Distinctly Montana Magazine

Distinctly Montana Fall 2020

Distinctly Montana Magazine

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w w w . d i s t i n c t l y m o n t a n a . c o m 65 Go to any of Montana's local farmer's mar- kets and you'll have your pick of some of the tastiest, freshest produce you've ever had. But if you see anything that looks like a parsnip, you'd better get out your guide to Montana plant life and make damn sure it is a delicious, nutrifying parsnip and not water hemlock. Because eating even a mouthful of water hemlock is liable to produce unpleasant effects, including nausea, vomiting, violent seizures and a persistent green froth issuing from the mouth. In 1927 Yellowstone Park Ranger Charles Phillips was approached by his friend Mr. Bauer, the winter caretaker at Old Faithful Inn. Bauer had picked one of the plants in ques- tion, and asked the ranger whether it was good to eat or not. Phillips took it for roots often consumed by local Native American tribes, but he was mistaken. Mr. Bauer and his wife woke in the middle of the night with bouts of nausea that left them unable to leave the house. But it was the next day, when Charles Phillips failed to show up that evening to listen to the radio with the couple, as was their habit, that they suspected something bad might have happened to Phillips. Because while Mr. and Mrs. Bauer had only taken a bit or two of the little parsnip-looking things, Mr. Phillips had eaten two himself. They found him on the floor of the ranger station, having hit his head on a table while falling, his body contorted as if still in the grip of the seizure. Since it was the ranger's taste for root vegetables that sealed his fate, the set of advised precautionary measures for this one remain sim- ple: stay inside, keep those shades drawn, and don't eat anything that isn't a cheese- burger. This one might just be the worst of the lot, owing to the extended and truly grue- some demises of those poor souls who have met their end this way. The first human being to die due to the Yellowstone basin's thermal pools has been lost to prehistory. But thanks to the exhaus- tive research of park historian Lee H. Whit- tlesey, author of the fascinating if fright- ening Death In Yellowstone: Accidents and Foolhardiness In America's First National Park, we have several candidates for the first explorers of European descent to die following the 1870 "discovery" of the park. In 1871, photographer H. B. Calfee and fellow traveler Macon Josey encountered a panicked deer which had gotten itself stuck in a steaming thermal pool. In a kind-heart- ed but inadvisable attempt at rescue, Josey tried to free the deer and succeeded only in falling into the pool himself. While it took less than a minute for Cal- fee to find a way to help Josey out of the boiling water, the damage was still extensive. Calfee attempted to carefully assist his friend out of his steaming pants and shoes, but he found to his horror that, in Calfee's own unpleasantly vivid description, "when I pulled his boots and socks off the flesh rolled off with them." Calfee loaded his friend onto a makeshift travois and tried to make it to Bozeman. It remains a mystery whether they got there or not. But given that most people who have been even partially submerged in the hotter thermal pools, especially for as long as poor Josey was, did not survive longer than a few days and sometimes just a few hours after the accident, it seems unlikely that he went on to have a rich, full life. Unfortunately, thermal injuries and even deaths persist to this day, due largely to failure to abide by the rules by keeping to the boardwalk in dangerous areas. So, if you wish to avoid being cooked alive in volca- no-water, simply stay within the appointed boundaries, and be sure to keep animals leashed. Visitors to Yellowstone generally should remember that you are standing in one of the continent's biggest volcanic calderas, and every second you aren't being atomized by mega-explosions is special, and to be carefully savored. But if you want to be extra careful, I repeat my suggestion from before: stay inside, and maybe draw the shades too. 2 3 FALL INTO A HOT POT! EAT THE WRONG PARSNIP!

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