April 11, 2019
“I wanted to know the name of every stone and flower and insect and bird and beast. I wanted to know where it got its color, where it got its life - but there was no one to tell me.” -George Washington Carver
Here I am. Is this Spring? There is color in the world again, as I travel from park to park, mountains to wetlands. The land is waking up from a Winter sleep. Everywhere, the spring-green backdrop of woods and fields is punctuated with bursts of color like fireworks. Purple and pink Redbud blooms are thick as cotton candy. White Dogwood blossoms break up the forest greenery like a splash of whitewater. Tannin stained rivers snake through the hills and valleys in shades of green and brown. Deep welled springs gush pure turquoise water like dense glacial ice. Wild Wisteria hangs from the trees and scrub like lavender curtains. Red-headed Woodpeckers and Bluebirds dazzle as they streak through the forest. Wildflowers of every imaginable hue peek out from behind tree trunks and rocks, and carpet the forest floor and fields. Lichens and mosses and ferns, from yellow to green to blue, look alive again. The wind dislodges vast bombs of chartreuse pollen filling the air of the valleys and lowlands like a natural floral fog. It is a feast for the eyes and senses and soul. Nature is the greatest show on earth.
“No individual has any right to come into the world and go out of it without leaving behind him distinct and legitimate reasons for having passed through it.” -George Washington Carver
In the last ten days, I have visited parks dedicated to the humble beginnings of some incredible and consequential Americans. Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace in Kentucky, Ulysses S. Grant’s home in St. Louis, President Bill Clinton’s boyhood home in Arkansas, and George Washington Carver’s meek start as a slave boy in Missouri. General or farmer or politician or president or slave or scientist, each were driven to embrace the dream of America, to actualize the greatness within themselves, and to leave a lasting legacy for future generations. The impact of these Americans is so powerful, that if you removed any one of them from the American lineage, you would not recognize this country today. I have been dwelling on this for a week now. What will I achieve with my time on this earth? What legacy will I leave behind? What distinct and legitimate reasons do I have for passing through this world? What have I done to earn my time here?
“How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant of the weak and strong. Because someday in life you will have been all of these.” -George Washington Carver
I love meeting Park Rangers. As they interface with the public, they quickly set the tone for your park visit. Some are friendly and helpful. Some overly enthusiastic. Some tired and disengaged. They are human, after all. I always try to be friendly and polite. No doubt I would hate being asked “Where’s the restroom?” 100 times a day, or “What time do you close?” or “Is there wi-fi in the park?” It is a profession of passion and patience, and I admire that greatly. Last week I met three exceptional Rangers and I want to take a moment to recognize them here. Each were enthusiastic, knowledgeable, friendly, and helpful. Each of them offered me a handshake before I could initiate one. Ranger Michael Simpson leads tours at President William Jefferson Clinton Birthplace Home National Historic Site. Michael learned the names of everyone on the tour and his knowledge and passion for the park and its every detail were evident through my entire visit there. Ranger Cody Faber got his Masters Degree in St. Louis and is stationed at Fort Smith National Historic Site. Cody knew everything about the park, and even built one of the parks museum dioramas himself. Ranger Sarah Martin at George Washington Carver National Monument was friendly, welcoming, and enthusiastic. Not only did she easily answer all of my questions about G. W. Carver, but she was also able to identify the wildflowers growing in the forest for me. I applaud the work these fine people do. It is often a thankless job. The rewards aren’t great either. Thank you for taking care of our parks, for making our visits memorable and fulfilling. You are stewards of our lands. You are heroes to those of us who love these places. And, you are role models for the young, who I see looking up to you – in your uniform, as you lead each new Junior Ranger through the Junior Ranger Pledge with all of the seriousness and legitimacy of the Presidential Oath of Office. You give me great hope for the future of our Parks.
Parks visited since March 31st:
Mammoth Cave National Park
Camp Nelson National Monument
Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site
Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site
Ozark National Scenic Riverways
Buffalo National River
Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site
Arkansas Post National Memorial
President William Jefferson Clinton Birthplace Home National Historic Site
Hot Springs National Park
Fort Smith National Historic Site
Pea Ridge National Military Park
George Washington Carver National Monument
Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield