In Our National Parks, I Stepped Away From the Cliff of Despair and Found Joy!

Monday morning I woke up thinking that since my greatest desire is to inspire the American public with our national parks; the best way to do that might be to show the parks through the eyes of the family I've just learned is driving around the country in their RV exploring parks.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

In the midst of turbulence, I often retreat into a scene in one of my favorite national parks and allow myself to feel the calmness I experience there. After a few minutes of sitting in Yosemite Valley or driving through the Grand Tetons, my mind assumes the tranquil state in which I know everything is in perfect order.

A few minutes centering myself in this view of Yosemite Valley from the tunnel usually restores my sunny perspective.

So when my entire communications system shut down last week and even my phone went dead, I accepted there was a reason, and calmly set about trying to fix it. The news uppermost on my mind was the Supreme Court's agreement to hear the fossil fuel industry's challenge to President Obama's Clean Action Plan, even as scientists tell us the Scar Inlet Ice Shelf in Antarctica may break off by the end of March, with who knows what disastrous consequences.

I used the down time to reflect on whether I am becoming jaded. Why did I choose to zero in on the negative environmental news and string them together to show a shocking picture? If I was more optimistic, might I not choose to pick out the bits of promising news instead , such as President Obama prioritizing the Land and Water Conservation Fund in his budget, and protecting almost two million acres in the California desert, and string those together to paint a more hopeful picture?

I discussed my predicament with my husband Frank and he suggested that I trust my gut as I usually do. Problem was, for the first time, my gut was confused.

Then, visiting the Frederick Douglass National Historical Site in DC on Saturday for the birthday celebrations of that great man, I heard young orators deliver searing passionate speeches that he used to prick the conscience of our country in 1841, such as his speech on The Church and Slavery.

"Frederick Douglass spoke out relentlessly about the contradictions between what America says and what she practices," I told my audience later. "So today as part of his legacy I must draw attention to the contradiction I see in how we're addressing the greatest problem of our time - climate change. Science shows that large numbers of people and huge sections of our infrastructure including the parks will be affected by rising seas within the next 15 years, but many of our 'leaders' and aspirants for the highest office in the land slough off responsibility by professing that they 'do not believe' in climate change. This significantly retards efforts to deal with the cause and prepare to deal with the effects. How can we as a society accept these diametrically opposed positions when the difference can be so catastrophic?"

I felt a lot better once I got that off my chest. Then on Sunday I had the privilege of going to the Everglades on a perfect sunny cool day with friends visiting from Massachusetts, including an 8-year-old boy. I got to see my beloved Glades from the perspective of first-timers and the enthusiasm of a young man who knows more birds than me and keeps a list of every animal he sees while outdoors. I suggested that his parents buy him a National Parks Passport so he could keep a record of all the parks he'll visit in his lifetime. To see his excitement when he got his first stamp and pulled out the map of the entire National Park System was priceless.

"Look how many more places I have to go!" he exclaimed enthusiastically.

My sentiments exactly. By now my feelings were wholly tranquil, particularly as we saw more visitors in the park than we had ever seen before them, and much greater diversity. We met families from nearby Miami that frequented Virginia Key Beach when it was still the only "Colored Beach" in the area, and invited them to the climate discussion there next Wednesday. I can only presume that the free trolley from Homestead, the gateway city to the park and the huge news signs at Miami International Airport are enticing a lot more people to the park. On Valentine's Day!

Two of the Brooks children enjoying themselves on the dunes in White Sands National Monument.

Monday morning I woke up thinking that since my greatest desire is to inspire the American public with our national parks; the best way to do that might be to show the parks through the eyes of the family I've just learned is driving around the country in their RV exploring parks. An anthropologist specializing in bioarchaeology and forensics on sabbattical from her job as a professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Winthrop University, Christina Brooks had written to us rapturously describing her experiences and offering to help publicize the parks to others.

"People protect what they love," I reasoned, so the Brooks' experience might help get more people out to our parks where they will be aroused by the examples left for us by Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, Harriett Tubman and William Lloyd Garrison among many others.

Magically, with that decision all my equipment came back on line Monday morning. More exquisitely, I found that my friend Teresa Baker had already shared the Brooks' entrancing story.

I'm not sure what I take away from this experience except that time in our parks help me to step away from the cliff of despair and resolve to keep striving to make others aware that there's great peril and opportunity in our time. Like the people whose experiences are preserved in our parks, it's time for each of us to decide what action we will take to confront the great challenges that face us today -- climate change; protecting our public lands system from those who want to degrade it, and above all, pursuing truth, liberty and justice for all.

Go To Homepage

Popular in the Community