‘I loved being young,’ says the chorus in Heracles, written around 420 bce, and to this day people are still chorusing about how they loved being young, insisting that someday young people too will have loved being young. Nobody goes up to old people and says, ‘I loved being old,’ or if they do you can’t hear them or see them. I know of a bear who didn’t love everything about being young, the bear who his first winter built a den for himself, but it wasn’t big enough, so all winter he hibernated with his bottom sticking out.
Platypuses could say to us, ‘I loved being young,’ since compared to platypuses humans are whippersnappers. Platypuses may condescend to us but we must not condescend to them. If we want to condescend to somebody we can condescend to petunias. Petunias are ridiculously young, having been cultivated in the nineteenth century. (Their parents are old and wild.) But even though they are young and inexperienced, I have seen petunias rallying after a hailstorm, putting themselves back together. I imagine if the supervolcano a little south of here erupted, there would be the insouciant petunias afterwards, shaking the ash off their purple.
Flying around over a supervolcano, the dragonflies of Yellowstone are so insouciant you might think they were superyoung. However they are 300 million years old and over that time have seen plenty of supervolcanos erupt. Maybe that is why their heads are all eyeballs. Anyway, rather than organizing a superbucket brigade in preparation for another eruption, the flame skimmers, cherry-faced meadowhawks and mountain emeralds are zooming backwards, zooming forth, zooming up and down, zooming in place. They possess the insouciance of the old.
The supervolcano has a supersecret underneath the surface, magma and hot mushy crystals. On the surface that secret is expressed in the bluest pools, the most experimental rocks, the burpiest mud and the rainbowiest steam. Looking towards the Grand Prismatic Spring from far off, you can see its prismatic steams rising into the air, red steam, green steam, tangerine steam. The steams are the supervolcano letting off steam, and the colors are the colors of the swimmers in the spring.
Of course in the swimming-pool biz the tradition is to keep the water ‘safe’, with a pH of 7.4 and a temperature between 83 and 86°F to make it ‘comfortable for your swimmers’. However it depends on what type of swimmers you’re wanting – if you want fragile big loud pink and brown swimmers then those are good parameters. If on the other hand you keep your pool at 450°F with a pH of 2, like lemon juice, you will get flinty little green and orange swimmers who never shout.
So extreme pools attract extreme patrons; so much for toning things down. Still, the supervolcano is probably at its most brilliant when not erupting. A kept secret is an engine of invention, and Yellowstone’s supervolcano is flamboyantly secretive. Because it does not eject its secret, its secret is ever-imminent, effecting pools so turquoise, so russet, so lime, so lemon, waters so swashbuckling and rocks so imaginative, those beehives and mammoths and urchins and elephants and hoodoos. Landscapes with no secret can be a snore.