There’s no better time to find gratitude and appreciation for our beloved wide-open spaces… Like our social media assistant Anna reminds us — #findyourpark!
I currently live above a taco place and two Irish bars in downtown Philadelphia. It’s rarely quiet. Even at 4am, a siren is going off, a dog is barking, or someone is taking the trash out in the alley below, and probably letting a few glass bottles crash to the ground just to add to the symphony.
What does my frequently interrupted sleep have to do with national parks? Hang tight.
Family vacations to national parks were a steadfast ritual in my family. Before I was eight years old, I had already been to six national parks. My friends’ families went to the beach, the lake, and Disney World, but we went to Bryce, Yellowstone, and Zion.
A few years ago I asked my mom why she and my dad had always taken my sister and I out west to the national parks there (we lived in rural Ohio). She told me it was just something her parents had always done with her and her brothers. In the late 60s and early 70s, they would drive from southern Ohio out to the Grand Canyon, Arches, and up to Glacier. They stayed in tents and campers, made dinner over open fires, and they loved it. She said it was just so different from where she had grown up, and that’s one of the reasons she and my dad wanted to do that with us. “There’s so many natural wonders out there that you’re not going to find in the flatlands of Ohio,” she told me.
Yellowstone National Park is nearly 2.25 million acres, and that’s not even the largest of the parks. Wrangell-St.Elias National Park in Alaska is over 8 million acres. Death Valley in California is over 3 million.
You are supposed to feel insignificant when you’re there. Not in the moral-dilemma sense, but in the sense that you are standing in a 1 foot by 1 foot square within a space of land that covers more acreage than you can probably wrap your head around. There is silence, a lack of human-generated noise that is simultaneously thrilling and frightening. It’s humbling to be there. You are a guest in this space, but you are also welcome to be there, provided you serve the space with the respect it both asks and demands.
I have a steady stream of memories from my visits to national parks. Deer coming within a few feet of us while we ate lunch at a picnic table in Rocky Mountain National Park. The size of the Grand Canyon. The sheer cliffs at Zion. Waiting an hour to see Old Faithful at Yellowstone. The photo I keep on my desk at work of me on my dad’s shoulders with the hoodoos at Bryce peeking out behind us.
Okay, back to my noisy apartment. I love living in the city. I’ve lived in Baltimore, St. Louis, Prague, New York City, and, now, Philadelphia. When I had the opportunity to leave my rural community for the city, I never looked back. Garbage trucks rumbling through my alley became the norm. Car horns honking and people shouting became the norm. I am constantly moving, as is everyone around me.
I love our national parks because they are, as my mom put it, a wonder. They are untouched beauty where silence is a welcome companion. They make you stop and look, something I find that I rarely do in my day-to-day life. They bring out an appreciation in me that gets lost if I let it.
On our trip through Yellowstone, we saw a moose with its calf and pulled our car over. My mom rolled down the back window and my sister and I peered out at them for a good 20 minutes or so before they finally moved on.
The great thing about our national parks is that they can be any kind of retreat you need. Visiting can be an adventure, a pilgrimage, a family vacation, or just a much-needed break. You can climb over rocks, eat a picnic lunch, or stare at a moose for 20 minutes. Go for the silence, go for the postcard picture, just go.
Animation by Jessie Kanelos Weiner.