Being Small in a Big World

Yesterday Dave and I hiked in St. Croix State Park, Minnesota’s largest state park, which has something close to 100 miles of hiking trails.

When we left the main road and entered the park, it was about a fifteen minutes drive before we hit the Park Headquarters, where we picked up a trail map. It then took another 15 minutes to drive to the parking place for the trail head we were looking for. This park was immense! And, as near as I could tell, for several hours we were the only people around.

The trail we walked was, according to Dave’s guidebook, one of those in the park with the most beautiful scenery, but also one that was very underutilized. (The campsties were on the other side of the park, miles and miles away, and this one took sufficient effort to find that I’m guessing many casual hikers picked trails closer to the park entrance.) The result was that, for a good part of the hike, the trail was very overgrown. It was possible to pick our way through and be confident we were still on the trail, but the grasses and bushes blocked good parts of the path, and the wooden planks covering muddy portions of the trail should have been replaced long ago. It wasn’t all overgrown: The trail also took us through majestic pine groves – long thin trees reaching to the sky.

The simplest word I can use to express how I felt during our hike today was humbled. Humans often feel so big, so in control of the world. But in a park like this, it is not only that it is me alone wandering through miles and miles of nature with no sign of other humans. And not only that the in the battle between me and the mosquitoes, I was the loser (by a mile.) But I see how ephemeral our traces are. The trails we make disappear in a short time as nature takes back over.

It is a very big world. And we are a small part of it.