September 28, 2009 – Watching part one last night of Ken Burns’ latest documentary, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea was almost like going to church. The episode’s spectacular scenes along with the tale of how the United States set a precedent of protecting these large tracts of beautiful raw wilderness for the public at large to use for recreation, and forever safeguarding them from future development, brought me back to the feeling of wonder and awe I experienced when I saw the beauty of the Sierra Nevadas and Yosemite for the first time.
Hiking through the parks and initially encountering the sequoias, the oldest living things on earth, was for me exactly like being in a cathedral; the largest, most beautiful and vibrant church on earth. The natural wonders of this country and the world, all bring me closer to my higher power and remind me that there is definitely something greater out there that must love us so much because she provided us with such a gorgeous planet.
Don’t get me wrong, the wonders of the man-made variety are spectacular to behold, too, but for me, the natural has a more spiritual pull and no matter what’s going on in my life, gazing at the breathtaking views under a cavernous sky always helps me put things in perspective.
That naturalists like John Muir and George Bird Grinnell worked so hard and tirelessly to found the modern movement of conservation and help create the National Park system is truly something that we all should be grateful for and strive to maintain for the benefit not just of the forests, oceans and species within them, but for us as well. Part of the pride we have in our country lies in the wide open spaces that characterize America as the land of the free and the home of the brave.
The rest of the documentary airs every night this week on PBS and I sincerely hope the ratings go through the roof and motivates the public enough to demand adequate funding for the Park Service in order to protect other pristine wilderness areas and maintain them all for the benefit of our children and all the generations to come. Democracy and these lands are our most important legacy.
Top photo: The author’s Camelback and walking stick, leaning against a giant sequoia in the Muir Grove in Sequoia National Park.