Relationships are tough. They cause pain and heartache, but also bring happiness and love. They give us incredible highs not found anywhere else, while still having the power to completely destroy us for days, weeks, months or years. They come and they go, leaving us forever changed, for bad or for great. They take and they give, they inspire and they crush. If healthy, they allow us to love and be loved.

True love, soul mates, an irrational infatuation- no matter how you define it, most of us want it. 

Drawn together through the fog of life, our relationships, at their best, are indescribable perfection, clearing your mind of all stresses. As if your eyes are open for the first time, some relationships let you appreciate beauty all around you. The cynic in me warns that this won’t last. That all relationships will eventually hurt, bringing you to your knees with soul-stabbing sadness. I may be right, I may be wrong, but this is all just a long winded introduction. 

I fell in love early, far too young to know what I was doing. I was just a kid, but I thought I knew everything. A cocky youngster of the Pacific Northwest, I had my own ideals of what beauty was, assuming I knew exactly what I needed in life. We had done it all, found new heights and discovered things we didn’t know about each other. I had studied every inch, memorizing every detail of the beauty before me. We had grown up together and it was all I knew. For six years, we had it all and I didn’t believe I could be happier.

I was, of course, lying. Nothing is always perfect. Some nights are sleepless and you feel the freeze. Sometimes, it is best if you avoid each other until you can fix the problems that existed. Those relationships worth fixing have highs and lows, but you remain optimistic about the future, believing you will be together, forever. 

That is what we had. 

And then I saw something new and nothing else mattered. The past evaporated like a snowball in a hot spring and I knew what I wanted in my life for the future. 

Sunset at Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park via The Outdoor Society

Maybe it was the thin air in the Rockies. Maybe it was the way the big blue sky above us, but I fell in love at first sight and immediately felt my feelings shifting away from Olympic National Park. 

I fell in love, at first sight, with Yellowstone National Park.

For the first six years of my life, I had only explored public lands in the Pacific Northwest. It was home and honestly, I thought there was nowhere else in the world that mattered. I was biased toward the Olympic Peninsula, believing all who weren’t as intrigued as I were rubes and imbeciles. Then, in 1987, my family took a trip to Yellowstone. 

I have told the story a million times, and will tell it a million more I’m sure. That first trip, I saw bison and hot springs, geysers and mountains, prairies and pine forests. My brain was rewired. I was transfixed and couldn’t stop thinking about the park. A year after we met, she caught on fire, burning so much that I feared she would never return. Yet, her resilience shouldn’t have been doubted. She was strong, much stronger than anyone knew. Over the next 30 years, my feelings for her only grew deeper. 

I worked at Yellowstone. I lived at Yellowstone. I loved at Yellowstone. 

The bliss I felt when I was in Yellowstone made me feel extremely guilty. For years, my love of Yellowstone and the Tetons made me feel like I was betraying my first love. Partially because of this, I moved back to Washington in my late 20s, doubling down on reconnecting with my first love of Olympic National Park. Despite this, I constantly felt like I wasn’t giving Olympic the full attention it deserved, and what I was doing was unforgivable. I felt like my friends and family, even my readers, lost respect for me, like I was  Washington State’s Public Lands Benedict Arnold.

In public, I was repping the Pacific Northwest loud and proud, even getting hate mail for sharing my love of it with others. Nobody knew, but once I was alone, I daydreamed of future moments in Yellowstone. I become known as an expert on Olympic National Park, writing guidebooks and trying my best to inspire others to love the park as much as me, but my heart was split. 

It wasn’t until a few years ago I decided to ignore what others thought. For me, I had to realize that being shackled down to just one Park was against my best interests.

Hiking up to Upper Royal Basin in Olympic National Park

We do not need to be National Park monogamists. We can love as many parks as we want.

We all can love as many National Parks as we wish, and we don’t need to have a favorite. My forever-crush on Olympic is allowed. My longing for the Tetons is appropriate, as is my lusting after Glacier and the Canyonlands. The feeling I get for the Grand Canyon and Mount Rainier are healthy, and how I feel about Crater Lake is nothing of which I need be ashamed.

We don’t need to be pegged into this antiquated way of thinking, that one park is somehow greater than any other. Each of us has a different relationship with every park around the country and it is awesome. We each love our public lands and that is all that matters. We share common values and only wish the best for our objects of our affections. Love one, love them all, it doesn’t matter. All that matters is that you love and encourage others to have incredible relationships with our Public Lands. 

This post was written in one hour for my #NatureWritingChallenge, where this week’s topic was “A Moment of Love Witnessed, Experienced or Shared on Public Lands?”

Want to join in on the fun? Read more about this challenge here. 


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