On our recent vacation to Wyoming, we spent some time in Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park. The two neighboring parks press right up against one another, yet are very different experiences.
It is natural, when experiencing both parks so close together, to compare the two and ask which one prefers. We are not even home from the trip and have already had friends and family ask that very thing.
While there are many differences between the two parks, one that sticks out in my mind is lakes and rivers. Now, I know there are lakes and rivers in both parks, but our experience here has highlighted rivers in Yellowstone and lakes in Grand Teton.
Kylie, my wife, is not a big fan of these kinds of questions. She doesn’t like being asked her “favorite” of anything. There is so much beauty and value in it all. Lakes and rivers. Home and vacation. Here and there. If we are looking rightly, we see it all as beautiful. There is nothing wrong with having preferences, but our experience on this vacation has been about celebrating as much of the beauty of existence as we can. In that spirit, here are some thoughts on lakes and rivers.
We started our trip in Grand Teton. The Teton mountain range is rocky, craggy, jagged, and incredible to see. The park is a string of lakes and canyons nestled at the foot of these goliaths. During our time here, we have circumnavigated no less than four of these lakes, traversing somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty-five miles of trail.
The serene lakes are an awe-inspiring juxtaposition to the jagged peaks. The lake is quiet, still. The mountain seems to be shouting at you. The lakes are understated, subtle. The mountains are loud and overwhelming. In fact, sometimes it seems as though the main point of the lake is the reflection of the mountain in its waters. The lakes, after all, were formed by water flowing from the mountains.
Standing on the shore of these lakes, it is easy to find a sense of peace in one’s soul. Relatively easy. The water ripples carefully against the shore, as if it is concerned with not interrupting your serenity. It is relatively still, although it is moving more than it seems, teeming with life.
Lakes have a sort of hypnotic power. The sound. The subtle ripples. They pull you into deeper thought with a gentle suggestion.
When we went into Yellowstone, we spent some time sitting next to the Yellowstone, Gibbon, and Firehole rivers. They each have their own sort of beauty.
Whereas lakes are enclosed in a finite space, inviting stillness, rivers are flowing in suggested progress. They turn around bends, rumble with rapids, and roar with movement. At a lake, you are part of the scene. At a river, you are part of just a moment, the scene too long and narrow to fully see.
The river also has a hypnotic power. It changes with every moment, daring you to blink. It pulls your gaze downstream, tricking you into seeing further than you are aware.
Whether lake or river, the true beauty is water. Somewhere between gas and solid, it represents a sense of balance. It invites the onlooker to appreciate nature, to be pulled beyond oneself and contemplate any number of things.
I won’t tell you my preference, although I have one. They are both beautiful. And, like so many things in life, both rivers and lakes are an invitation to consider who we are, our place in the world, and what we want to make out of the short time we have here on earth.