I’ve been a history buff pretty much all my life. Growing up with a dad who fed me a steady diet of documentaries and a mom who let me buy out the whole shelf of girl-power historical biographies at the book store, my delight in history was probably something of an inevitability. Of course, reading about history is very different from encountering it in real life. Unlike my European friends, who walked past a historically significant piece of architecture practically every time they left the house, my West-Coast suburban upbringing didn’t lend itself to experiencing history in the everyday.
Thankfully, my equally nerdy family gave me plenty of opportunities to explore the history all around us. While America may not have the sweeping gothic arches and shimmering castles of Europe, we have something different, something bigger. We have National Parks. My family dedicated much of my childhood to exposing my brother and I to a huge number of them. First it was my grandparents, East-Coasters-turned-Midwesterners who retired to the American Southwest. Every summer from ages 4-9, they took my brother and I off my parents’ hands. Then they brought us to all the natural wonders they could fit in the span of a few weeks. The Grand Canyon, the Saguaro, and the Petrified Forest in Arizona. Mesa Verde and the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. The Canyonlands and the glory of the Colorado River in Utah. The Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. These same people, who made sure to instill in us the importance of art, literature, and science, wanted us to be equally aware of the vital importance of the natural world.
My grandparents wanted us to know, even when we were perhaps too young to fully understand, the sense of awe that comes through breathing in the beauty of Earth’s wonders. They wanted us to feel the awesome power of reveling in something bigger than ourselves. They wanted us to learn that science and glory, faith and evidence, nature and humanity can live — amicably, amazingly, incredibly — together: side-by-side.
They weren’t the only ones. My parents also wanted us to personally experience one of the true gifts of America. The summer before I started high school, the 4 of us embarked on a cross-country road-trip adventure, traversing almost every state. We saw buffalo at Yellowstone, tranquil stillness at Crater Lake, endless prairies in the Badlands. At an age when I was starting to learn the true scope of American history, to grapple with the horrifying truths of the formation of my country, that trip showed me the beauty in this land of ours. It showed me that our collective caring could preserve and create beautiful things, even in the face of ugliness and violence and adversity. It reminded me that we’re all part of something bigger, even if we all don’t define that something using the same name.
So when I heard that our new president was messing with the National Parks system, my first thought was ‘oh, no you don’t’. I certainly wasn’t the only one.
In a move that came as no surprise to me, the citizens and stewards who protect these important lands came together and said ‘not here’. Within hours of being officially muzzled on social media, National Parks’ employees came together to keep doing their vital work. They started a movement and a social media presence known as the Alt National Parks Service. There, they posted real facts about climate change, animal protective programs, and environmental conservation work. They continue to remind us that what makes America great is not only the spirit of diversity and democracy by which we flourish, but the vast and storied lands which we are honor-bound to protect.
Our history as Americans is messy. It has been violent and complicated and sometimes cruel. Over and over again, our forefathers took land from Native peoples. They pillaged and burned and ruined in the name of manifest destiny. They ruined natural wonders in the name of profit and greed. Now, we know better. Or at least we should.
As we watch pipelines desecrate the tribal lands of some Native Americans, as we learn that walls may spring up through the lands of others’, we have an obligation — a moral mandate — to protect the land we once stole. Now more than ever we — all of us — everyday citizens of the United States, have a duty to preserve the beauty and majesty of our nation for future generations. All children deserve to revel in the glory of our natural world. Every person deserves the chance to discover the vastness of our Earth, to feel both safe and small.
So please: donate to conservation efforts. Patronize your local, state, and national parks. Take a hike. Camp. Swim. Revel. It’s a beautiful world we live in. Let’s keep it that way.
Day 50: February 20, 2017