Come a Little Closer

When working with the National Park System, it’s easy to get caught up in the big and the grand.

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Our parks are¬†full of soaring vistas, imposing rock faces, thundering falls…all of which make us feel small and insignificant in a beautiful way that we as humans aren’t used to feeling. There’s no way to prepare for seeing the Grand¬†Canyon or a coastal redwood for the first time – our brains simply aren’t built to understand such grandness by reading numbers off a page. It has to be experienced. And what an experience it is. These features come crashing up against what we know and how we understand the world, directly challenging our notion of humans as Very Important Beings. They are what drew more than 282 million people from all over the country and the world to national parks in 2012. These features have been standing, stately and silent, for millions of years before humanity came to be, and they will likely stand for many more millions of years after we wink out of existence. Capulin Volcano National Monument certainly has a grand natural feature. From the top of the volcano, expansive views extend out miles in every direction. The view is made especially dramatic by afternoon thunderstorms that roll in, slowly and then all at once. But Capulin is also very small. We offer three hiking trails, the longest of which is two miles. Living in such a small park has nudged me into doing something I’m a proponent of anyway: zooming in, quieting down, and searching for small beauty. To encounter the small and the quiet takes effort, but it gets easier with time. To start, hike alone in the morning. You’ll encounter fewer people and more wildlife. Hike quietly, if it’s safe (anyone in grizzly country should take this advice with a grain of salt). Then, look for the easily overlooked. I find that it helps to bring my camera – it gives me a mentality of looking for things I’d be excited to show other people. I’m still all for seeing the big sites – the jaw-droppers and life-changers. I plan to fill quite a few more summers with it! But I think small beauty can be life-changing in a different way. And there’s no better way to truly get to know a place.

Tent caterpillars build protective webs

A flycatcher sits quietly before sunrise

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