Ken Burns recounts the story of a woman as she walks through Yosemite. She looks around only saying “Oh My!” On hearing this, a park ranger asks if everything is okay and she says, “yes, I just mean oh my!” Later the ranger recounts he has no need to explain transcendence.
Now there is a federal program called Every Kid in a Park that aims to instill this same sense of awe to our children by waiving fees to the national parks for all fourth graders and their families. Despite a little complaint about the cost, it is a fairly noncontroversial initiative. Who would want any one of our youth not to see America’s crown jewels? (And if you are one of those who want to lessen the government’s burden and contribute to the cause you may.)
I agree with the initiative, though I hardly feel it is enough to offer free admission to our parks. Travel to these places, a cost burden in and of itself, is prohibitive for many though it is not the only thing that stands in the way of the initiative.
It is not enough to open up the parks; what cannot come from any federal initiative is the construction of the value that people belong to a great land and the great land to its’ Creator. This is a tall order where the burden is born not by government but among friends and family. The fact is, the national parks may instill some wonder in our youth but that will ultimately mean little without a greater value…. knowing places are lovely because you are loved.
A friend of mind recounts living among the mountains of the American West. He says they are majestic, but soon enough become commonplace. He is right. When I was younger I lived near the Chagres River in Panama surrounded by jungle and tallish hills that gave way to mountains in the distance. I recall travelling in the jungle, the trip to Madden Dam and the great locks of the Canal. These were all moments of adventure, though they are not what I most remember of Panama. What I remember most were the rather commonplace family trips to Amador Beach and the “hike” up a small hill of about 100 meters with my father where we looked down on our home.
There is something about transcendence and seeing great and awe filling places that give us a sense of belonging to that greater than ourselves, but there is also the matter of immanence, of knowing you have a place in these great spaces because you are in the presence of that nurturance given to you by nature and the God of nature who also gives to you those who walk with you in these places.
My hope for the federal initiative is that many of our children will see our parks. Actually it will be worthwhile if the number is not very many, though I hope it may be more than a few. My greater hope is that when families do go to the parks, they also go knowing they travel the now well-worn routes of those who have gone before them when routes were not so worn to places that not only filled them with awe, but gave them the cause to cling to one another and to know they were building a nation in a most beautiful land given to them by their beneficent Creator.