August 21, 2019
“Here is your country. Cherish these natural wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage, for your children and your children's children. Do not let selfish men or greedy interests skin your country of its beauty, its riches or its romance.” -Theodore Roosevelt
Here I am. Theodore Roosevelt National Park. I am exhausted from driving my long road. My mind is blurred from this adventure. Park after park. Mile after mile. Each day is a flurry of new sights and new learning. For now, I am content to sit quietly in this walk-in campsite, surrounded by trees and tall grass. A gentle breeze brings in cooler air, now that the sun is setting. A few buzzing insects periodically test my stillness. I try to recount all the animals I spotted today. Bison. Pronghorn. Turkey. Deer. Prairie Dogs. Wild Horses. Garter Snake. A few birds I cannot identify. Evenings like this now feel strange. To sit and rest and recover and reflect, seems like a luxury. I have been in motion for most of the year now. Driving, hiking, flying, boating – a linear path through our country in one direction – forward. Forward through spacetime as we know it, but backwards through history. Once again, I find myself unbound by gravity and floating freely through the great American timeline like some intrepid interloper. All the while, seeing, touching, learning, growing and understanding this place we call home.
Here is your country. It is a beautiful and wonderous thing. Here she rises to the peaks of Glacier and North Cascades. Here she ripples in the waters around San Juan Islands and Lake Chelan. Here she thunders with the bison and wild horses in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Here she weeps at unknown graves in Big Hole and Little Bighorn. How much do you know about your country? That is the question that has run through my mind these last few weeks. How much do you really know about your country? It is a question I ask myself. It is a question I ask you. I thought I knew. I thought I understood this country – our history, our land, our culture. Like most things, the more you learn, the more you realize how much remains to be learned. These 419 parks of ours are our great living library of America. It is all here - recorded, recounted, on display. It is who we are. What does it mean to be an American? How do we carry the weight and knowledge of all that has come before? The good and the bad. The indifferent and the calculated. The discovery and the wonder. Is it enough to claim to be American without really understanding? I am not sure anymore. I am sure, however, that our country is a special place. Grand and beautiful. Diverse and powerful. Bent and broken. It is all of these things and more. It is a place to cherish and to make better. It is important to hold dear her romance and promise – for ourselves, and for our children, and our children’s children.
At the end of the road, down the last trail, at the very edge of Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, is a grave marker that reads: CANKUHANSKA LONG ROAD, A SANS ARC SIOUX WARRIOR, DIED HERE ON JUNE 26, 1876, WHILE DEFENDING HIS HOMELAND AND THE SIOUX WAY OF LIFE. I have thought a lot about that warrior and his conviction of place, the value above all else he placed upon his homeland and way of life. Worth fighting for. Worth dying for. Worth being remembered for. Worth remembering.
Parks visited since August 11th:
San Juan Islands National Historical Park
North Cascades National Park
Ross Lake National Recreation Area
Lake Chelan National Recreation Area
Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area
Glacier National Park
Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site
Big Hole National Battlefield
Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument
Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area
Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site
Theodore Roosevelt National Park