Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Sometimes we have to go OUT to look IN...

Yesterday afternoon I drove up to Seattle with a couple of coworkers to attend the preview of Ken Burn's new series The National Parks: America's Best Idea. Local PBS folks gave a nice introduction; Chip Jenkins (Superintendent, North Cascades National Park) gave a few remarks on not only the film itself, but also our National Parks and their past and future. Ken Burns and his co-producer Dayton Duncan spoke about their work, answered questions and showed some clips from the film.

Geographies of Memory and Hope

I remember walking around Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park when I was younger. The park offered a little booklet that told about the lake. Every so often along the trail, you see a small sign engraved with a bear paw and a number. The number corresponded with something significant at that location along the trail and you could read about that 'thing' in the trail booklet. My mom always read the information out loud to us. Dad was usually kneeling down, trying to take a close-up shot of a wildflower. My brother scampered about the rocks like a little (big?) squirrel. Perhaps I just took everything in.

It was experiences like this that drew me in. The last ten years or so, as I've traveled on my own, I've seen cities. I've seen farmland. I've seen some of our iconic rivers, shifting sand dunes, tiny wildflowers, soaring eagles, the highest peak in North America. Sometimes I've been with my friends, sometimes I've been on my own. Lots of amazing experiences and memories; I do my best to let those guide my practices here at work in our National Park.

It's amazing what happens to me at a trailhead. My ears tune into the songs of the birds. My stomach relaxes. My breathing gets deeper. My head clears of the clutter and crap of the so-called civilized world.

I am allowed to just be me. No pressure to dress a certain way. Or think a certain way. The natural world takes me as I am. I am allowed to feel and experience whatever comes my way. The joy of a little flower smiling up at the sun. A squirrel chattering in alarm as I walk through his territory. The water crashing in mighty waves over rocks. The warmth of the sun on my face. It gives me hope that the (again, so-called) civilized aspects of life will all work out just fine. Life at its finest.

The following are three old pictures that I still get a kick out of....

Me and my friend Whitney, the day we ran away from 'real life' for six hours to get out of Fairbanks and reconnect with the hills. Good times at Denali.

One of many snowshoe hikes to Dream Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. The wind and the magpies make great trail companions. They love showing me their home.

Hannah Smith, wearing a hat that she knit herself, near the end of a snowshoe hike to Mills Lake with me and our friend Grannyheart. Does the snow taste good? You should have experienced it for yourself!

"Stimulus isn't just a set of zeros in the newspaper..." -Ken Burns on The National Parks: America's Best Idea

The local NPR station interviewed Burns this week about his film, his experiences, and his views on our parks. He talked about a lot of the people and the vision that set aside our special places. People like John Muir had a relationship with the land around him. He felt the need to protect the areas that nourished his life. From my standpoint, I see this as a give-and-take relationship. I give time and energy to not only experience these precious places, but also to protect them and connect my neighbors to them. In turn, I get peace, rest and a view of the world few Americans are lucky enough to experience.

Burns also asked, "What kind of country sets aside a place where they made huge mistakes?" Look at some of our country's historic sites. How about Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas? The National Park Service is charged with caring for these remnants of our cultural history too. Will these areas help us learn about ourselves? Will we let them teach us? I believe it was Stephen T. Mather (first director of the National Park Service) who called our parks "Vast schoolrooms of Americanism."

I really would encourage you all to listen to our local NPR station interview with Ken Burns from earlier this week. Go to THIS address; you can listen online or download the interview.

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