For many years, I have been intrigued by a place called Bryce Canyon National Park. I had never been there, but I had thought it about often. I have visited a few of the National Parks and they all provide great experiences, but I had dreamed of visiting Bryce for two reasons.
First, the obvious reason: I had heard it was extraordinary beautiful and unique.
And secondly, because I have a 2nd cousin whom I have never met who lives and runs a store just outside the park. I have wanted to meet her since we first connected about 15 years ago when two branches of my father’s family “discovered” each other. There had been a split in the family two generations ago and, thanks to a wonderful coincidence, we found each other and that led to sharing of family history stories and a better understanding of where we came from.
So, visiting Bryce was always a dream of mine and when our son, Avi, and I were considering where we might go for a trip together during his vacation and he proposed the idea of going to Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks, I realized I could make my dream come true.
We started at Zion National Park, and I have to say that it is an absolutely phenomenal place. In many ways, it was the most beautiful place I have ever seen. The cliffs rising up from the canyon, the beautiful trees, rock formations and the way that the same view looks totally different at different times of day were enthralling.
We hiked on some of the less demanding trails (after all I’m 67, more about that later) in Kolob Canyons and climbing to what are known as the Emerald Pools. We walked along the Virgin River until it begins its course into the narrowest parts of Zion Canyon.
It was an unforgettable experience, and I could easily see why Avi considers it his favorite National Park of the many he has visited.
Then, it was on to Bryce Canyon.
The experience of Bryce Canyon is different from that of Zion. Instead of looking up at the cliffs, you look down on the canyon from above and I found myself mesmerized- and I can think of no more accurate word- by the “hoodoos”- the spire like formations of rock. They are incredibly beautiful and seem to have a “personality” of their own, each different, each more exquisite and impressive than the next.
Some looked like animals. Some arranged as if a forming a “temple” on a hill. Others, like the ones shown here, reminded me of a group of people, appearing like “sentinels” guarding the valley below. I have never seen anything like them in my life.
Now, I’m home, more or less over jet lag and thinking back on what I experienced in these two remarkable places and I realized that these two parks affirmed in a dramatic way something that I have always felt is one of the most important perspectives our tradition offers on what it means to be a human being.
Zion and Bryce Canyon left me with two contrasting but complementary feelings- each critical feelings which we need to continue to balance in our lives.
While Zion was awe-inspiring and overwhelming in many ways, I felt swept up in the park, carried, as it were, up the walls of the canyon to reach for the skies. Looking up from the bottom of the canyon at the rock walls and cliffs elevated me and made me appreciate once again the glorious beauty of the world. It affirmed my thoughts on how important the role of God as “creator” is in my faith and my theology as seeing the beauty of the world and the intricacy of the universe inspires us to greater heights.
Then, there was Bryce Canyon which left me with a completely different feeling.
From the top of the canyon looking down into these enormous hoodoos, I felt tremendously small, humbled by non-human “figures” which dwarfed my shadow. I could not get out of my mind the fact that these hoodoos were there millenia before I was born and would remain long after I am no longer walking this earth.
So, I was reminded again, as our tradition teaches, that we must each remember that we are created in the image of God with all that potential that implies while recognizing that we are but dust in ashes and that we are such an imperceptibly small part of our universe.
Two contrasting feelings from two incredible experiences. Two contrasting feelings that touched different places within me.
So, which was more meaningful?
In one sense, it is impossible to choose between them, nor should I, but if I’m honest, I would say that on a spiritual level, Bryce Canyon resonated with me just a shade more deeply.
Perhaps that is because of where I am in life.
I do not consider myself “old” and, God willing, have time to visit many more National Parks and experience many more milestones in my life. But I’ve reached the age where I am aware of limitations more than I was a few years ago. I find myself still dreaming, still grabbing onto visions of goals I haven’t yet achieved but doing so within the context of reality, the nagging aches and pains and the fears of watching the years pass by.
For me, Bryce Canyon affirmed something that we all realize as we get older: that we can and must continue to dream and continue to seek moments of elevation and grandeur, recognizing that we each comprise an irreplaceable and unique part of the universe. But we realize more clearly every day that our time here is finite and the universe will go on without us sometime in the not-too-distant future and that that is the way of the world.
So, the lesson is that as we get older, we need to act on our dreams. We need to go to the places we dream of going to and meet the people we dream of meeting- and yes, I did meet my cousin for the first time, and we had a wonderful “reunion”.
We need to continue to find places where we remind ourselves how grand it is to be a human being and how precious each day is and places which affirm what we’re feeling inside as we watch the years go by.