit­ed States to the his­toric and con­tin­ued vio­lence towards native Amer­i­cans (it was dur­ing this con­ver­sa­tion that I was sur­prised to learn about Abra­ham Lin­col­n’s exe­cu­tion of Native Americans).

After the meal, we played ball with the bor­der col­lies for about an hour, and then start­ed to get ready for our depar­ture to Yel­low­stone Nation­al Park. I squeezed in an extra ten min­utes in the sauna as I pre­tend­ed to pack, much to Mag­gie’s dis­may. With­in the hour, we were on the road again.

 Border Collie, as seen through the vestibule window. Bor­der Col­lie, as seen through the vestibule window.

The way out was beau­ti­ful that morn­ing. The long, straight road tak­ing us Cody was cov­ered in a sleepy mist that made every­thing look clean and calm.  Bug­gy was the only car on that road for miles.

Traf­fic slow­ly start­ed appear­ing the clos­er we got to Cody. Soon, we saw a matrix sign telling us that all roads to Yel­low­stone were closed. Dis­ap­point­ed but unde­terred, we pro­ceed­ed onwards through the Shoshone Nation­al For­est, ide­al­is­ti­cal­ly hop­ing that the roads would clear by the time we reached the gate.

It was per­haps one of the most bril­liant­ly beau­ti­ful dri­ves of my life. Moun­tains in the dis­tant. Moun­tains near­by. Moun­tains dis­solv­ing into infin­i­ty, bluish paint­ings smeared across a can­vas sky. Snow-veined stone, appear­ing from nowhere at the turn of the road, relent­less­ly pierced the sky. Juniper and pines trees dabbed green onto an oth­er­wise bar­ren land­scape. It was like dri­ving through heav­en stuck in purgatory.

There was a long line of cars wait­ing at the gates of Yel­low­stone. A ranger, dressed in a cloud-grey uni­form was hand­ing out a pink piece of paper: the snow had caused an avalanche so the park was closed that day. We could pos­si­bly go anoth­er way but there was no guar­an­tee that the gates on those routes would be open.

 Map of the Greater Yellowstone Area that the ranger handed out to us.  Map of the Greater Yel­low­stone Area that the ranger hand­ed out to us.

We decid­ed to save Yel­low­stone for anoth­er time, and told Google maps to direct us to our next stop in Hele­na Mon­tana. I was feel­ing a lit­tle dis­ap­point­ed, as I real­ly want­ed to pay a vis­it to Old Faithful.

But, as with most things in life, we com­pro­mised and ven­tured onwards.

The fog, like a wet blan­ket, enveloped every­thing. It seemed to have swal­lowed the moun­tains whole; all we could see was the bright, lumi­nes­cent cen­tre line guid­ing us straight into the unknown. Our lit­tle bug rolled up the hill, then down soon after. Up and down and up and down.

Things seemed to get worse every ten min­utes. “It can’t get any worse than this,” I exclaimed to Mag­gie. Just then, a majes­tic blue­bird was at the bend of the road and tried to fly away; but our car was too fast. We crushed the life in its brit­tle, airy body. It brought me to tears. I had just tak­en a life.

Soon, we saw a sign that said “Pave­ment Ending.”

Well, it can’t get any worse,” I said again to Mag­gie and turned the car onto the road­less road.

It just got worse. Our buggy’s low-pro­file was hav­ing trou­ble mov­ing through the sludge-filled ground; the mud start­ed fill­ing up the tires. We could hear the sharp rocks clam­our on the under­side of the car, rat­tling its iron body to the core. The beetle’s screeched and swerved, almost sheer­ing off of the fog-chocked cliffs. 17 miles to go, Google told us.

We saw a house and thought about ask­ing for help. It was aban­doned; we ven­tured onwards. The road kept get­ting worse. “7 miles…6 miles…5 miles,” Mag­gie kept count­ing, help­ing me soothe my nerves.

Turn left,” said Google maps; the prob­lem was, the road left was closed. And, at least on the maps, there was no road going for­ward. “Don’t lis­ten to her, just keep going straight,” said Maggie.

And on we went, dri­ving straight into the unknown. Slow­ly, the path turned into a road. We could also see large trucks pass us, pos­si­bly laugh­ing at our mis­ad­ven­ture. But it has nev­er been more com­fort­ing see­ing anoth­er human being.

On and on we went…we kept mov­ing forward…until we saw I‑90 west. I have nev­er been filled with so much hap­pi­ness on see­ing a road. And in true cel­e­bra­to­ry fash­ion, I said, “Mag­gie, take a pic­ture of that beau­ti­ful highway,”

The car was trem­bling when we got out of the night­mare. Lat­er on, we found out that this was because the cars wheel wells were drenched in mud. But I think it was because the car scared of what it had gone through.

The les­son from the fias­co— it always gets worse. We final­ly found our way to Boze­man MN, where we stayed the night in a hotel called Qual­i­ty Inn. Across the street was an Arby’s. I had always thought of it as a rather nice restau­rant, a lit­tle more upscale than your typ­i­cal fast-food, but still easy on the pock­et. As soon as I opened the door, I understood…it can always get worse. You just have to keep mov­ing forward.


Critique of the photographs:

One thing I learnt from these pho­tos is that colour can be used very effec­tive­ly to make things look as if they stem from the same tree. All three images post­ed today are black-and-white, and even though they are very dif­fer­ent, they seem like they belong together.

None of these pic­tures were as planned as my pho­tographs usu­al­ly are; rather, they were tak­en by the impulse of a pho­tog­ra­ph­er, and for that rea­son, I like them all, whether they are tech­ni­cal­ly good or not.

Inter­est­ing­ly, out of all the three pho­tos, the image of the grass and the path was the only one that was a lit­tle more planned—I took it as I stared at the sky, filled with Hap­pi­ness. I had more time to think about it and process it. But it is my least favourite pho­to. Per­haps I should be open to lit­tle more serendip­i­ty in my future images. Lack of con­trol might actu­al­ly be a good thing.

My favourite pho­to of the three is the bor­der col­lie through the win­dow. I like that the dog is look­ing at me through the win­dows; he is aware of my pres­ence, despite the voyeuris­tic nature of the pho­to­graph. The way he is curled up on the bench also gives a good hint of the atmos­phere in the ranch.

I also real­ly like the pho­to­graph of I‑90, most like­ly because I have such a rush of hap­pi­ness asso­ci­at­ed with it. But from a tech­ni­cal stand­point, I real­ly like that I can see the dash­board and the wiper marks on the wind­shield. Some­thing about the care­less nature of the pho­to­graph hints at its exigency.