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Reasons to Hope: The Last Days of WOW Trip

Join us as writer Sarah Wells wraps up her family road trip across America, seeing creation in all its glory, and how it’s helped her find her Reasons to Hope…

“FYI, St. Louis has had 8-10” of rain and is flooded badly. Not sure if you were still heading that way,” my mom texted me Wednesday.

We were a day out from St. Louis still, on our way out of the mountains and quickly into the open land of tree-free horizons. After so many days of new ridges and canyons around every turn, the skyline was only interrupted by telephone wires and wind turbines across eastern Colorado and into western Kansas. The only buildings tall enough to scrape the sky were grain elevators and water towers.

Our destination for the night was Kansas City, where we planned to eat BBQ at BB’s Lawnside BBW and listen to some live blues music. While we waited for our food and for the band to start to play, I spent some time trying to track down the locations we planned to visit in St. Louis—the Arch and the City Museum—to see if they were impacted by the flood.

Although we were lucky to have beautiful skies and pleasant temperatures most of our trip, extreme weather seemed to press down its heavy hand in almost every place we went. Nearly 60% of South Dakota and 70% of Idaho is experiencing drought conditions. Just one month prior to our trip, Yellowstone endured an historic flood that wiped out roads, canyons, power, and water systems. By the time we arrived, the only parts of the park that were still closed were the North and Northeast Entrances, particularly Lamar Valley, Gardner Canyon, and Tower Junction.

Mild winters, drought conditions, invasive plant species, and more have contributed to the outbreak of Mountain Pine Beetles across the Rocky Mountain National Park in recent years, causing the demise of thousands and thousands of pine trees. Although it’s a native species, the change in local climate conditions has dramatically impacted forests across the Rockies. Just one day after we were in Estes Park, the valley was hammered with a hailstorm that dumped almost a foot of hail in the area. 

And the record-breaking St. Louis floods became the Kentucky floods the next day as both regions experienced a “one-in-a-thousand-year rain event,” devastating both communities.

Flooding on a coal temple in Kentucky. Image: CN Aerials

I remembered my interview about climate change and sustainability with Sara Gutterman, CEO at Green Builder Media, who said, “We’re beyond the point of debating why it’s happening. It’s happening. It’s time to join together to talk about solutions and adopt solutions.”

That’s the next step, now, as the waters rise and the plains dry and the forests catch fire and the floods come, how do we live in a quickly changing world impacted by such extreme weather events? 

One of the most bittersweet takeaways from our trip for me is how few untouched places there are left in this world, and how grateful I am that we’ve dedicated at least some of this great land as precious to us, as national treasures. And yet it has not gone untouched. The parks require staffing and regulations to keep us from stomping all over everything, from posting “no spray painting and tree carving” notices to urging visitors not to climb on every single surface so as to preserve, restore, and reforest what has gone to dust. 

“This land is your land, this land is my land,” sang Woody Guthrie, but as my husband told my boys the other day, we aren’t very good at taking care of what’s been given to us (or what we’ve taken). This trip opened my eyes wider to just how huge the world is, and just how small I am in it. It also showed me how few quiet places there are left to experience the wilderness, to climb to the top of a mountain and witness the work of God instead of gift shops. In some ways my own backyard is wilder than many of the places we stayed on this trip, less inhabited, less stepped on and over. 

Of course, one of the beautiful mysteries of God is that you don’t have to go to the mountains to meet your maker. “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?” the Psalmist asked. “If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”

On the final day of our road trip, we stopped at Ohio Wesleyan University, one of the schools on Lydia’s list of potential colleges, to have a look around. There happened to be an admissions event taking place, and Henry had a hundred questions.

“Do you have welding?” he asked. “How about ecology? One last question, do you have wildlife conservation?”

The admissions rep shared how they have a zoology program, and that her daughter graduated from that program and is actually working now at the Columbus Zoo. This lit my son up with hope, to hang out with porcupines and hold snakes all day.

You have to seek the wild places out. I want to keep seeking them out. I want them to be there for my children and grandchildren to seek out as well. What a gift we have—let us never forget to treasure it.

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