I will exalt you, my God the King;
I will praise your name for ever and ever.
Every day I will praise you
and extol your name for ever and ever.
Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
his greatness no one can fathom.
One generation commends your works to another;
they tell of your mighty acts.
They speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty—
and I will meditate on your wonderful works.
They tell of the power of your awesome works—
and I will proclaim your great deeds.
They celebrate your abundant goodness
and joyfully sing of your righteousness.
- Psalm 145:1-7
They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”
But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”
- Genesis 11:3-7
When I was very young, I had a bucket list, even though I had no concept of “kicking the bucket” or what a bucket list was. I wanted to visit every one of the United States. I still lack Alaska and Hawaii, adding North Dakota in 1996. I have not slept in all the 48 contiguous states, but I do not lack many in that category, but that was not my goal when I was not yet going to grade school. I wanted to visit Mexico (Check! Actually, three different Mexican states, Nuevo Leon, Coahuila, and Chihuahua) and I wanted to see the lower tier of Canadian provinces, those bordering the USA, with Manitoba and Saskatchewan still on my “to do” list.
I had not thought of visiting foreign countries other than the two neighbors, but I have visited a lot of western Europe, India, Thailand, China, and South Korea. But by the time I started doing a lot of travelling for work, staying at home was nice. My bucket list days were behind me, but I had a habit of taking the airline’s magazine out of the seat pocket in front of me and tallying which of the airports that are listed in the back of the magazine that I had been to. On one occasion, the woman in the middle seat asked why I was looking at just those pages. I told her that I was checking how many of the airline’s hubs that I had visited. For that airline, I think it was 13 that I had been in and only 2 that I had not visited. Let’s say Dubai and LaGuardia. When she learned that I had been to exotic places, we talked for about half the way home about customs in foreign lands. When she asked when I was going to check off Dubai and LaGuardia, I folded the magazine and returned it to the seat pocket and said, “My dream now is to not complete that list.”
But if I had the time and money, I still would like to visit every USA national park. I have not even visited all the national parks that were national parks when I was a child and added that to my bucket list. Although I have been to at least four national parks in Canada.
But, today, what would children dream of doing? What would be on a child’s bucket list these days? Walt Disney World, Disneyland, Universal, SeaWorld, Six Flags, the “Kings” series of theme parks, like Kings Dominion? People in the Pittsburgh area would want to get sick on every roller coaster at Kennywood, the local theme park on the banks of the Monongahela River. In fact, the local expression for “Kennywood is open” means that the guy forgot to zip his pants fly shut after going to the bathroom. Kennywood, in this area, is ubiquitous. Disneyland opened when I was a baby, and probably all the others on the list that I mentioned have been built since then. But these theme parks were built by man.
I was remembering some of the good times that my wife and I have had, and I thought of the natural beauty of such places as Brice Canyon, Utah, in the photo above and Zion National Park, Utah, that is nearby. We have fond memories of Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons, the Grand Canyon, and Glacier National Parks. The last national park that we visited was Cuyahoga Valley National Park. It was amazing to be inside the greater Cleveland, Ohio metropolitan area, just a mile or two from both steel and aluminum mills, and suddenly be in a beautiful unspoiled valley – okay “unspoiled” not counting the time that the river was on fire.
When I last worked fulltime, I worked much of the summer and autumn in Tennessee, a stone’s throw from the Smoky Mountains. And my wife and I went several times to the national park.
My wife still wishes to take the youngest three grandchildren to Walt Disney World, since they have never been, but I started thinking about my 50+ year old bucket list. Do our grandchildren have any desire to see the wonders that God made instead of manmade glitz? Or would they, as our boys did, get bored. We learned that our younger son had a fear of heights when we went to Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado. Getting into the dwelling was well protected, but it was one way only. In stepping up a handmade ladder to leave the cliffside dwellings, you basically had nothing between you and the canyon floor, far, far below. For him, I basically held him (about eight years old) to keep him from freezing in fear as we made it up, one rung at a time. Other than that moment, the boys were bored. Once you have seen Disney World, does anything else matter?
Of course, Mesa Verde’s attraction was the manmade cliff dwellings in a beautiful desert setting. Mount Rushmore in the South Dakota Black Hills (named for the darkness of the bark of the ponderosa pines), is just a hunk of rock other than the sculpture of four dead presidents. There are national parks in cities, commemorating a lifestyle that has disappeared due to modern construction that has engulfed the original city structures. So, not every national park is an unspoiled wilderness area – just most of them.
