The narrow road rises steeply in a series of switchbacks, the cliff plunging off a sheer precipice just beyond the flimsy guardrail. “I don’t feel well,” says Noah, his voice quavering from the back seat, his face pinched and gray beneath a spray of freckles.
“Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth, like this,” I demonstrate to Noah as we climb out of the van and walk slowly up the worn stairs to the overlook. “The fresh air will help,” I say, my arm around his thin shoulders.
We peer over the split-rail fence into the canyon, where whitewater rages thousands of feet below us. “I need to sit,” Noah says, abruptly plunking onto a rotten log that’s been shoved to the side of the trail. He looks worse, despite the deep breathing.
We sit for a long time in that spot. Brad and Rowan discover a colony of carpenter ants in the rotten log beneath a layer of decaying bark. Noah breathes, battling nausea.
I’m restless. We are, after all, vacationing in Yellowstone, which means we should be glimpsing grizzly bears, roiling geysers and sputtering fumaroles -- at least something more dramatic than ants in a rotten log.
Periodically, I get up to gaze into the canyon, and it’s during the second or third of these agitated wanderings that I spot something move, a flash of white against gray rock. A mother mountain goat and two tiny young scramble along the far side of the canyon. I hear the echo of rocks tumbling down the steep cliff as the young goats chase each other in and out of the shadows, stopping only to nurse occasionally as their mother snatches mouthfuls of weeds.
Noah still doesn’t feel well enough to move, so the four of us watch the goats from our perch. We also spot a woodpecker, barely visible in the Douglas fir. With his brilliant yellow belly and black-and-white zebra tail, he’s unlike any woodpecker we’ve ever seen in Nebraska.
A steady stream of tourists passes by as we sit at the edge of the trail, and I’m struck by how little they notice. None of them spots the woodpecker, and few stay long enough at the overlook to watch the agile goats. They simply read the placard, snap a photo or two of the canyon and move on, determined to reach their next destination and cross another Yellowstone highlight off their itineraries.
Until the moment we were forced by Noah’s carsickness to sit in one spot, we’d been doing exactly the same: racing through our vacation, hurrying on to the next scenic spot, bent on “getting the most out of our trip.”
“Stand still and see this great thing the Lord is about to do before your eyes,” the prophet Samuel said to the Israelites. That’s just it, of course. God is always doing something great before our eyes; his creation is always bursting into view before us. The trouble is, more often than not, we don’t see it, simply because we don’t stop to look -- not in our own backyards, not even when we’re on vacation.
I’m grateful we were forced to slow our pace that day in Yellowstone. We may have missed a few of the park’s hotspots, but in an elusive woodpecker, three spry mountain goats and yes, even a colony of carpenter ants, we witnessed great things unfold before our eyes.