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CANYON VILLAGE — I still can’t get over the stillness.

There comes a certain chaos with living in a place that’s as much of a destination as Bozeman. The wildlife, rivers, the park — who wouldn’t want to be here?

So when friends from my hometown in northern Michigan told me a few months ago they’d be visiting Bozeman in July, I figured the best way to show them the wonders of the wild northern Rockies — which they’ve never seen — was a night in the world’s first national park. We ended up at one of the last available campsites I could find through the National Park Service app: Canyon Village Campground.

We saw quite a bit that first day — geysers, hot springs, the lake. I even taught my buddy a thing or two about casting the fly rod he’d rented that day. But the usual calamity I’ve learned to expect in Yellowstone calmed as most of the park visitors headed for the exit at dusk.

Yellowstone National Park Tourism File

Tourists take photos and cars drive through the Roosevelt Arch at sunset in Gardiner in this July 2017 photo.

The silence became eerie as night surrounded us and an almost-full moon shone like a spotlight through the trees around our campsite. My friends and I whispered as we roasted hot ham-and-cheese sandwiches over an open flame in a designated metal pit. The quiet enveloped us, much like it did on the shores of Lake Huron growing up.

But this was different. We never slept with bear spray while camping in Michigan. The only time we saw bison was on a screen. Fly fishing never crossed our minds, despite the swarms of mayflies that covered the exterior of camping trailers parked around inland lakes, where we’d dangle worms from our spin rods hoping to catch a bass or perch in the humid, mosquito-infested summer.

At the same time, some things felt the same. We were together, much like we had been spending long nights cracking jokes around campfires over a few beers growing up — granted we could legally drink the beers now, and our hair is a bit longer. Our time also felt more scarce than when we were teenagers, and as a result we squeezed every ounce of joy out of the few days we had with each other.

Something changed when the sun shined through the cracks around the blackout shades in my conversion van. The still of the night broke. Sunlight illuminated the almost smoke-free sky. A white-pawed snowshoe hare stopped by our campsite. Everything was waking up.

My time in Yellowstone is abbreviated compared to most locals, if I can even call myself one. But there’s something familiar, albeit faint, in living this far north.

Steam rose from the Yellowstone River under the light of a reddened sun as we drove through haze and bison herds in the Hayden Valley, much like a cool morning along the banks of the Thunder Bay River in my hometown.

While some parallels exist, my friends were quick to acknowledge the differences. Everything is bigger here, they reminded me — the trees, the animals, the rivers, the city. The earth even seems grander compared to the glacier-carved rolling hills of the Great Lakes State.

More friends and family have visited me here in Bozeman in the past month than in the eight years since I left my hometown — at least that’s how it feels. I’m grateful and exhausted, full and depleted. Moments of chaos sandwich moments of silence.

It seems the bison have a thing or two to teach me.

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Bret Hauff is the Chronicle’s city editor. He can be reached at bhauff@dailychronicle.com or 406-582-2647.

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