National Parks Hold the Middle Ground Between Heaven and Earth

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Happy New Year 2018!!

Watching the New Year’s Eve celebration on CNN, I saw hundreds of thousands of people gathered in Times Square in freezing temperatures for as much as 16 hours to watch the ball drop at midnight. Large crowds in Nashville, TN and Key West, Florida, awaited the dropping of a musical note and a shoe respectively. Resisting the lure of the anchor drop a few blocks away in Fort Lauderdale, we stayed cozily in bed with a cocktail and gave thanks for the privilege of seeing a new year.

Then I had this mindboggling thought:

In the 16 hours that people braved significant discomfort and waited with great anticipation for a ball to fall from a great height, a few other balls had also been in motion. The Earth ball had turned itself two-thirds of the way on its axis in its 24-hour rotation showing different hemispheres to the Sun; simultaneously it had moved more than half of one degree on its 365-day journey to complete one revolution around the Sun. Seven other “balls” or planets in our solar system had also kept turning in their perfect orbit, never crashing into each other.

“What does that have to do with the price of eggs?” my husband asked, laughing when I told him.

“Well, we spend so much time distracted by our human creations and our need for ‘entertainment,’ that we ignore the really big things that are going on around us,” I retorted. “If we contemplated things on the macrocosmic level instead of the microcosmic, maybe we would see that we’re all part of the same thing, that we have more in common than we have differences. We’d know we’re equally vulnerable to the effects of climate change, to a disease that can reach from one end of the world to another in one day. Maybe it’d change our approach to life.”

Frank rolled his eyes but I know he appreciates where I’m coming from.

If there is a middle ground between the loftiness of cosmos and the minutiae with which many of us fill our daily lives, it can and should be experienced in our National Park System. Our national parks contain the most authentic examples of creation/evolution remaining on our planet

Once you’ve stood on the rim of the Grand Canyon National Park and heard the Park Ranger point out that where you are standing is the youngest layer at approximately 250 million years old, your focus shifts from the transitory to the eternal.

I’ve stood in many of our national parks that are World Heritage Sites, meaning that they are part of the heritage of the entire human race. In Everglades National Park, I was struck almost dumb by the sign explaining why it is an International Biosphere Reserve, as it provides “a standard against which the impact of man can be measured….”

Why do we need a park system that cannot be affected by the transitory priorities of politics and human hubris? Consider that a little over 500 years ago when Europeans first arrived in this part of North America, gold flowed out of the hills and you could drink from every stream. Contrast that with where we are today where the detritus from our progress is visible all around us, where we accept garbage and filth as a regular part of daily life and buy bottled water from stores. One of our worst side effects is on the health of people, particular Americans of color or the poor.

While a percentage of us – me included – enjoy the benefits of our “progress,” it must be obvious to all that we cannot continue indefinitely on this course. Mother Nature is forgiving but our resources are not infinite, and certainly not at the rate we are consuming them.

Our national parks are the last remaining places that generations of Americans have saved in their purity and perfection, to remind us who we are, from whence we came, and to provide us with the resources that we need to live – clean air; clean water; functional ecosystems.

So when the current administration tries to treat them as just so many acres waiting to be exploited, it is a very big deal. It requires each one of us to rise to that challenge of determining what’s going to happen to our homeland, our nation, our planet.

On this first work day of the New Year, I invest my time and talent in celebrating these unique treasures that are our birthright. I invite you to join me in upholding the sanctity of those sacred spaces between heaven and Earth that help us keep our aspirations high and our focus on the eternal.

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