A Lesson on Impermanence: Natural Bridge Falls

This year marked the first time that I stayed in Salt Lake City for the entirety of the summer, with only short trips home. As a result, I found myself growing more and more excited as I approached the date for my week long visit to Montana. I carefully considered all of the things that I wanted to do with the limited number of days available to me. I always knew, however, what was at the very top of my list. If you travel up one of the valleys near my home, you'll encounter a beautiful landscape of cliffs carved by the Boulder river. For most of the year, the Boulder flows through large channels it has carved out, disappearing for long stretches underground. At high water, however, there is occasionally enough water flowing down the channel that some passes right over the tunnel and forms a spectacular waterfall known as Natural Bridge Falls.

Now, the middle of summer is normally far too late for this much water to be in the river. The early summer had some strange weather, however, so I thought there may be a chance that water was going over the falls. When we reached the parking area near the river, I immediately had some hope; water was flowing down the channel below the falls, signifying high water. I was shocked, then, to discover that nothing was flowing over the cliff. The problem soon became apparent when I crossed over to the far bank: part of the opening to the underground channel had collapsed. The opening to the tunnel was so large that all of the water was flowing through even at high water. Perhaps the river would never again hold enough water to go over the falls in my lifetime.

I was struck with a feeling of loss by this revelation. I know I shouldn’t have been surprised about such a dramatic change so quickly. The area is very dynamic, and has already experienced substantial alterations during human inhabitance. There used to actually be a natural stone bridge that spanned the river until 1988, when it collapsed with no warning. More collapses were to be expected with time. It had never been a sure thing that water would go over the falls during a given year, in any case. Every time I left the falls, I considered the possibility that I may never see them go over again. Still, I was shocked when this became real.

It took quite a bit of thought and processing, but I think I finally understand why I reacted the way I did. Despite knowing the impermanent nature of the falls, I question now whether or not I appreciated them enough when they were around. I enjoyed them, sure, but I always thought that they would be there, maybe not the next time I visited, but sometime in the future. Now, I’ll never see them again in person.

We’ve all been told to appreciate what is here, now, because it might not be here in the future. The disappearance of the falls has been my personal wake-up call to pay more attention to this fact. I hope this article can do the same for you in a less dramatic fashion. We never know how long the things we love will be around. Take time to appreciate them as they are, and take in the special moments. That way, if the worst comes around, you’ll always have memories to keep them with you. And if nothing bad ever happens, then you’ll never be at a loss for cherished moments in life.


Images: Cover, 1, 2, 3 author's own