Our National Parks

Posted on August 20, 2012 by

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A story hit today that is painful to read… the National Park Service is set to get the ax once again. Now, this really isn’t a surprise, because many have seen the writing on the wall for quite some time, but to see it in print is a painful reminder.

The strange part of this is, just yesterday, I spent a good many hours onsite at Harpers Ferry, completely immersing myself in some sort of personal “bubble in time”.

For anyone who follows this blog… and/or me personally… even via FaceBook… they know well that HF is my favorite site. Sure, I embrace other sites as well, especially when I can find personal people connections. And, yes, there are many such connections with many a battlefield… from both the 19th and 18th centuries… but I also claim connections to other non-war places, such as the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. It just so happens that the intersect point (at least it seems to me) of my greatest historical passions seems to rest right smack dab in “the hole”, or the site of “Mr. Harper’s ferry”.

Each site may not recount the tales of my ancestors… but those tales are quietly woven into stories of the place. In some ways, I think that might be more appreciated by those who have gone before… their subtle part in the bigger story. “We were here, and while playing a small role, we did have our place in the story“. Then too, these places offer me a chance to elaborate on the stories of those people, at least to the best of my ability in bundling what little fragments I might know. I especially enjoy relating those stories to my family members when they are with me, and tell them… in the hope that they can feel within themselves, something close to my passion for the place, and feel a little closer to their/my/our people. It may be fleeting; it may be enduring… but if I can stir the soul just enough, then I’ve been able to put a little something in the back of their mind. It might not be fully appreciated on that day… it might even result in eyes rolling back in the head… but, perhaps it will at some later point in life. If I can only grab your attention… spark the imagination… just for a bit. Perhaps, one day… they will remember what I shared with them, and relate the same to someone else who is special to them.

Where else can you spend a night in a historically furnished home of an ancestor who was lead lock-keeper, at one of the major locks of the C&O Canal? Thanks to the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal NPS’s Canal Quarters program, I’ve spent a few nights in Lockhouse 49, at Four Locks, where my third great grandparents, Cyrus and Catharine Moore, most likely lived, from 1858-59.

No doubt, I enjoy the buildings and earthworks… the monuments and the markers… the fragments of the past and the reproductions that still bring the past to life… but I also enjoy the nature… the trees, the water, and even the earth itself. It is the one thing that continues to be alive, literally… breathing life in these places, as they (or, when speaking of the trees… dare I say… their ancestors) did in years past.

Sometimes, however, it is neither the place or the features that matter… well… they are facilitators at that point, I suppose. Rather, the experience together becomes paramount in the place. I may not talk history, but be skipping rocks with my girls along the Shenandoah, just off Virginius Island, and am moved by that experience. Whatever else goes on… or went on, in the past… around that place… well, it’s nice too, but, it’s secondary. Indeed, we continue to return to that place to skip more rocks, and walk in the river, from boulder to boulder… trying to catch minnows, and avoiding angry geese… and with each return visit our story begins to weave with the story of the place. It becomes more and more our place, though we actually share the space… our history with or separate from the existing history of the place. A new and different history intersecting with the old… each of equal value and significance.

Minnows in the Shenandoah, just off Virginius Island, Harpers Ferry

Now, one can say that this can be the case with any particular place that you might haunt… and, you would be right. You can make any place you want a rich place of memories, and yes… that place might even have a long history prior to making your own at that same place… and it might not be a NPS site. But, there are some places that hold a magic that is deep and rich, going back, tying so much together. To me, it’s bringing it all together, in one spot. My people of the past, with their stories interwoven to place, intersecting with my people of the here and now. When that is bundled, it is a huge experience… at least to me.

These places hold value, though the measure of that value of place is different and varies for each person and their experience.

But, we can’t forget what makes these places possible for us to enjoy, today… the staff and volunteers of the NPS. Without them and that protected property… that holds so much value to our story as a nation and as a people… we lose. Those elements enable us and the history to exist, side-by-side. It might be for little more than an hour, a few hours… or it might be a lifetime. I have my personal connections to place, other people have their connections to place… maybe the same place… but that ability to have those connections, intersecting with the past and place, is made possible by the National Park Service and its people.

It is critical that we support our national treasures… our National Parks, and the people of the National Park Service… who give us a chance to enjoy the places that help define who we are as a nation and as people…

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