September 11, 2019


“It was a beautiful September morning with a blue sky… just a normal day.”  -Joy Knepp

Here I am, following this beautiful September from the Great Lakes into New England.  Autumn is in the air but the trees are not turning yet. 60,000 miles now, on the truck odometer.  That beautiful machine has been a steady and reliable companion. Packed up with all of my gear, and eager to head out each morning.  My transport. My office. My closet. My shelter. I picked up a crack in my new windshield. The front grill is covered in dried up bugs from the last ten states.  The wheel wells are full of dirt and sand from the gravel roads, beaches, and dunes of places I can barely remember now. Still she runs. My time machine, carrying me through the past and into the future all at the same time.  

I am back in the land of historical parks.  They are clustered tightly here in the Northeast – in the oldest part of our country.  History often feels far removed from our present situation. Leaders and events and battles have shaped the country we have.  It is easy to take all of that for granted. Sometimes history is more immediate. Sometimes the importance of events are not yet fully matured.  We are still living it, feeling it. This week I visited two National Memorial sites back-to-back. Flight 93 National Memorial, and Johnstown Flood National Memorial.  Both in Pennsylvania, and not far from each other. Both were similar in many ways. Johnstown Flood National Memorial preserves the story and memory of a terrible disaster that claimed the lives of more than 2,200 people.  In 1889, the earthen dam, holding back a recreational lake, gave way and sent a massive torrent of water through the valley. It wiped out several small villages before hitting the town of Johnstown. They had almost no warning.  The town was virtually erased. I had heard of the Johnstown Flood before. I knew a few of the details, but not the whole story.  

Across the beautiful countryside, another National Memorial.  Flight 93 crashed in a rural area outside of Shanksville on September 11, 2001.  It was not just a ‘normal’ plane crash. Flight 93 was the only hijacked plane, that day, that did not reach its intended target.  The reason for that is because the 40 passengers and crew fought to regain control of the aircraft – in an incredibly brave and fateful act of heroism.  They all perished when the plane crashed, but undoubtedly spared countless others on the ground in our nation’s capitol. This memorial felt different. Different because I vividly remember that day – as most of us do.  The emotions are still close to the surface. Just walking through the exhibits elicited spontaneous weeping. Johnstown was moving too, but that emotion is diffused by generations. Flight 93 is still alive in us. History is the past – but not always the distant past.  Sometimes it is still so close that we can’t yet discern its lessons, its meaning. Time heals all wounds, they say. Sometimes it takes a long time. It is amazing to me how some feelings are so easily triggered. Even when enough time has passed. Some wounds only look healed on the surface, but deeper down they are still raw and ready to tear open again.  

Parks visited since September 1st:

Keweenaw National Historical Park

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

River Raisin National Battlefield Park

Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial

James A. Garfield National Historic Site

Cuyahoga Valley National Park

First Ladies National Historic Site

Friendship Hill National Historic Site

Fort Necessity National Battlefield

Flight 93 National Memorial

Johnstown Flood National Memorial

Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site

Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site

Women’s Rights National Historical Park

Harriet Tubman National Historical Park

Fort Stanwix National Monument

Martin Van Buren National Historic Site

Saratoga National Historical Park

Andy Magee