The thought started back at Trump's election – an op-ed piece speaking about how the American democracy was a Faberge egg, and how we foolish Americans are treating it more like a football. Instead of giving it the care worthy of such a prized, delicate piece, we were roughly tossing it about, unaware that it could break if we weren’t careful. In some respects, the democracy that we now have, with the perceived rights and power it grants us citizens, is a gift from our predecessors. Time and again we’re reminded our founding fathers' foresight, how they learned from European history and even older philosophy to create a system of checks and balances – three tiers of government, a separation of church and state and a host of other references to best create a self-governed people. Though not perfect, it is a gift from our previous generation to have a constitutional government of, by and for the people. What we do with this gift is entirely up to us.
This ‘gift’ mentality can play out in many parts of life throughout the past year, but it surfaced strongly again in the depth of winter 2017. Looking back on Mt. Tom as Pete and I skied from and to the car – cold powder the entire way, it was a gift from Mother Nature after six years of drought. Six years of living through some of the lowest snowfall in the history of the mountain range, followed by one year where the spigot turned on and voila, extreme moisture. And what a gift we were given from her majesty. The ability to experience beauty and fun in the Range of Light while it was cloaked in white splendor was truly something special, as if it was something given to all of us from a higher being. Whether or not - and how - we took advantage of that gift was our choosing.
And now reading some history of the park system and the lands along the America’s coastlines, the concept of ‘the gift’ expands even further. A large swath of Grand Teton National Park was only made possible with a sizable contribution from John D. Rockefeller. Everyone who visited recognized the beauty of the land adjacent to the nascent park, but it was he who helped lead a consortium to purchase the land from many families and ranchers to help expand GTNP. The same with Acadia National Park, and part of the Redwoods south of Eureka - Rockefeller used his substantial monetary clout to secure lands for preservation. From coast to coast and points between, what he gave to the American People is impressive, both in its message [preserve, protect, and share], but also how it sets a precedent of giving to subsequent generations. Our entire national park system is considered the first of its king in the world - America's best idea to some - and this spirit of preservation trickles down to the state level, and should extrapolate to each individual - both to experience the gift we've received but also to continue the tradition. Teddy Roosevelt created the antiquities act and it took some gumption from later presidents to continue the effort of environmental stewardship - halting from the American breakneck pace of economic expansion, resource extraction and land exploitation - to give the people space to enjoy in perpetuity, free from development or manipulation by man.
This happens at the state level as well – a trip down the Pacific coast in October 2017 has shown how both California and Oregon have contributed significant resources to preserving their coasts – with many state parks, and clear efforts on the part of the state to ensure current residents and visitors as well as future generations can look forward to seeing the beauty of nature as it was when Captain Cook first struck his claim for England at Cape Foulweather.
And so came the thought: How are we doing with the gifts that are given to us, starting with democracy, national and state parks? It would seem plausible that much of the opposition towards earmarking America’s lands towards preservation would have strong arguments: “Why leave things as they are when we can make money from the land?” and “see whats happening with your current parks.” Certainly our history of stewardship in many of the National Parks isn’t sterling. There is trash, there is development, and there is pollution, but these are all things we can address and improve. What we cannot do is bring back 2000-year-old redwood trees, or to erase the wounds of mineral extraction.
So, I don’t have a fix to propose, merely that we all take a step back and think about what we do with the gifts that we’re given. Yes, we all come from different socio-economic levels, but these gifts of democracy and national parks and public land do not come cheaply, and – like many good things in life – these gifts aren’t free. A good question I’ve enjoyed asking myself lately has been “What would happen if everyone did what I did?” It leaves an answer open to subjective opinion, but on the whole, if the result is rendering an area or population worse off then you should probably do things differently.
After spending some time on the road, it’s becoming increasingly salient how fortunate we are to visit so many stunningly beautiful places in our country and not have to worry about crime, about trespassing on private property, or even paying a fee to enjoy the beauty of the world around us. Further, we all take for granted how good our democracy is - how much freedom and opportunity we have compared to much of the world, and do to recent events, how fragile this system of government can be. Our country was blessed with tremendous natural resources – at all elevations, latitudes and longitudes, and our imperfect democracy is still something special. It is our responsibility to enjoy them, to respect the foresight of those who came before us to preserve and fortify them, and to do our part to make them better for those who come after us.