Of Silence and Sanity

Amid Beauty Bleak and Spare

By Mike Medberry

On my way to Craters of the Moon National Monument, where I intend to view the only eclipse of the sun I’m likely to see, I stop in Carey for a cup of coffee, and see how things have changed there in the past three years. The grocery store that gathered a hustle and bustle of customers now collects only tumbleweeds, and the sprawling bar just east of town is out of business. Windows are broken in the front rooms of a slightly frumpy hotel of cabins, which resembles a hotel on Route 66 twenty years after the route was changed. But you’ve got to admire the pluck of Carey’s residents in planting an official sign at the edge of town advising, “Carey On!” That, it seems, is the theme of my plan.

I’ve visited Craters at least eight times in the last twenty years and seldom has it been easy. Once was for a burial of the monument’s former superintendent. Twice on the way to Yellowstone I drove the seven-mile scenic route. But most of my visits to Craters have led me into the black lava land, that pale green sagebrush landscape in a too-hot or too-cold atmosphere drier than a popcorn cooking pot, or to the back side of nowhere, walking this indescribable land for miles and miles and miles. At some point, when I realized that no place else had the bleakness and spare beauty of Craters of the Moon, it became my kind of place.

I don’t expect forgiveness for my mistakes out in this wilderness. Only people forgive here: the place forgives no one and I’ve learned to be prepared for anything, as the Boy Scouts say. But if I go in spring, I expect the beauty of flowers and lighting. Blazing star flowers bloom an extravagant yellow under the 180-proof sunlight. Hot-pink dwarf monkey flowers surprise me. I’m soothed by the flawless perfection of tiny Bitterroot flowers, the off-white buckwheat flowers that dribble across cinder fields like spilled milk, and the lovely white scablands penstemon that grow out of pure lava like a holy flame of promise. Each is out there if I search, and time my visit in May or early June rather than this mid-summer trip.

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