Time, Transitions… and Stories

By Lyman Hafen

My colleagues in the public lands partnership world sometimes wonder if I began my work in Zion during the Jurassic period. It’s true I’ve been affiliated with Zion Natural History Association, now the Zion Forever Project, for more than 35 years. I’ve worked with six park superintendents, dozens of park service employees, scores of Zion Forever staff, and the most amazing group of board members, supporters, stake-holders, and donors you could ever imagine. I’ve seen the park’s visitation and challenges grow exponentially over those years. But what has stood out most to me is how, every day, the park’s grandeur and power continue to impact individual lives in profound and individual ways, and how that impact, and the stories that come from it, have transformed visitors into stewards, consumers into contributors, awestruck tourists into deeply committed supporters.

After 25 years as executive director of the Zion Forever Project, my wife Debbie and I have determined it
is time to move on to the next chapter in our lives. I’m not walking away from Zion Forever. I will always
be joined at the hip with this great organization. However, I realize it’s time for Zion Forever to move
forward under a new generation of leadership and I’m excited to turn the reins over to a new CEO and help in any way I can to continue the movement we’ve established over the past three decades. Our excellent board of directors, our stellar staff, as well as our deeply committed circle of supporters, are well-positioned to welcome a new chief executive and move our work into a great new era.

When I came to work at Zion Forever I carried a vision of what this organization could become. The fact
that it has become something light-years beyond what I ever imagined is a testament to the great people who have and continue to lead and work here. I’ve been blessed with the opportunity of helping this organization become a meaningful, productive, and successful partner to Zion National Park, Cedar Breaks National Monument, and Pipe Spring National Monument. And I’ve been fortunate to get to combine my love of storytelling with the practical needs of these sacred landscapes. Connecting people to the landscape through story has always been my aim and it’s been at the heart of my job for all these years.

From my office window, I’ve watched the stunning still-life of Zion Canyon which seems to have changed little over the span of a human generation. And yet, as the seasons pass, the canyon changes: a rockfall here, a fire there, another millimeter of the canyon floor washed down the river toward the sea. Like the canyon, the core mission of Zion Forever has changed little in the last generation, but the way we approach our work has changed measurably year by year and today we are poised to make the difference we are meant to make on behalf of this place we love so much.

As one who spends much of his time looking back at history, I’ve been fortunate to be surrounded by
visionary people focused on the future. The evolution of our name, from Zion Natural History Association to Zion Forever, illustrates how our focus is shifting from Zion’s past to its future. An important part of our mission will always be to accurately and compellingly share the stories, the natural and human history, that got us here, but we live in a time where it is paramount that we focus our energy, our passion, and our resources on the future of this landscape to ensure our stories and the stories of our children and grandchildren, will be told in future generations.

Zion National Park can teach us many things. I can’t begin to express everything I’ve learned at the foot
of these towers of stone. But one very important thing Zion has taught me is a deeper understanding of
the concept of time. I’ve lived in this landscape for nearly seven decades. I’ve worked in the canyon
across a full human generation. Looking out my office window helps me begin to come to terms with what a small blip I am on the canyon’s timeline. Right out my window, the sheer face of the West Temple towers into the chalky blue sky. Every foot, every twelve inches, of that vertical wall of Navajo Sandstone represents a millennium. My time here, though long by business leadership standards, barely registers on that continuum. What are three decades in the 10,000-year human history of this canyon? What is one person’s career in a canyon 200 million years in the making?

Time is made of minutes, hours, days, and years. Our lives are made of stories. And stories transcend the continuum of time. Our stories connect us with the roots of our human history and the even deeper realms of the geologic past that formed the landscapes of our lives. We continue to make our own stories in this stunning landscape, stories that will connect us with the generations to come. We don’t have to fully comprehend time, we simply need to learn, and learn from, the stories of the past, create new and good stories in the present, and make sure our stories contribute to a future that will allow our descendants to experience the same. We must take care of the stories. Time will take care of itself. I believe that’s what we’re doing with Zion Forever. Facilitating the kind of good storytelling from the past, connecting it to the stories we are making today, and projecting the good that comes from our own stories into a future where Zion Canyon will always mean to succeeding generations what it means to us today.

Stop a moment.
Stop along the slickrock trail.
A moment.
A minute.
And try to come to terms
With how it all came to be.
How the sculptor’s tools:
Water, Rock and Time
Left behind
The rim rising in soft relief.
Walls and ledges and ridges towering
And plunging
In a random order so artful
The heart has no choice

But to race.

And that minute,
That sixty seconds,
What is it:
And why time?
Could it be, as Einstein said,
So that everything does not
Happen at once?

What is a minute in
This deep canyon where
The river rolls endlessly on.
What is a moment among
These castles in the clouds
Where a millennium is
But a heartbeat,
Where Forever is now.

Excerpt from the poem, Water, Rock & Time
By Lyman Hafen