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Four Years at the Mount

Junior Year

The Land of 10,000 Lakes

Kyle Ott
MSM Class of 2015

(8/2013) Regardless of where you go, the journey that you take, or how far you manage to make it in this world, as the old and often clichť saying goes, itís not about the destination; itís about the journey. Throughout human history weíve been shown that these words of sage advice go beyond mere adage and stretch into fact. Christopher Columbus, the man who discovered America, was looking for China when he and his merry band stumbled onto land. Little did he know that he was a few oceans and several continents off from where he wanted to be, but at that point it did not matter. He had made history, discovered a whole new world, and changed the course of human experience for the next 200 years. Yet if we took his journey based solely on its beginning and ending points, Columbus would be considered a failure on par with hydrogen blimps.

All failures of aviation and discovery aside, the truth is that even the most far flung and exotic locations and the longest quests really are just about what you make them. This is a lesson that I learned early on in my life. When I was a child, my family and I would make the trip to upstate New York to see my grandparents. My first memories of seeing my family were not those of days spent playing or having dinners with my grandparents (although there are certainly many of those), but rather of the massive van that we travelled in as a family, driving to and from our scattered relatives. Maybe itís weird to associate our vehicles with the people who I know and love, but for me the place that weíre going to and the way that we got there are linked. In the passenger seat of our van I had some of the greatest adventures of my life, with the people that I completely adore.

One of the greatest moments occurred while en route to see members of our eclectic clan. We were traveling to my momís birthplace in Minnesota for our auntís wedding. While we were making our way to the Land of 10,000 Lakes, my parents decided that it would be a great opportunity to see some of the gems of the Midwest while we drove. Thus, we took a twisting, curving path through the country and managed to see and do a million things while we journeyed. It was during this trip that I finally came face-to-face with the stony expressions of several beloved presidents at Mount Rushmore. In the middle of the night we decided to stop at White Castle for the sole reason that my younger brother and I were absolutely fascinated with this strange building that looked like a medieval fortress but served delicious fried meat rather than hefty servings of arrows and armor clad thugs. However, there was one incident during this journey that I will never forget, a moment that stood head and shoulders above all the others: our tour of Teddy Roosevelt National Park.

There we were, a family of four rolling slowly through the wasteland in our giant burgundy monster of a van, like a mixture of the Addams Family and the folks from the Little House on the Prairie. Everywhere we looked there was something amazing to stare at in awe. Strange desert shrubs dotted the landscape, rustling in the rare breeze that blessed the ground. Red earth stretched as far as the eye could see, casting the surrounding area in a warm glow that seemed both pleasant and strange under the hot midday sun. Eventually, the red ground gave way to massive plateaus of stone that jutted out of the park, dominating the sky and the surrounding area with a kind of silent majesty by which I still find myself impressed. Occasionally, the tiny head of a prairie dog would pop out of one of the thousand holes in the ground and look around quietly, trying to see whether or not they wanted to come up. Most of the time they seemed either scared of the people that scurried around or uninterested in going up into the heat when they could simply remain in their miniature underground mansions.

While this was all amazing and breathtaking on a level that I had never experienced before, all of this paled in comparison to what was about to befall my family. While we were leaving the park after a long day of experiencing everything that the wilderness could throw at us (or so I thought), I turned my attention away from the windows and down the collection of action figures that I had brought with me to alleviate the boredom. While in the middle of making the Red Power Ranger uppercut Donatello from the Ninja Turtles I noticed the car had stopped. This fact alone did not perturb eight-year-old Kyle; we had stopped several times that day to allow tourists to cross the road or watch some of the aforementioned prairie dogs scurry from one side to the other. Not really caring about the path we took, I continued to act out the most vicious fight in superhero history, complete with sound effects. It wasnít until I heard my mom utter the words, "Kyle look up now!" that I put my toys down and stared out the window.

We were completely surrounded by a massive herd of buffalo. I remember gasping, dropping the toys and pressing my face to the glass as hard as I possibly could to get a look at the colossal, furry beasts that swarmed around our car, not seeming to care that a chunk of moving metal was suddenly parked in the middle of their domain. Hundreds of these creatures milled about, passing over the road as if nothing had changed about their environment. They munched absentmindedly on grass, occasionally bumped their haunches against the side of our van, and even turned their great heads to look in at the scared and thrilled people inside the vehicle. The strangest thing about the entire experience was that these behemoths were incredibly quiet and gentle. There had been no massive stampede with the thunderous sound of hooves like in the movies. There had only been the quiet clopping of sturdy, quiet animals merely passing through. We sat there for a solid 15 minutes, treated to a show of natureís amazing and unstoppable creation, before the last of the bison finally made its way from one side of the road to the other and continued to meander off toward more grass and better horizons.

We wound up going to the wedding and spending some quality time with family members who I hardly ever have the chance to see. We sailed the Great Lakes, visited Paul Bunyan National Park, and had an amazing time being with people we loved. But, as that old adage suggests, those werenít the things that I remember the most about my time at the wedding. Instead, I remember the best pre-party ever, with just my close family and several hundred large mammals. Just remember, the next time you have to go somewhere, anywhere, whether itís across the country or to the grocery store, stay on the lookout for the adventures that you could have, and the adventures that you one day will have.

Read other articles by Kyle Ott