Happy 100th Birthday National Park Service!

Tomorrow, August 25, 2016, is the one hundredth birthday of the U.S. National Park Service. Founded on August 25, 1916, the United States has had national parks since 1872. But the NPS as we know it, as an agency within the Department of the Interior, only came fully into being and modern legitimacy in 1916. The history of the NPS is beautifully, if slowly, recounted in Ken Burns’s six-part 2009 sweeping documentary The National Parks: America’s Best Idea. It is a fascinating look at the history of the idea and evolution of national parks, starting with Yellowstone, Yosemite, John Muir, Gifford Pinchot, Theodore Roosevelt, and other less familiar names, and ending with present-day concerns and speculations as to the future of the NPS. It is one of my favorite long-form documentaries and I highly recommend it.

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A view of Bar Harbor from within Acadia NP, 2009

National Parks have held an important place in my life and well-being for as long as I can remember. The NPS is vast and spans military battlefields, seashores, parkways, homes, and, of course, areas of natural beauty that are earmarked (more or less) to be left in their original state. Over the course of my life and travels I’ve visited the battlefields of Gettysburg and Valley Forge, the homes of Edgar Allan Poe and FDR, the National Mall, Lake Mead, and the Statue of Liberty, to name a few. I’ve spent more than a little time in the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge and Assateague Island National Seashore, birding, swimming, watching wild ponies, and testing salinity, temperature, and cyclic changes to the salt marsh ecosystem. Living in King George, VA, my wife and I have had the privilege of being within easy striking distance of four major battlefields of the Civil War, to say nothing of the countless historic homes of Presidents of the US, their families, and Signers of the Declaration of Independence, many of which are managed by the NPS.

As I said, national parks have played a very important role in my life, both for education and entertainment. But it wasn’t until this anniversary came around that I realized that, while I’ve visited many sites managed by the National Park Service, I’ve really only visited two of the fifty-nine “crown jewel” National Parks, set exclusively aside for their beauty: Acadia and Shenandoah. Acadia, in and about Bar Harbor, Maine, I’ve visited twice: once alone and once with Nancy several years ago. Oh, that blueberry ice cream! Shenandoah I’ve visited more frequently; dined, slept, and most importantly, introduced my son John Adams to the wonders of nature there. Together we’ve seen bears, hiked down to Dark Hollows Falls, been on a piece of the Appalachian Trail, and witnessed all manner of natural wonders. Oh, that black raspberry ice cream! I look forward to many more visits to Shenandoah in the coming years, and I can’t wait to see how he takes to the Great Outdoors as he grows and matures, or what outside activities strike his fancy. Nancy and I envision family camping trips!

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Nancy and John Adams posing on the bridge by Dark Hollow Falls, Shenandoah NP, 2016

But that said about Shenandoah, I now realize how many other national parks there are to explore, and I can’t wait to see some new ones. Great Smoky Mountains NP, for instance, spans both North Carolina and Tennessee and is the most visited national park of them all. We’ve had friends visit there, but maybe someday soon we can see the park for ourselves. Mammoth Cave NP in Kentucky is reportedly the largest cavern system in the world. That might scare the little guy right now, but someday…someday. There’s Pinnacles NP, the most recent park added to the system by President Obama in 2013 in California. Of course the biggies – Mount Rainier, the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and Crater Lake – are bucket list favorites. Or how about Congaree NP, fairly close to us in South Carolina, and a park I’d never even heard of?

There are so many wonderful places to visit throughout the United States, and now I have a new list of misadventures to plan with my family. And of course, there are always those politicians who see no value in preserving such places of beauty; that would rather make a buck, grease a palm, or line a pocket, than preserve for posterity. Ken Burns’s epic is replete with such types, and they’re still with us today. I can only hope that those men and women never achieve high office, or get put in a position to make policy, so that my son can travel off road and see America’s pristine beauty without it being cannibalized for resources and needless profit. I’m watching you D.C. But for now, the National Park Service is alive and thriving, if underfunded, and I have big dreams of sharing as many of them with my family as anyone can pack into a lifetime.

For all the memories past and all the new one’s yet to come I say “Thank You National Park Service” and, on behalf of my family,

“Happy 100th Birthday!!!”

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My little boy says it all!!!

Here’s to many, many more.

Peace,

Jason

What’s your favorite National Park or National Park memory? Let me know in the comments below.

 

 

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Slugging It Out At Susquehanna

“A person’s a person, no matter how small. ” – Dr. Seuss

            At some point of the fall of 1990, in the moonlight at Susquehanna University, outside the front steps of Degenstein Dining Hall, I was bent down over the sidewalk watching a newfound friend make his way across the concrete. I had been watching him for more than fifteen minutes as he slowly, laboriously, bravely made his way from one patch of manicured lawn to the other divided by the exposed, cold, gray expanse of man-made construction, and was utterly fascinated by his journey. As he proceeded on his little odyssey of exploration he left a well-defined, glisteningly beautiful breadcrumb trail…of slime. Yes, I am talking about a slug that measured all of four inches in length, who happened to cross a three-foot stretch of sidewalk on a cool fall night. And, yes, it was magical.

The moonlight caught the little trail of slime and lit it up not unlike the lunar runic alphabet hidden in Thorin’s map that can only be viewed on Durin’s Day by the same light…you get the idea. Point is, the slime trail glowed and glistened on the sidewalk behind this little fellow. It was his artistic legacy, and it was magical, personal, and ephemeral. My “newish” girlfriend, L, stood hunched over me as I sat transfixed watching this little miracle of creation break new ground for all slug kind. She was skeptical and a wee bit squeamish, but also gracious as she could see how captivated I was.  Truth be told, I think she thought  I was a little bit crazy laying down on the ground to watch a slug crawl across a sidewalk when there were other things we could be doing. But we hadn’t been dating that long, she was inclined to give me the benefit of the doubt, and I was in Theatre. And “theatre people” just do crazy things, right?

