After several days of gazing at the backside (the western side) of the Grand Tetons, I was anxious to get a closer look. Leaving Idaho and crossing back into Wyoming, I stopped for a short 5-mile hike in the meadow rich Jedediah Smith Wilderness. Bear spray on my hip, I was ready for anything, but the wild was calm. The hike was peaceful, and my only encounters were a few people, a couple of dogs, and the remnant flowers from the spring bloom.
A view from the valley in the Jedediah Smith Wilderness
After the hike, I stopped in Jackson, Wyoming, for lunch and hopped on a Zoom call for work. With a full belly and my work responsibilities behind me, I continued my drive north. I stopped several times to take pictures and bask in the stately wonder of the jagged alpine peaks and soon realized I had shorted myself on time. A few hours is not nearly enough time to take in this iconic and aptly named "grand" mountain range. (Whether "Teton" is aptly named, I'll let you decide for yourself.) It is stunning to behold, and I longed to be swallowed by the view, consumed by the wonder of these heaven-reaching pyramids of stone.
A view of the Tetons, snapped along side the road.
Yellowstone was the reason I left LA on this road trip. In the COVID climate, the great outdoors was one place that still felt safe, at least from the virus. I had never been to Yellowstone, but I've felt drawn to the site for many years. Knowing that Yellowstone was in my own proverbial backyard, I assumed I would get there someday and choose to travel internationally when I could. Unable to travel abroad this year, I could no longer resist the pull that Yellowstone had on me. The time had come. All other stops on this 40-day road trip were in service of my eventual arrival to and return from Yellowstone National Park.
Yellowstone is extraordinary, and I write that without hyperbole. The park is so many things that it is difficult to describe. It is grand waterfalls and deep canyons. It is thick disorienting forests and wide expansive plains. It is thrillingly close wildlife and otherworldly geothermal activity. When you see the exploding geysers, the bubbling hot mud, and the steam leaking from fissures in the ground, you can't help but feel the eerie premonition that this whole place might erupt right beneath your feet. If it wasn't all so wonderful, it might actually be frightening.
My cabin was in the Canyon resort area of Yellowstone. The place was not a rustic log cabin like one might imagine; the bed was soft, the water was comfortably hot, and the electricity was reliable. It's what the place did not have that made the difference. There was no TV and no wifi, and I was lucky if I got a single bar of cell phone reception. I could not retreat to the cabin at the end of the day and engage in the artificial company of a television show or distract myself with social media. There was no way to drown out the whispers of the soul by escaping to the mundane entertainments. My options were to read, write, or listen to music; each required a kind of slowing down that confronted my perpetual restlessness.
On the second night, I went for a drive, looking for a quiet place to watch the sunset. I found this rise above a small pull-over on the side of the road. I climbed the mound and saw the serene Yellowstone River wind through a golden valley, loons bathing in the shallows, and mountains silhouetted in the distance. A herd of buffalo on the opposite side of the road attracted fellow sight-seers' attention, so I had the spot to myself. I found a place to sit on the highest point of the overlook. I sat cross-legged and took several deep breaths.
A tremendous sense of gratitude swelled in me. The disappointment and anxiety that lead me on this trip melted in the sight of the simple beauty and the wild elegance.
I had not heard from God in a very long time. Years ago, God was my companion. He was with me in conversation and had much to say. I had confidence that the Great Father had a plan for my life, and we often discussed how the plan was going. I sang songs to God. I felt a lot of guilt over my failings. But over the years, the voice of God faded. It went from a resounding voice to a subtle whisper. Then, it vanished altogether into silence.
Above the Yellowstone River with the reflection of the sunset dancing on its glassy surface, I thought, "Well, here I am, Lord. If you have something you want to say to me, now is the time. I'm listening."
I took several deep breaths. I repeated. "Here I am. I'm listening."
The Voice of God was absent. However, I felt a presence come and sit beside me. I again said. "If you have anything you want to say to me, I'm listening."
Still silence. No words of assurance. No directions for what to do next. No explanations for why life was the way it was—only God's presence.
In that moment I realized, my faith in a God that is "up there" or "out there" somewhere, speaking its will into my life, was dead. There was no going back to that God. I felt that in the deepest way.
Instead, a God that is here beside me, above me, around me, in me; a God in which I live and move and have my being has risen in its place. This God of beauty, God of mystery, has little to say. No instructions. No explanations. No messages. No certainties. No affirmations. No judgments. It offers only its divine and transcendent presence.
A few simple words began to impress upon my heart, not from a voice from above, but from a place deep inside my being: Abide in me. Abide in my love.
The whole experience lasted, I don't know how long, maybe 30 minutes? I got what I came for, but not what I expected. I met God, and it was Silence.
A peace that surpasses understanding filled my soul, and a smile of sweet surrender graced my face.
A WRITER AND TRAVELER KEEPING THE FAITH IN LOS ANGELES