Tag Archives: Yellowstone National Park

Writing Obsessions

The Great Floodgates of the Wonderworld: A Memoir, by Justin HockingA friend from my grad school days was recently in town to do a reading from his new book, The Great Floodgates of the Wonderworld (Graywolf Press). In this creative nonfiction memoir, Justin Hocking writes about his move to New York City after grad school and a difficult breakup, and how he becomes obsessed with surfing, the ocean, and Moby-Dick. It’s a fascinating mix, told with raw honesty and wry humor.

It was great seeing Justin and having the chance to catch up a little; it had been twelve years since we’d completed our MFAs and gone our separate ways. Reading Justin’s book has been a somewhat odd experience. The book is excellent. But it’s weird reading such a personal “story” about someone I know. When we were in writing workshops together, I recall some of Justin’s stories involved skateboarders and I knew he was heavy into skateboarding himself, but I never knew how much this sport dominated his life.

Justin’s book shows how skateboarding is replaced by surfing in New York. It gets him outside the suffocating city, and this new attachment with the ocean helps him overcome anxieties related to his dislocation. Surfing becomes an obsession and an escape. In fact, there are all kinds of obsessions in this book. It’s got me thinking about the role of obsession to writers in general. That is, is it necessary to have obsessions to be a writer? Or do writers write because they have obsessions they’re working through?  Continue reading


Yellowstone: The Story Generator

I blogged last week about some of my fascination with Yellowstone National Park. In response, I heard from one of my writing friends that I should write more about Yellowstone. In fact, it doesn’t take much encouragement for me to do so. As I mentioned, I frequently write stories set in Yellowstone, although I didn’t go into details about any of them in that post.

I started writing about Yellowstone about fourteen or fifteen years ago, which was also when I started working on my MFA in creative writing. My MFA thesis ended up being mostly Yellowstone-based, although it wasn’t the complete collection I’d envisioned, for both length and the needs of satisfying my advisor in order to graduate. In my last post, I mentioned that a picture from the Yellowstone Facebook page called to mind a scene from one of my stories—that story is called “Feather Tracks,” and it’s the lead story in my thesis collection.

My overall intent for the collection is to have a series of stories from a variety of Yellowstone historical eras that explore the nature of storytelling. Several of the stories are “stories within stories.” For instance, “Feather Tracks” is about a park ranger in 1945 awaiting his son’s return from the war; he becomes obsessed with a historical paper trail about a cavalry soldier who went missing on patrol in the park in 1894. The ranger uses the story of the soldier as a means of helping him understand and come to terms with his own son.  Continue reading

Bobby Socks Trees, Lake Music, and the Evocative Nature of Yellowstone

Because I often write fiction set in Yellowstone National Park, it should be no surprise that I follow the social media streams from the park. Of course, it’s also a favorite vacation spot, although my aversion to cold keeps me away at this time of year. A few days ago, the Yellowstone Facebook page posted a lovely picture that called to mind a scene from one of my stories and also introduced me to an interesting new term.

Bobby socks trees at Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park

Bobby socks trees at Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park

The picture showed a scattering of standing dead pines covered in morning frost and in the background just a faint hint of a dark forest tree line through a thick fog. According to the caption, the photo was taken at the Lower Geyser Basin; the location around thermal features explains the dead trees as they don’t tend to thrive in the hot water, steam, and excessive minerals typical in such locales.

These dead lodgepole pines are known as bobby socks trees because of their white bottoms, which is caused when the trees soak up the mineral-rich water of the thermal area. After the water evaporates, they appear to be wearing white ankle socks because of the minerals left behind, and thus the name. With all my many trips to Yellowstone over the years, it seems like I would have heard this term before, although if I did, it certainly didn’t stick.

I like the term bobby socks tree because it’s so wonderfully evocative: The name describes the thing. I tried to discover how common or scientific this term is through a variety of online searches, and although there isn’t a wealth of source material, it is in fairly common use, even by the National Park Service. (Along the way, I also got to learn a bit about the history of bobby socks themselves, and why not?) It just makes me wonder why more scientific terminology doesn’t follow such obvious or descriptive naming conventions—I’m sure we’d all find it much easier to remember our science lessons if so.

You can see the picture that sparked this musing here. Although I might not have known the term, I find I’ve been taking my own pictures of bobby socks trees for quite a while. They frequently provide an interesting foreground for some larger and more colorful background, such as the Mammoth Hot Springs area of the park, which is where my photos that accompany this post were taken.

Bobby socks trees form from minerals in the water around thermal features

Bobby socks trees form from minerals in the water around thermal features

Yellowstone contains a wealth of evocative names. Dragon’s Mouth Spring. Frying Pan Spring. Dot Island. Fairy Falls. Castle Geyser. Even Old Faithful, for goodness’s sake. They’re names that describe the feature or perhaps have some significance in its history. And they’re names that call to mind fantastic stories, which goes a ways to explain why I’ve spent so much time writing about this place.

I learned a new Yellowstone term this morning, also from the park’s social media. From a post called “Unexplained and Unreported Phenomenon in Yellowstone” on the park’s In the Shadow of the Arch blog, I learned about “lake music.” Apparently, this is a phenomenon where people hear a buzzing sound above Yellowstone Lake and Shoshone Lake, and it was reported as far back as the 1880s. Something else I’d never heard of—or heard!

I’ll be listening for lake music on my next Yellowstone trip, and I imagine this phenomenon will have to end up featuring in a story at some point. I haven’t decided about Bigfoot yet.

Follow B. K. Winstead on Twitter at @bkwins