National Parks in the Battle for Soul of America

Whoever said you can't go back home again was wrong. On a 10-day retreat to my Jamaican homeland in celebration of my 65th birthday I rediscovered the places and the ethos of the people that made me a fierce defender of Nature, our National Parks and public lands system, and a believer in Rep. John Lewis' "Beloved Community" where all are as one.

Our friend Sheena invests her days maintaining her lavish estate and gardens so luminous that they attract visitors from across the country and was featured in Health Home & Garden Jamaican Magazine, Fall/Winter 2015.

In a deliberate digital detox, I put my phone on airplane mode, did not get on my computer and watched no TV. Frank and I, our daughter Lisa from Atlanta, friends including Carolyn Hartfield of Hartsfield Hikers entered the mystical garden retreat nurtured by my high school friend Sheena, and surrendered to beauty and harmony.

Other friends privileged to still live in Jamaica came to our party and we ate by candlelight on the lawn. A nationwide power blackout was broken just in time for the dancing to start, and I danced to the carefree song I loved most as a teenager, "Wash all my troubles away," by Prince Busta.

Behind the house where I was born, the gully bed is filled with grass. I was ready to bemoan the end of the stream where I sat quietly for hours as a child, absorbing the feel and view and sounds of nature.

"Come man! I'll show you!" my eight year old cousin urged.

My twin cousins twice removed took me back to my gully and shimmied up the tree to bring me back unbruised otaheite apples.

Running up the street behind him, after a few yards he turned right and disappeared in the bushes. I followed and suddenly, there it was! Falling over a jutting rock, at this point the gully ran wild and free tumbling into a 3-foot pool below.

"Do you still see mangoes bobbing down the river?" I asked.

"Mangoes? No! Apples!"

"Apples?" I asked, thinking American varieties.

"Yes," he said, pointing.

And there it was. A gigantic Otaheite apple tree FULL of delicious delicate red apples on the opposite bank - my second favorite Jamaican fruit that I'd been yearning for. My nephews shimmied up the tree and brought down apples in their pockets to protect them from bruising.

Visiting my high school Clarendon College I walked the campus with some of my classmates, a retired civil servant and a banker of almost 40 years. On the campus set on a hill overlooking a 300-degree panorama of undulating hills with shocks of flowering color, I realized how lucky I was to be socialized in this place. My friends referred to me as our class' English standout, and mentioned I was such a formidable debater that few thought they could win against me. Evidently, I was good at formulating the logical argument then that I've put into service on behalf of our national parks for 21 years.

With eight of us heading to Montego Bay for a concerningly pricey weekend, our hostess called her friends and in short order we had a villa in the mountains, a five minute walk from the Caribbean Sea, for the price of paying the helper to cook for us. Not only was she a fabulous cook but sitting out on the verandah and overlooking the pool, we were inspired by her stories of how she lives in faith and how it manifests in supply. She confided that she had an obligation which she had no way of meeting and was praying when we showed up with money.

So that's where I learned community, I thought. The unseen hand is moving us all in the direction where all needs are met, if we only love and comply. Our national parks can play such a big role in resetting us, which is why I cannot let go of the subject.

Our little band of travelers arrives in historic Accompong Town where we walked back in time to the successful rejection of British enslavers.

It'd take a while to mention all the friends and relatives who welcomed us, made our special foods, transported us, and gave us gifts from the land. In Accompong, the town high in the mountains founded by Africans that successfully resisted British enslavers, I sat under the tree where the resolute leader Cudjoe may have strategized with his generals, where descendants own the land and there's no taxes, police or crime. I found that courage, generosity and openness of spirit live within me and were implanted without my even knowing.

I've often asked park leaders how it is that our national parks can be considered the "soul" of America yet so few people associated with soul are ever in them? And now I'm asking you to rouse yourself sufficiently to take an interest in Nature and our national parks as we are at a dire point. Go back to the place where you were socialized and find your innocent attunement to Nature, then bring it back to join the battle for the soul of our country with a focus on our founding values, "liberty and justice for all."

The tenor of the discourse in our society is particularly jarring to return home to after being away from it for awhile. Given that the Republican platform for our public lands is to tear the system apart and return parts to the states for predictable exploitation, it is no longer enough for everyone who cares to make sure we vote against that. Now it is imperative that each one commits to educating him or herself on the issues and find out where your elected representative or candidate stands. Then you must make them know what is important to you, and why. You must commit to make sure everyone in your circle gets out to vote and send an overwhelming message that we care about our country and the future of our children.

"We have fallen heirs to the most glorious heritage a people ever received, and each one must do his part if we wish to show that the nation is worthy of its good fortune," President Teddy Roosevelt said of our public lands at the turn of the 20th Century.

It's decision time.