Thoughts, Ideas and Inspiration by Melissa Earley

Category: Big Bend National Park

Hidden Landscapes

In Big Bend National park they found neck bones of an Atamoseurus that weighed 1000 pounds each. The neck bones weighed that much, not the Atamoseurus. They also found bones of the Quetzalcoatlus – the largest flying creature to ever have lived. Its wingspan was 36 feet and it weighed just over 500 pounds. A model of its skeleton hovers over visitors at the dinosaur outpost in Big Bend National Park. Visitors would catch it out of the corner of their eyes and start, “Wow. What is that?” and gaze up at the giant predator with a new appreciation for what chipmunks feel when a hawk soars overheard. I turned to a total stranger for reassurance, “Jurassic Park was fiction right?” I didn’t want that thing coming after me if it had missed lunch.

Quetzalcoatlus , Big Bend National Park

Quetzalcoatlus , Big Bend National Park

I tried to imagine the desert landscape of Big Bend 130 million years ago when it was a marine environment, and 72 million years ago when it was an inland flood plain, and the 55 million years ago when it was volcanic highlands. I could empathize with the dinosaur deniers. It seemed impossible that this this baked landscape could ever have been lush and humid and sticky; that it ever smelled like moldy murkiness thick with mud and decaying leaves and rotting fruit, instead of hot sand; that giants lumbered among lush vegetation instead of insects and rodents scuttling among the yucca.

I think about the people I know whose personal landscapes weren’t always what they are now. Ralph can’t get out of a chair now but used to hike the Appalachia mountains. Debby’s acute mind shines through when we talk about politics but she forgets that her husband has died. Marge’s life used to revolve around the addictions of her son. A 12-step recovery community has helped her let go of the cycles of blaming and saving. Liz has created a new life  following the death by suicide of her husband.

What other landscapes are buried beneath the current contours of the lives of the people around me? If I dug just a bit deeper what evidence of a whole other era would I discover? Would I be surprised by who they were or would I finally understand who they are?

 

 

Desert Landscape

I can see forever from the top of the South Rim Trail at Big Bend National Park. I’m reminded of the first time I snorkeled in the ocean. When I put my face in the water and opened my eyes the expanse, unstopped by pool walls, startled me so much I had to swim back to where I could stand and get my bearings.

Here, forever stretches not just in terms of geography but also in terms of time. I’m accustomed to trying to imagine what the landscape looked like before the subdivisions and Starbucks and Midas Muffler shops chewed up the prairie where my hometown Parker, Colorado now is. I tell people that I remember when Highlands Ranch, a large suburb of Denver, was a real ranch, with actual deer and antelope playing among the cattle. Here, in the desert corner of southwest Texas, my imagination stretches back to prehistoric times when this area was a muggy swamp populated by dinosaurs.

Everywhere I hike national park posted signs remind me to stay on the trail, that the ecosystem here is fragile. And it is. But this place is also timeless, enduring. It has survived to be home to the bravoceratops and the mountain lion, the gryposaurus and the javelina. This place has adjusted to climate changes and accommodated new species. People are like that – both easily broken and infinitely resilient.

Life changes us. There are the cataclysmic events of death, divorce, and trauma. The seismic shifts of falling in love and new vocational calls.  And there’s the seemingly inconsequential events that shape us — the sarcastic joke that makes us wince, the bid for friendship that is never answered, the affirmation of a talent we haven’t yet explored. These moments are like the steady stream of the Rio Grande that carves a canyon in desert rock. There are things that change us forever. And we persist.

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