We met under the spell of random circumstances that all these years later seem like destiny. I knocked hesitantly on the slightly open door; a voice invited me in and declared, “You must be Tom.” As if she had known all her life I would show up. “Yes,” I replied. “Who are you?” She said, softly as I recall, “I’m Melanie.”
The magic was there already, but it took some time for the flame to catch. After a couple brush-offs and some persistent enthusiasm to go for a hike on that perfect autumn afternoon, we found ourselves together climbing the short steep trail to Observation Point on the ridge above the Old Faithful geyser overlooking the Upper Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park.
The magic began to show itself on the trail, on the lingering over the view from the overlook, and especially in the long hour or two of conversation, laughter, and discovery beside the Solitary Geyser on the remote edge of the geyser basin, beyond the boardwalk, far from the impatient crowds waiting for the next awakening of Old Faithful.
In that moment we embarked on a journey that would take us that day to view the sunset over the largest high-elevation freshwater lake in North America, to listen for the night sounds of the Hayden Valley, and into the steaming waters of the Firehole River at the Midway Geyser Basin. And although we would part ways the next morning, the journey would pick up again a few months later in California and take us to the avocado ranch, to selling insurance in Ohio, to classes at The Ohio State University, to graduate school in Princeton, New Jersey, and eventually to the gritty mean city of Memphis. And a million steps along the way, and even a few missteps.
Perhaps the Solitary Geyser tried to tell us all this in its belching eruptions, but we didn’t much notice. We were too much under the magical spell of lighting a new flame.
Today marks forty years since destiny sat us down together by that somewhat unimpressive geyser, and later led us naked into the steaming waters of the Firehole River heated by the scalding runoff of the Midway Geyser Basin. We crossed a bridge that night that we are still crossing all these decades later.