For America, I have endured much–I have been shot at, threatened, lived through -40°C/F winters, bombed, drank endless cups of tea, and more. I did it because I believed not in a party or ideology, but in a larger good that America could one day embody. Our failures in the past are legion, but the beauty of our nature is we keep going, we keep fighting. We have considered human beings property, denied civil rights to all kinds of minorities and majorities, failed to act, sneaked, dodged, prevaricated, hypocrisized, assassinated, and done all manner of things that do not embody that for which we are striving. But we are also the great experiment to see what a society can become, whether some day we can live up to those vaulted ideas of life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I believe we can. And I believe that the very fact that we as Americans have set aside areas of intense natural beauty says that we do seek something outside ourselves, we do think about the future. Salvation is found in the wilderness–out there, you touch something older and more powerful than our petty grievances and disputes. I have been out in the wild with Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, maybe even the odd anarchist or fundamentalist, but at the end of the day, everyone is hallowed quiet watching the honey glow afternoon drip off El Capitan. You can’t tell me that there are some issues we can’t all agree on.
And the best part of all, this is free. Maybe not entirely so, as user fees at Yosemite definitely indicate, but the cost of ensuring that developers and timber barons and the like don’t simply destroy our collective resources would be prohibitively high without all Americans helping to ensure the parks stay open. There is obviously a much larger structural argument about who gets the use our parks, due to other costs such as gas and time away from work and more, but the key point is that those parks exist. As more hardcore outdoors folk know, yes, national forests and wilderness areas and the like offer better “real” outdoors, but for the majority of Americans the National Parks are their collective exposure to the wilderness. This is important because the majority typically decides on what is important for us to collectively spend money. As well, our National Parks are our iconic wilderness symbols. Yosemite, for most, is the Valley–if you say Toulumne, expect blank stares. Glacier, Yellowstone, the Olympics. These stick in the minds of the majority, and we need them to do so. Because the protection they offer also defends the Dungeness, Humboldt, Wild Sky.
If you’ll permit me an interesting anecdote: Hana’s brother is a traffic engineer. He says that the most important piece of the public transit puzzle is ensuring that public transportation arrive on time. Why? Because public transit will serve those without cars no matter what, but those who have the option to self-drive are the key to decreasing congestion, pollution, aggravation, etc. If they find that the journey to work on public transit is the same amount of time, or faster, and likely cheaper, then they will switch. Why is this important? Because, much like the commuter, it’s not the hardcore outdoorsman/woman who needs to be convinced these parks are worth saving, it’s the once-a-year camping trip to Glacier. That group needs to fall in love with the wilderness, and in turn support its protection.
So, now you are asking, why did you even write this, Travis? Because I am saddened by our government–we’ve taken our eye off the prize. America is not supposed to be about financial wrangling and pettiness, it’s about building a better world. And the national parks are part of that. No one who goes to a park leaves the same person–wounds are healed, love is enhanced, the world is made better. And we are shutting that down. Those visitors who were planning to catch the fall colors at RMNP, nope. That father-son canoe trip in the Everglades? That’s off. Finally less humid in DC, yet Shenandoah remains closed.
When our leaders decide to play chicken with an indelible piece of our national psyche, we lose. The fundamental ability of any American (or visitor to America to come see what we have done, and perhaps take a piece of that greatness home with them) to light out for the Territories is what makes us who we are. National Parks are our collective dreams, what we can do when we work together, and the “Closed” signs across their entrances are a collective black-eye of failure. I am ashamed of the government for which I worked, for it has sacrificed what I hold dear. It is a man laughing at a funeral. It disgusts me.
This is still America, and we have the power to change our government. We can petition. We can gather, and organize, and scream. And most importantly, we can vote.