To Truly See... Look Away
I recently spent two weeks in Grand Teton National Park on a writing retreat. I’d been there before, but this time I adopted a contrarian perspective. My project became finding the most iconic views—and then looking away to truly see this marvelous place. Then, the question became one of writing constraints. Sticking with the iconoclastic tactic of focusing on what one is not supposed to be observing, I chose death. To described the anti-sights, I decided to use exactly 152 words—the number of deaths in Grand Teton and neighboring Yellowstone National Park from 2006 to 2016.
A quintillion-fold smaller—and just as real
The view from Lunch Tree Hill provides a classic panorama of the Tetons. This is where John D. Rockefeller Jr. was inspired during a picnic to purchase and donate lands in Jackson Hole to the national park. So, I defiantly bent down, peeked under my bifocals and found a gathering of exquisitely sculpted, lace bugs on arrowleaf balsamroot. The volume of Grand Teton is equal to about 6 quintillion lace bugs, so a visitor captivated by enormity would likely overlook these tiny creatures. But they are every bit as real—and worthy of conservation—as the mountains. Walt Whitman wrote: “I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey work of the stars, And the pismire [an ant] is equally perfect.” I imagine the poet would’ve marveled at the delicacy of a 3 mm bug, but I wonder if a billionaire of towering stature would have been so moved.
There’s no “I” in lichen (there is an “i” however)
A hike around Jenny Lake brings one into intimate contact with mountains of staggering proportions and living beings of phenomenal tenacity. Ignoring the former, I relished the lichen that were encrusting boulders with Jackson Pollock-like spatters of ashen gray, charcoal black, mustard yellow, sage green, burnt orange, and chocolate brown. As others scrambled over the rocks, I could hear the muted crunch of hiking boots functioning as pestles against the mortar of Tetonic boulders to pulverize the ancient bonsai. A lichen is a composite organism formed by a mutualism of fungi and algae or cyanobacteria. This understandably creates a problem for taxonomists. But it’s about the same for humans, given that half of the cells comprising “us” are bacteria—that is, our microbiome (or are we their macrobiome?). We’re really just meaty lichen. So, with the whole notion of an individual organism getting blurry, maybe we need to get our I’s checked.