Pet Please #71: When Something Is Too Beautiful for Your Brain to Comprehend

When I was 14, my family went on a cross-country train trip. We went up to Chicago to see a Frank Lloyd Wright house, across Utah, up to Oregon, back across Glacier National Park, and eventually we ended up back home in Virginia. It was a great trip, and I’m glad I took it when I was a little older, because I was starting to think about things. All sorts of things.

I had a lot of ideas about the world and about people and life and love–my brain was working on high gear throughout the trip. I couldn’t stop thinking and talking and loving.

And then we stopped at Bryce Canyon in Utah, and all of my thoughts stopped dead in their tracks.

We had just finished a day hike into the canyon and were getting ready to leave. I was standing at the edge of one of the overlooks. The sun was setting, and the entire world was filled with hues of orange and red and purple–not just the sky, but the entire canyon.

I distinctly remember standing there, trying to soak in all that beauty. And I simply couldn’t do it. It was too much. Too much beauty for my tiny brain to comprehend. I felt it in my chest, my heart, my lungs–every part of me was simultaneously filled with that beauty and sucked dry of comprehension.

I remember having these thoughts at the time: “I can’t comprehend this much beauty, but it’s worth knowing that there are some things in the world that are too beautiful for me to comprehend. And that’s okay.”

I cherish that moment, just as I cherish the other few moments in my life when the beauty is simply overwhelming. (In fact, they are so rare that the only other one I can remember offhand is the first time I saw breasts.)

Can you relate to this? Can you remember any of those moments/experiences?

13 thoughts on “Pet Please #71: When Something Is Too Beautiful for Your Brain to Comprehend”

  1. While I cannot relate to you feelings about seeing your first pair of breasts, I can share those feelings about a landscape. My family went to Colorado one summer, my first trip out west. I got up early one morning, packed my breakfast and hiked behind the cabin and up to a peak that over looked a small lake. The lake was so still that early in the morning, it was like looking at a mirror below the grand snow capped mountain range. Add the unbelievably beautiful sunrise and that was the moment that possessed so much beauty and serenity that my brain couldn’t hold it all. It was the best breakfast EVER!

  2. I, too, have often been in awe of many natural wonders while traveling. I understand the feeling of wanting to soak it all in and being overwhelmed by trying at the same time.

    I’m curious though. If my memory serves me correctly, you haven’t been back to Bryce Canyon since you were 14, right? Is that by design–wanting to preserve that great experience by not tarnishing it with another that may not live up to your memory? If not, why haven’t you been back?

    • Trev–You’re correct, I haven’t been back. I think part of it is that I’d be remiss to take a trip to such a faraway place when there are many other beautiful places that I haven’t been. And part of it is laziness.

  3. I had a similar experience when I was 13 and on a backpacking trip through the Ozark Mountains with my church youth group.

    We had been hiking all day on a hot, dusty trail, and everyone was cranky because it was so hot we had emptied our water bottles. A bend in the trail brought us into this clearing that was covered in lush ferns, bright green patches of springy moss, and a small stream that had a little wading pool surrounded by fallen logs. It felt like that spot belonged in a movie, because it was so beautiful, peaceful, and felt like it had been created just for us. Being able to sit on a fallen log while we refilled our water supply, and take in the awesomeness of that part view was amazing, and it boosted the spirits of the entire group. At times I wish I’d had a camera with me so I could have photographed that spot, but the memory of it stands out so much that just closing my eyes and thinking of that time almost lets me feel like I’m back in the woods and can hear the water moving in the stream.

  4. There are so many places that I would love to list here but the most overwhelming experience has to be the ocean. I lived in Mexico for five years and my life-long love affair with the ocean began. When you are a tween, everything new is cool. But the ocean and I share a special relatipnship on several levels. When I moved to Mexico, I did not speak Spanish, or any additional languages. So, things like Corn Flakes and English cable channels, ie MTV, kept me sane.

    That quickly changed with my first of many trips to the Hotel Zone. You never will have seen blue like that of the Caribbean. Mixes of turquoise, teal, indigo waters caress your feet. I didn’t get to go very far at first; however, once I was, the love affair deepened just like the waters. Glorious fish and mammals greeted me.

    When I visited more beaches, that feeling of being a resident strengthened.

    A few years ago, I returned to these places as an adult, saddled with longing and countless US Airway miles. Fortunately, I could express that joy easily now.

    And the love affair continues…

  5. Most of my awe-struck moments regarding my surroundings happened in Ireland in 2009. Here are my top 4 (in order):

    1. Croagh Patrick’s summit – After hours of climbing up the rocky incline, I definitely felt rewarded by the amazing view over the bay. Definitely a must in Ireland. (

    2. Dun Aengus on the Aran Islands – I know a lot of people rave about the Cliffs of Moher, but the cliff on Inishmoor was more stunning in my opinion. And, it’s amazing to see the fort built HUNDREDS of years ago right on the cliff’s edge – since it offered great protection against outsiders. AWESOME place – but I was definitely not brave enough to get very close to the edge.(

    3. Dingle Peninsula – During this drive you’re actually on the western most part of Ireland – they joke that they can blame any bad weather on Boston, since it’s the closest piece of land to the west of them. Awesome views of crazy green grass and the water crashing into it – and a few sheep in precarious positions. (

    4. Hill of Tara – Not the flashiest place in Ireland, but from here you can see 50+ percent of the country- including mountains that are more than 60 miles away. (

  6. What is this? A comment from Erin!? This entry hit home for me. Just had to share an excerpt from my most recent memoir.

