Mom, Why Are You Taking a Picture of Nothing?

Polychrome Mountains in Denali National Park

We were riding on a bus that brings tourists into the heart of Denali National Park in Alaska.  The sun broke through the clouds to light up the beautiful Polychrome Mountains.  Their red, yellow and brown rocks were laid down 60 million years ago when volcanoes erupted frequently in this area.  The driver stopped the bus so we could enjoy the spectacular view.  We all took out our cameras, slid open the windows, and started snapping photos of the mountain mosaic.

That’s when an 8-year-old boy in the seat in front of us exclaimed, “Mom, why are you taking a picture of nothing?”

There was no wildlife in sight.  No bears, moose, sheep or wolves.  Or for that matter, there were no fast cars, movie stars, professional athletes, or explosions.  Just a big old pile of rocks.  The boy was too young to comprehend and appreciate the beauty of God’s creation that laid before us.

Darby and Shadow sniff for critters above the Copper River in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park

We experience the same phenomena when we hike with our dogs Darby and Shadow.  We usually choose routes that have fantastic views of something–mountains, lakes, glaciers–or all three if we are lucky.  To achieve a good view, we often have to climb hundreds or thousands of feet in elevation to get high enough to see something worth seeing.  This hard work tends to make the view at the end even more rewarding.

Yet our dogs never notice the grand panorama in the distance.  They don’t appreciate the colorful beauty of the wildflowers on the ground in front of them.  Their field of view is about 3 feet high and 10 feet deep and is primarily focused on little critters.  Sure they enjoy hiking with us in these magnificent parks.  But they would be just as happy walking in a municipal park or even down the street near our home, as they were in the 13-million-acre Wrangell-St. Elias National Park shown in the photo above.

Of course unlike dogs, humans possess the ability to appreciate abstract beauty.  But appreciation for the natural world is an acquired taste that fewer people are enjoying in this developed and technological world.  The number of visitors to our national parks is steadily decreasing while the visitors themselves are growing older. 

Children between the ages of 8-18 spend over 7 hours each day consuming digital media, so it’s no surprise that today’s youth are losing interest in the natural world.  John Hayes of the Indiana Dunes Learning Center points out that, “Without a generation of kids who have had good experiences with national parks, then in a very short amount of time, we may not have enough people who care about national parks to keep them going.”  Perhaps the best thing a parent can do is send their kids outside to play.

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