October 4, 2014
A Spring time trip to the Western USA affected me more than I realized. It was a quiet kind of sudden jolt with a delayed reaction (this is the best I can do to do justice to expressing the impression the country and climate had on me). Let me backtrack a bit. In May I had travelled to Wyoming, Utah, and Arizona, hitting the National Parks in extended fashion (this was a trip totally designed by myself allowing a good amount of time to absorb and be absorbed into the environment). Yellowstone, Zion, and the Grand Canyon were the destinations with Sedona’s Red Rock and Bryce Canyon country thrown in for good measure.
My adventurous wife and I first flew into Jackson Hole, WY in mid May during a snow squall. We had to proceed through the Grand Teton Pass into Idaho to get to Yellowstone since the shortest route into Yellowstone through the South was closed due to impassable roads. The only entrances into Yellowstone were through the West and North. This was our first rude introduction into Nature à la Western USA.
We were undaunted since we knew this would be wild and different. We were not disappointed. We had driven through Idaho through snow squalls and no sooner than we reached the Western Yellowstone entrance the snow stopped, the sun came out and everything began melting big time. This was the theme through out our stay in the West. It was a land of dynamic contrasts and extremes. And since it was all nature produced there was a certain comfort in knowing and feeling this range of experiences. An analogous example would be like jumping into cool lake water on a hot August day. The extremes were refreshing. In psychology this is known as the opponent-process theory, and in reality it does make a lot of sense.
I often think that I was introduced into this approach to life through my years at Padua Prep. Anyone who had gone through at least one year at Padua knew that it challenged you, mentally, emotionally, and physically. Obviously I say this in the positive and developmental sense of challenge which is meant to enhance and not diminish growth. Simply on the physical level, if you could last running around the athletic field on a cold autumn morning for physical ed class in nothing but the requisite Padua t-shirt and short gym pants, then you knew you could suck up a lot of the other challenges of life (was this Ranger Special Forces training? No, but close).
In an odd sort of way Yellowstone reminded me of Padua on the hill. It was remote, it was beautiful country, and it was honest in what it gave you, namely real life events with no turning back when challenges hit you. The buffalo (of which there are many in Yellowstone) have nothing but themselves to adapt to a wide range of life challenges, from the cold and starvation of a barren winter landscape to the threat of predators which lurk at others times of the year. It is a stark and real landscape which is far removed from the consumer world. It is life as pioneers lived and which, it appears, few in our time, expose themselves to. It is living on the edge.