    I released the eight-knot from my carabineer and breathed a sigh of relief. “Climber ready!” I yelled. The stone-cold walls of Wind Cave echoed in reply. I flipped on my headlamp, squinting at the newfound light as it bounced off of nearby rocks. I pulled out my map from my back pocket. According to it, I was in the Gringotts room—named after the wizarding bank in Harry Potter. Looking up from the map, I stood in amazement. White crystals shined from afar, taking on the appearance of diamonds pilled high on the floor. What looked like snow, dusted nearby rocks and geological structures. It was rough to the touch. I ever so slightly licked my index finger, the snow tasted both salty and sour—magnesium. Ten-foot daggers hung from above, waiting to stab their next unsuspecting prey. I stepped forward into a puddle on the ground and looking up, cold water slowly dripped onto my face and down my neck. It felt invigorating on my warm skin. In a 56 degree Fahrenheit cave, you wouldn’t imagine working up a sweat. But scaling an 80-foot slippery rock face in pure darkness awakens every pore in your body. During my descent, my heart felt as though it wanted to escape away from connecting tissue and out through my throat.

    I heard the clasp of a carabineer and a loud “Ughhhh” echo through the cave. I shielded my eyes from Veronica’s headlamp, the florescent beam glared brightly in my direction. I put my finger up to my lips and whispered, “I want to show you something.” Taking her hand I led her into the Gringotts room. Veronica was still breathing heavily, I could feel her pulse beat wildly through my hand. “This…” she exhaled, “Is beautiful” I finished. We both reclined down on the cold, damp floor of the room. I could feel the moisture from the dirt seep through my shirt and shorts, but I didn’t care. I reached up and turned off my headlamp. Veronica followed suit. For what seemed like hours we lied motionless in pure darkness, encased in silence. I could both feel and hear my heart beat through my ears. I began to cry, very softly. Something so empty, was so awe-inspiring. A place hidden from the world, a place where only a select few are so fortunate enough to see. Unlike the Grand Canyon, where your eyes scan the horizon and everywhere you look there is something beautiful, down here, 1000 feet below the surface of the earth, your eyes only see what is directly in front of you. According to an old Biblical verse, “those who sat in darkness, saw great light.”

  7. I’m loving all these comments–thank you all for sharing! And Elaine, you jogged my memory, as I definitely experienced a moment like that in Howth, Ireland. I tried to capture it in photos, but it was too much beauty. I experienced the same in Kyoto whenever the leaves changed colors or the cherry trees blossomed.

    I’m trying to think of such a moment that comes from something much smaller than a grand vista, something more human. Can anyone think of one?

  8. Well, I have a few of those…..But I think the human experience and a vista could be anywhere. I felt that when I was in your neck of the woods a couple years ago. I went back to the arch with some work friends. Somehow the second time around felt more alive to me.

  9. The first time I held my niece, I was completely awed by her tiny, infant perfection. I spent minutes at a time examining her ears, her eyelashes, her minute fingernails, the contours of her arms and legs….I couldn’t believe that in just 9 months, she went from an embryo to this perfect little person. I still feel that way when I rock her to sleep and she gazes into my eyes.

  10. So many beautiful moments that there are no words. I’ve taken a hot air balloon ride over Napa–that was an amazing experience (coupled with first love). A lot of splendor in and awe of nature. Catching a shooting star spontaneously as it was falling to the sky. Watching fireworks on The Esplanade in Boston as they shoot over your head and explode above.

    As for a more human experience, I will take a cue from Ansley. There is no feeling like holding your own child in your arms after waiting 9 months for her to arrive and laboring to bring her into the world. The moment when you look into your little one’s deep wonderous eyes (eyes that still can’t see that well), you feel an overwhelming surge of love, acceptance, things I can’t really put into words, to this day. When you’ve waited so long to say hello to something that you’ve created, a living breathing creature. It’s truly awesome.

  11. Musical examples immediately spring to mind if we’re talking about “too much beauty”, especially on a smaller scale than some type of grand vista. Listening to U2’s “Heartland” while driving thru northern Missouri to visit friends, “Like a Rolling Stone” coming on the radio as I roll down Highway 61, etc. In a live setting, hearing Leonard Cohen play “Famous Blue Raincoat” just a few feet from where I sat was absolutely heartbreaking.

  12. I really like the latest additions to the list–the beauty of holding a baby for the first time or hearing the perfect crescendo of music. Those are fantastic examples.


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