The psalmist, David, speaks of meditating on the majesty and the great wonders of God. I feel that nothing can compare to that. You do not have to go to national parks. You can meditate on the wonders that God created in a small square of ground in your yard. The Muir Woods National Monument, near Mill Valley, CA, north of San Francisco, is a wonderful place for meditation, and if it rains you can run inside the hollow trunk of a mighty redwood. And it seems in some areas that everywhere you turn is a national forest in the USA.
The people at Babel had their tongues confused to prevent them from finishing a tower. We have a lot of such towers today. Why has God not stopped the building of those? But that was not the sin of the people in Genesis 11. Those people were told to be adventurous and spread out and take dominion over the entire earth. They not only failed to do as God commanded and stayed congregated together; they built a tower to glorify themselves, making themselves equal, in their minds, to God.
Yet, these days, I am sure that Disney World has translators.
Don’t get me wrong. I know where I was when JFK was assassinated, the first men walked on the moon, and when I heard over the car radio that Walt Disney had passed away. For that last one, I was riding with my father to the chicken plucking plant in Tupelo, Mississippi, about to turn left into the entrance, shortly before he quit working there and went back to working on the road. After I heard the news, I had little interest in what we were doing at the plant that day. In fact, I have no idea why I went with him. I only remember where I was when I heard the tragic news.
I chose the featured picture from Brice Canyon, Utah, but I have used other photos from our travels in national parks, Philmont Scout Ranch, and Muir Woods. I think that Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming (mostly) should be equal to Walt Disney World in being near the top of people’s bucket lists. Not saying it is, just should be. Don’t knock it until you try it. Yellowstone has a little of everything, except for roller coasters, more on that to follow, but some of the highways are about that exciting, and due to the movements of the tectonic plates, the park changes from year to year. The beautiful green pool that my wife and I wanted our older son to see, the son who loves anything green, turned out to be a brown mud pit. A park ranger was nearby, and we asked him about the green hot spring. He laughed and said that the brown mud pit appeared one spring where the green pool had been the year before – clear water to mud, green to brown – all because of the movement of the earth far beneath the surface. There should be something at Yellowstone that could get the interest of the most profound “tube head” out there. There are mountains, waterfalls, geysers, mud pots, crystal clear hot springs, and a huge lake with great fishing. Then there is a wide variety of wildlife. We have been too close to buffalo, close enough to moose, mountain goats, elk, etc. We’ve seen eagles overhead, both bald and golden. We have watched others do what you are told not to do as they feed the chipmunks and squirrels. Oddly, my wife has never seen a bear in the wild (what used to be a guarantee in Yellowstone and the Smokies), even though we have been to the Smokies countless times and a few times to Yellowstone and other parks. She pet a deer when we, and the deer, were stuck in a traffic jam, the deer too frightened to move, on the side of the Road to the Sun in Glacier National Park, Montana. The Road to the Sun features glaciers melting, with water running across the road and off the cliff while you are climbing the mountain, fording the streams, at least when we were there – not as fast as a roller coaster, but a bit exciting. Probably more dangerous.
Getting to something closer to roller coasters, if you drive along US highway 129 between Chilhowee Lake in Tennessee and the state line between Tennessee and North Carolina, you will know how they came up with the concept of a roller coaster. Driving from Tennessee into North Carolina, you are on the outside, the sheer drop side, wondering if you will fall off at any one of the countless curves. My exaggeration, they claim 318 curves in 11 miles, but I was too busy white-knuckling the steering wheel and listening to my wife scream that I should slow down, to count any curves. The video came up with almost 200. And we went from North Carolina into Tennessee, with the edge of the Smoky Mountain National Park and the side of a mountain on our side of the road. It depends on what you think that you could dare accomplish as to which way you travel, unless you go one way and then turn around. This small section of the road is called “The Tail of the Dragon” and the gift shop is in Robbinsville, NC. The nearby Cherohala Skyway is much more scenic, and much less travelled, and is a little further south, outside the national park, parallel to the Tail of the Dragon. The following video is about 15 minutes long and the commentary ends about halfway, with nothing but counted curves that follow (the number in the upper right corner). When I reached Tabcat bridge, I was disappointed the ride was over, but my wife was grateful.
My trip down memory lane has a point. We live in a world of noise and busyness. We live in a manmade existence. Men and women-built structures, companies, governments, and whatever other manmade thing you can think of that pigeonholes us into our present place in life and provides rules and structures that are all manmade. But the king David has a point. Nothing can compare to meditating on God’s wonderful works.
Slow down. Enjoy. And Praise God.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.