Another mysterious cloud of steam burst into the late afternoon sky just behind a cluster of amber Wyoming conifers. Claire and I were together in Yellowstone, crossing off another national park from our list of natural wonders to explore. It was our last fall break together. Even after our long day of meticulous geyser chasing, our map nowhere in sight, my big sister jumped at the chance to witness this one last eruption. The planner in me hesitated; our guidebook was back in the car smashed between the passenger seat and our sleeping bags. It held the step-by-step itinerary we had devised at the dinner table the week before. Claire forged ahead with absolute confidence nonetheless. She was an adventurer through and through, and I was simply down for the ride.
I took off running after her, leaving the dwindling Daisy Geyser behind us to pursue another. We darted past chromatic pools and sulfurous grottos in hopes of reaching the geyser before it ceased. In her signature Chaco sandals, she was once again taking the lead.
We rounded one final corner and came upon what I now know is the Riverside Geyser. It sprayed over the Firehole River, splashing the rocks on the shore. The late afternoon sun cast a vivid rainbow through the mist. I loved the geyser, but what I loved most were the adventures that led us to wonders like these.
Eight months later, my sister Claire passed away in a climbing fall. She was 18 years old and had graduated high school just two weeks before. I can’t begin to describe it, and I won’t try to. People came to me in kindness asking what they could do, but I had no answer. Beyond my grief, I was frustrated, lost, and confused. My biggest role model was no longer by my side. She was my mentor, my best friend, my big sister. Whether teaching me to read or spurring a spontaneous visit to the Boulder Flatirons, she was my guide.
Claire had been my primary source for getting involved in my community upon entering high school. I joined the school climbing team, EcoAction club, and Colorado Young Leaders as the little brother tagging along. And now I had to wonder: who had I done it all for? When she passed, I realized in some ways, I was an accessory rather than someone with my own distinction. I needed to step back and reassess: who am I without her? I pulled away from all my activities, both out of grief and to avoid the fear of finding my place there as an individual.
I tentatively made a return to the climbing team and CYL, but they were too steeped in Claire’s memory for me to feel comfortable individually; my presence there had been related to her more than to my own interest. But I found myself naturally drawn back to EcoAction. My love for the environment was instilled in me by Claire but had become an indelible part of me, independent of her. Protecting the natural world that I treasured with her had become my personal mission as well as a major way to preserve her memory and further her legacy.
Looking back on those geysers, they persist as a part of who I am. As I approach the age at which Claire died, the trail I have followed for my entire life stops short. Passing that mark will signal a new sense of individuality as I embark on a journey entirely my own. In some ways I dread that moment, but in others, I’ve already reached it. I continue to look back on her trail as I carve my own. Claire taught me to chase geysers without a map. And that’s given me the courage to recognize myself as my own guide and the confidence to embrace the interests that beckon me forward.