Quote of the Day:
“The mountains are calling and I must go.” –John Muir
TB has been looking forward to Ken Burns’ series on the National Parks ever since hearing of it several months ago. I didn’t really know what to expect, other than some great photography. I hoped to learn of parks less publicized and of better ways to see more of the famed ones than what makes the wikipedia page. I was only mildly interested in how they came to be, satisfied that they did, and more concerned with how to see it all in a lifetime too short and too otherwise occupied.
So when I tuned in Sunday night for the first episode, I immediately began a mental groan with the realization that much of the focus, at least of this episode, was on “why” National Parks instead of “hooray!” National Parks. But before the sound could begin to form in my mind’s ear, I began to learn about John Muir, and those who encouraged him. Muir, it seems, saw God in what was to become Yosemite National Park, and later travelled widely finding the Gospel and remnants of Eden all over the West, all the while spreading this brand of evangelism of nature. Suddenly I wanted to know more about the “why.”
Why the change? Because I vividly recall the first moment I saw the Rocky Mountains in Montana. A fleeting, indefinable charge coursed through me, only brushing the edge of consciousness. I did not then and do not now completely comprehend it. I pulled over to the side of the road to get out and look over the last of the Plains to the jagged, snowy peaks yet an hour or more away. After several minutes I got back in the car and sat down to collect myself. It was the closest I have ever come to seeing God. I drove on, a smile of wonder plastered on my face. Some people get this elation from Church, some from meditation, and some from drugs I suppose. But for me, since that moment, the presence of God can be most acutely felt in the unspoiled places, and I was first open to the experience that day I drove on impulse to see Glacier National Park. This feeling, I learned, was one I shared with John Muir. And he was able to spread the word so effectively that ordinary Americans who would never travel west raised their collective voice to demand preservation of some of these wild places for the greater good, for the future.
In an era of laissez-faire economics and unchecked post-Civil War capitalism, Americans were able to set aside for a moment ideology with a realization that exceptions could be made. We, our ancestors that is, did something for once that superseded pursuit of the almighty dollar. Many of the lands that now comprise the parks were in fact donated by the very tycoons who symbolized the era. Because even in a nation built on the premise of individualism, competition and the accumulation of private wealth, it was recognized that parallel pursuit of benefits for the common good was not inconsistent. The people and the barons read the words of John Muir and must have recognized the God they had once seen in some place back east, but where He could no longer be found, and they knew He must not be confined in this country to the church buildings. Ken Burns subtitled his series “America’s Best Idea.” It was an idea born purely of John Muir’s and the nation’s spiritualism. For me, this was worth knowing.
“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.” –John Muir