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The National Parks System : Celebrate The Majesty of Nature
This first section is purely informational in nature; the rest is purely emotional in nature.
For those of you who missed the announcement, this coming week, April 21-29, is National Park Week in the United States. Free admission is being offered at the 397 sites managed by the National Park Service and there will be many special events held throughout the week.
The National Park Service was established in 1916 to manage and protect designated areas so that they may be preserved for all-time. The NPS manages 58 National Parks as well as National Monuments and they do so with 22,000 employees under the management of the Department of the Interior. The first national park established, the grand-daddy of them all, was Yellowstone National Park and it was opened in 1872.
During this special week of celebration there are several opportunities to become involved on a personal level in the maintenance of our parks. April 21st has been designated Volunteer Day; roll up your sleeves and sign up for one of the many clean-up and maintenance jobs that will be available to the public. On Sunday, April 22nd, there will be celebrations across the country for Earth Day and on April 28th they are having National Junior Ranger Day, giving kids a chance to attend special activities and become honorary park rangers.
TIME FOR SOME INTROSPECTION
Truth be told, if I had my way all construction would stop as of this moment. A ban would be in place and the unstoppable bludgeoning of this land or ours would come to a halt. There would be no more new housing communities, no new shopping malls and certainly no more mining or deforestation. We would wake up one day and look out over the despoiled landscape and as one we would rise up in celebration for the termination of the insanity.
Those are dreams of the foolish, however, and this writer has been called many things but foolish is not one of them. I have a firm grasp on reality and the reality we face in the year 2012 is that the population is growing rapidly and more of Mother Earth is needed to accommodate the rising tides of humanity. I find it profoundly sad and in a strange twist of fate I now understand what the Native Americans must have felt in the 18th and 19th Centuries as they watched the flood of immigrants move further and further west, a relentless swarm of greed and need, construction and destruction, constantly pushing aside the wilderness to claim their own legacy and destiny.
So my thoughts turn to this special week; what should be a reason for celebration is somehow tinged with regret and melancholy as I peer into the future and wonder about the outcome of this gluttony and insensitivity, this constant need to have more despite the consequences, for we truly are a short-sighted nation seemingly incapable of seeing beyond our own daily demands. Yes, that saddens me and what saddens me more is knowing that I am part of the problem. Despite my best intentions, despite my efforts to educate my students about the environment, I could be doing more and have chosen not to because I am…..busy living my life!
ON A PERSONAL LEVEL
My parents came from the Midwest; Iowa and Missouri to be precise and when they arrived in Washington State they were in awe of the natural beauty of the area. They chose to live in Tacoma which sits along the shoreline of the Puget Sound, a beautiful inland sea dotted with islands. From their neighborhood they could see the Cascade Mountains, dominated by Mt. Rainier, as lovely a sentinel of nature as one could ever hope to see, and to the west the cragged Olympic Mountains rose above the waters of Puget Sound, offering food for the soul of anyone willing to embrace their rugged beauty.
In that setting I was born and some of my earliest memories are of family picnics in the state parks and the occasional trip to Mt. Rainier where Douglas Firs reached for the heavens and served as a constant reminder of our miniscule stature in the grand scheme of things. It all seemed so unreal to me, so breathtaking, so……humbling! In those mountains, in that National Park, I found a kinship, a home away from home where I was instantly accepted, where the firs and the pines reached out to me, spoke to me and allowed me to just be.
My love affair with nature and the National Parks began when I was five years of age and it has continued for almost six decades. I have walked countless trails, climbed peaks, camped under the stars and tried to capture as much of the beauty as I possibly could through photography. I have stood atop Mt. Rainier, watched as a moose jumped over my car in Yellowstone, caught my breath as the sun set over Yosemite and bowed my head in stunned silence upon first seeing The Grand Tetons. I have watched as bighorn sheep scrambled up rocky ledges in The Badlands, gaped at the sight of thousands of caribou in Denali, felt dwarfed by those ancient guardians in The Redwoods and contemplated the existence of God while hiking through Glacier.
Thirty-eight of the fifty-eight I have seen, inhaling each fragrance, listening to the subtle sounds spoken to me and each time I have been saddened when the time to leave arrived. The lessons my parents taught me, lessons of respect for nature and appreciation for the wonder that surrounds me, have only grown stronger as the years have marched on. And yet that nagging fear that it will all one day disappear continues to deeply concern me.
WHAT CAN BE DONE FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS?
I have a natural distrust of the government. All too often I have been discouraged and disenchanted as politicians took the easier route in making decisions, influenced more often than not by campaign donations that spell trouble for nature. However, the people who work in these parks, who have been entrusted with their care and preservation, are some of the most dedicated people I have met. It is quite obvious that theirs is a labor of love, that they completely comprehend the sacred trust that they have been given, and for that I am grateful and encouraged. It is not enough, though, if this legacy of preservation is to be continued and in fact multiplied.
Those of you reading this today will be gone soon, as will I, and then the responsibility will pass on to our children. What will they do? Will they accept the stewardship that is passed down to them or will they turn their backs on a job that must be done if the National Parks are to survive and flourish? For all of the aforementioned reasons I believe this week, National Parks Week, is so important. What a wonderful opportunity to take children to parks and let them feel the very heartbeat of nature. What a wonderful opportunity to teach them about lessons that have been passed down since 1872. What a wonderful opportunity to guarantee that a legacy handed down to us will survive and thrive.
If we do not accept this challenge then one day in the not-so-distant future we will become less than what we could have been. We will have been given a glimpse of heaven and instead accepted the instant gratification of fast food, condos and convenience for the sake of convenience. Instead of standing on the shoulders of the giants who came before us we will root around foraging with the other scavengers who were once below us.
The choice is ours as a civilization. National Parks Week….so much more than a celebration….it is a call to action.
2012 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
Do you have some activities planned for National Parks Week?
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