After watching this little miracle for about ten minutes, my freshman year roommate of a few weeks staggered up to us to see what all the fuss was. I don’t even remember his name. He had been assigned to be my roommate when we arrived at Susquehanna, but had moved out after only a few days, deciding instead to seek lodging with one of the fraternities on campus that he was later planning to pledge. Now in our mutual sophomore year, he was a recent brother of his fraternity of choice, more than a little cocky from his new association, and buzzed more often than sober. Such was social frat life at SU on the weekends (and some weekdays) in the 1990s. Ah, well.

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After a few moments of asking us what we were doing, scoffing at the answers, and squinting at the sidewalk through his booze haze, my former roommate did the unthinkable: he stepped forward and with one harsh motion of one foot deliberately and maliciously smashed the little trailblazer into the sidewalk, spreading his exposed guts everywhere and branding the sidewalk with the luminous blotch of a murder scene that I’ve never been fully able to get out of my head. My girlfriend L yelped abruptly, I lay on the grass next to the sidewalk in stunned silence and, after muttering something about the shit guts on his shoe, my ex-roommate started…to laugh. Whether he laughed due to the power he felt from taking a life that did him no harm, or whether it was because I looked about to cry I’ll never know. I suspect it was both. He looked to her and me for some measure of appreciation or admiration for his kill and finding none gutturally resorted to the classic American teenage rebuke: “You’re weird,” and unfulfilled and unrepentant stumbled off into the darkness. In the remainder of my time at Susquehanna University he and I never spoke again.

Lying on the grass next to the remains of my little friend I was a stir of emotions: shock, sadness, and rage. I wanted my ex-roommate to pay for what he had done. I wanted someone to smash him for no reason the way he had smashed my friend. I wanted to mourn my friend and give him a proper burial, but there was nothing left of him but luminous sludge. I wanted him alive again creating glow-in-the dark art on the sidewalks by moonlight on a fine fall night, but that was not meant to be. Instead, I did the only thing that I could do at the moment: I walked L home to her dorm sullenly and silently, and then went home myself, quietly mourning my friend and lamenting the random cruelty of the world.

It’s been 26 years since my little friend’s death. I feel certain that the event made no lasting impression on my former roommate; he may not even have remembered doing it the next day. But I remember the event vividly and it did change me for the better. Not to say that my parents didn’t instill a love of animals in me, for they most certainly did, but that random, cruel death for sport triggered an instinct in me that has never abated. I made a vow that night to never stand by again and watch as one of Creation’s “Lesser” Creatures is tortured or snuffed out for pleasure and, to the best of my ability I have kept that vow for twenty-six years. And I am a better person for it.

Today, I value all life and only kill bugs, vermin, or what have you when absolutely necessary, and only when I can’t safely remove them from my house or they threaten the safety of my wife or son. Nancy can attest to this of course as I have names for most of the Daddy Long Legs that inhabit our home and have on more than a few occasions rescued mice, lizards and spiders from the clutches of our disappointed and puzzled cats. I am not a zealot, I do eat meat, and I do freely acknowledge that there are times when the killing of bugs, pests, and vermin is a necessity in the maintenance of a healthy and clean home or society. But killing for pleasure, killing for sport rather than for food, is out for me, and in many ways it all stems back to a harmless, little, slimy, artist that made the wrong choice to paint a sidewalk by moonlight and paid the price of his art with his life at the hands of a sadistic sophomore that had been taught that killing is cool or “makes you a man.” I learned the lesson he gave his life for and plan on instilling in my son John Adams the same “All life is precious” point of view. He is in a phase right now where stepping on ants is fun, so there’s no time like the present to begin the lesson. And maybe, just maybe, by writing this blog, and sharing my values with you and my boy, I can bring some meaning to my little friend’s senseless death twenty-six years ago. He, like all of us, was created with purpose. Perhaps his purpose was to die that night so that others would learn a better way to live, a way of kindness, and tolerance, and respect for all life.

Well, it’s a start.

Namaste,

Jason

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Haiku for a Sunday Evening

Didn’t mean to take the week off from writing, but the week just got carried away with itself. So here’s a bunch of haiku to put me back in the saddle. Enjoy!

A world of pure light,
Where all act honorably;
I’d like to see that.

Be inspiration.
Let those who know you draw strength
From your example.

No dream is too big.
You’re only limited by
Your expectations.

Spirit energy,
Positive or negative,
Is easily spread.

Karma is a bitch.
What you give out to the world
Will come back to you.

No words can describe
The beauty of a flower
Or the smell of death.

Some people won’t learn.
They’ve fashioned themselves blinders
That they won’t take off.

Are you living life
The best way you know how or
Just slouching through it?

Another day dawns;
A new chance for hope and change.
How will you use it?

I would like minions;
Little imps that mill about,
Doing my bidding.

Haiku: A fresh batch

A fresh batch of haiku from my recent scribblings. Enjoy!

Don’t make your troubles
Ev’ryone else’s concerns.
Deal with them yourself.

Six billion people
Are waiting to be your friend;
To know and love you.

We are what we are.
There’s no need to deny it
Or be ashamed.

To whom shall we turn
When we work against ourselves,
To save us from us?

Have we forgotten,
Waking within this body,
More than we could know?

The journey inward
To ponder one’s existence
Is what it’s all about.

Imagine azure,
Surrounded by amethyst
On a golden field.

The dragon’s sleeping,
But he could be awakened
At any moment.

Pure bliss upon bliss:
A casual day lakeside,
Peaceful and serene.

We are light-bearers,
Fallen to a darkened Earth
To illuminate.