January 21, 2019


To finish the moment, to find the journey’s end in every step of the road, to live the greatest number of good hours, is wisdom.”  -Ralph Waldo Emerson 

Here I am, 20 days into my 365-day journey, 30 days into a government shutdown that has thwarted my purpose and justification for this indulgent endeavor.  Now I sit here, in College Station, Texas.  I am the oldest person within a 10-mile radius.  This trip is teaching me something – teaching me that my control issues, however well suppressed, are no match for the universe.  Indeed, it is a lesson that I thought the last year and a half had already taught me, but I guess I need a refresher.  There’s a powerful metaphor here.  I can feel it like a cold shadow; but I can’t quite make out its outline – not just yet.  

I have visited 21 parks since my last blog post.  Most of them were closed altogether.  A few were accessible, but none had open visitor centers.  I have no new park stamps since I left the Virgin Islands.  I am angry over the shutdown.  I am happy to be travelling around.  There is a palpable duality that moves with me like a silent travel companion.  These are thoughts that I tried to express in my radio interview this week with Don Marsh on St. Louis Public Radio.  Each day I wake up hoping that the shutdown will end this day, next day, in a couple of days, etc.  Nonetheless, I carry on because I came to see – to find the journey’s end in every step of the road.   

My trip has become an exercise in documenting closed park gates, barricades, and laminated “Lapse in Appropriations” signs.  Occasionally, though, some magical moments shine through.  My brief visit to Congaree National Park is one of the most soul-rattling experiences I have ever had.  It took me several days to process the experience, and only now have I tried to write it down.  I arrived late, near sunset and exhausted from driving all day.  The visitor center was closed due to the shutdown, but the park was open.  I was the only person there.  My truck was the only vehicle in the expansive parking lot.  The beautiful visitor center nestled under dense tall trees was silent and still.  In fact, silence and stillness permeated the entire park.  I hiked – down a boardwalk trail for a mile or more.  My footsteps were the only sound for miles.  To be the only human being in a large National Park is an overwhelming experience that I cannot put into words.  My body vibrated with intense excitement and joy, but also from primal fear and trepidation.  A hyper-emotional duality.  As the sun went down, the silent park filled with a powerful eerie gloom – almost foreboding.  My time was up.  I was being asked to leave – not by any Ranger or authority, but by the park itself.  It’s a valuable lesson – to be reminded of our place in the natural world.  We’re connected, but interlopers; another duality to ponder.  So, I followed Emmerson’s lesson in wisdom – finished the moment and drove slowly out of the park, being so careful not to disturb the peace; satisfied in the number of good hours I lived that day.   

Parks visited since January 11th: 

Canaveral National Seashore (closed, but partially accessible with no services) 

Fort Matanzas National Monument (closed, no access) 

Castillo de San Marcos National Monument (closed, but grounds were accessible) 

Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve (closed, partially accessible) 

Fort Caroline National Memorial (closed) 

Cumberland Island National Seashore (closed, no access) 

Fort Frederica National Monument (closed but accessible, no services) 

Fort Pulaski National Monument (closed, no services) 

Fort Sumter National Monument (closed, no access) 

Charles Pinckney National Historic Site (closed, no access) 

Congaree National Park (open, no services) 

Ninety Six National Historic Site (closed, no access) 

Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area (open and accessible, no services) 

Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park (closed, partially accessible, no services) 

Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park (closed, no access) 

Andersonville National Historic Site (closed, cemetery accessible) 

Jimmy Carter National Historic Site (closed, no access) 

Gulf Islands National Seashore, FL and MS (closed, some access, no services) 

New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park (closed, no access) 

Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve (closed, partially accessible, no services) 

Big Thicket National Preserve (closed, partially accessible, no services) 

Andy Magee