I grew up driving through the windy roads of Yellowstone National Park, camping in thick wooded forests and eating picnics in the shadows of the Tetons. I have mountain biked on dirt paths, been on hikes in the Teton mountain range and canoed down beautiful, calm, pristine rivers.
The outdoors are like my home.
It wasn’t until I came to BYU that I appreciated the solitude of nature — the miles and miles of open space and nothing but God’s creations. It wasn’t until I found that I had to drive at least 40 minutes in any direction to get somewhere with other people that I appreciated my small-town upbringing. And it wasn’t until the constant noise and never-ending sea of lights drove me crazy that I realized that I needed space and solitude — the beauty of raw, untouched nature.
And so began my love affair with national parks.
I’ve been to several national parks in the last few years and I am always amazed at the unique landscapes and features each has to offer, and yet, the feeling is the same. The world slows down, my mind is cleared and my thoughts are grounded.
This may have a little to do with the lack of cell phone service and internet access, but I think it’s more than that. I think there’s something to be said for spending time in an area that is so exquisite. It hasn’t been touched by man — it is pure.
When we admire things such as art, architecture or dance, we marvel at the talent and creativity of man. People who are essentially just like us, but gifted in different ways. But I think that admiring something that man cannot create helps us marvel at a higher power. Regardless of faith or religion or personal beliefs, there is something undeniably and inexplicably bigger than us manifested in the beauty of nature.
Nature is something that reminds us that we are small and that day-to-day struggles are insignificant in the grand scheme of it all. It reminds us that there is life outside of our personal little world. It reminds us that there are memories to be made with the people around us and those we love. Most importantly, nature reminds us that we marvel most at that which we have not touched.
I’m realizing more and more as I get older that the experiences I’ve had in nature are not significant to me because of the actual activity I was doing. They are important because of the memories made, the bonds built, and the time I had to reflect. Those times stirred up my emotions, which helped inspire change and built me as a person.
We need national parks. We need them because they bring us back to the basics in life. It’s almost symbolic. As we leave civilization and spend time in the great outdoors, our lives can be simplified and reorganized. Things become uncomplicated. We are reminded that we are small. We are reconciled with whatever divine higher power we believe in. And, most importantly, we marvel.