What a treat to the eye and just about every other sense, excluding taste and smell, and how unfortunate we don’t have those available via telly yet because I’d love to be able to breathe in the sheer cleanness of the air in Yellowstone park.
I imagine that when it’s covered with snow, the air quality would be so pure, you’d get a head rush. I wouldn’t mind tasting said snow either, though with the caveat of that old chestnut about avoiding the yellow stuff.
And I guess there’d be a lot of it given the sheer quantity of wildlife in Yellowstone, which was filmed with that magic that always makes me wonder “how in the doohickley did they do that?!”
From the delicate sounds of an elk’s breath to somersaulting foxes, it was a wizard’s sleeve of unending camera magic…
But before I go into more detail about that, here are a few facts about the park; Yellowstone Park in Wyoming, USA, is the most extensive thermal area on Earth. In winter, Yellowstone is frozen solid, locked in snow “as deep as a house” for over six months.
The park sits on one of the largest supervolcanoes in the world, the Yellow Caldera, which last erupted 640,000 years ago and the earth below the park is pushing Yellowstone upwards by roughly two inches a year.
Scientists have discovered that Yellow Caldera been on a regular eruption cycle of 600,000 years so given that the last eruption was 640,000 years ago, the next is overdue.
Famous for the ‘Old Faithful’ geyser deep below the earth’s surface – which ejects 5,000 gallons of water 150 feet into the air – Yellowstone is in fact home to more than 300 geysers as well as hundreds of species of mammals.
One of those mammals is Jeff, a sort of park caretaker, for whom the prospect of an overdue eruption must cause a DefCon Brown situation now and again, though from what I could tell about him last night, he’s a man apparently fazed only by the prospect that global warming will mean he’s out of a job and his advancing age might mean he can’t climb onto roofs anymore.
Jeff is as much a part of the park as any of the other inhabitants, he’s just better with a shovel than a bison or an elk. And he loves the winter; his job is to ensure that the various buildings in the park don’t collapse under the weight of the snow that falls upon them, so, with the confidence and agility of a mountain goat, year on year Jeff climbs up on the roofs of said buildings and using a variety of tools and sheer strength, pushes the snow off.
Just like the park’s animals, Jeff’s figured out that it pays to conserve your energy when temperatures can plummet to minus 40 degrees centigrade, but with milder winters predicted in the future, Jeff, as I mentioned, worries that he may soon be out of a job. Likewise, he worries too that the day will come when he’s simply too old to clamber up on roofs, but even though my meeting with Jeff via my gogglebox was brief, I can’t imagine he could survive anywhere else, so let’s hope global warming or rheumatism doesn’t end up meaning he has to leave the park… it’s unthinkable.
And now back to the incredibly impressive filming of the animals… we saw how bison use their massively powerful heads to dig through some of the deepest snow to reach the grass beneath and how the red fox listen out for mice scurrying six feet beneath the snow before diving head first into deep drifts to snap up the unsuspecting mousey for dinner.
We saw otters sliding with comedic grace through Yellowstone’s winter wonderland to find any open water where they could fish. But while the animal antics were charming, the harsh reality of winter survival was brought home as we watched herds of elk and bison become gradually weakened by the cold.
However, one species of animal gets stronger in the freezing wilderness; the wolf. And the wolves are quick to take advantage of the weakened state of their fellow park inhabitants, but such is the nature of nature. Cruel maybe but ultimately, as per the Lion King, it’s the proverbial circle of life.
Peter Firth’s narration added gravitas to the less joyous aspects of watching life in the park with his deeply Shakespearian voice resoundingly announcing, “But this is a cruel beauty” and when he added that Yellowstone is, “A lost world, ruled by ice, fire and brimstone” I fully expected an eruption to occur there and then. It seemed kinda rude of the volcano not to, given Firth had expounded upon it with such perfect annunciation and vocal resonance.
In fact, if the day comes that Jeff can’t get up on the roofs to shift the snow, just send Peter in to narrate and it’ll simply drop off due to the deeply reverberating pitch of his voice!
This was an absolute joy to watch and a reminder that the earth is ancient, and we are but tiny and pretty damned insignificant dots upon it. Wonderful stuff!