>America’s Best Idea

December 12, 2009 at 8:36 am (Uncategorized)

>Disclaimer: what follows are not the views of anybody else but me. I do not speak for the National Park Service. I just work here.

From former park ranger and environmental rabble-rouser Edward Abbey:

As a one-time employee of the Park Service, I was always impressed by the high esteem which the general public seems to hold for Park Service rangers and naturalists. Impressed and a little puzzled. Most of us most of the time feel toward the uniformed functionaries of the state, especially police and quasi-police like rangers, no more at best than a grudging tolerance, as of a necessary evil. Why should the Park Service enjoy a special privilege in this regard?

Now, today, it seems to me that I have hit upon the answer. Maintaining the national park system is almost the only nice, decent, friendly thing the Federal Government does for ordinary people. Nearly all of its other activities, carried on at our expense, are for the benefit of the rich and powerful, or for the sake of secret, furtive, imperial causes that can inspire feelings only of shame and dread.

But the national parks belong to everyone. To the people. To all of us. The government keeps saying so and maybe, in this one case at least, the government is telling the truth.

–from Appalachian Wilderness, 1970
Ken Burns’ series “The National Parks – America’s Best Idea” on public TV two months ago inspired in many a greater respect than ever for the men and women of the Park Service. It was illuminating to realize that we are still fighting the same battles against privatization and destruction of public lands that were fought during the establishment of the earliest parks. Greed and self-interest will always be with us, just as Jesus said the poor will be.

I fell deeply in love with the young African-American park ranger, Shelton Johnson, in the series who told in a most poetic way of his own love for the wilderness he protects. Having been to many national and state parks across the country in my half-century I am thankful for the foresight and dedication to this ethic of preservation. I now wear the uniform of the National Park Service with pride, hoping I can be a good ambassador to the visitors who have both loved Big Bend National Park for many years, and to those who are discovering it for the first time. It is rewarding when someone stops on their way out of the park and tells me how happy they were that I recommended the Lost Mine Trail to them.

As for that uniform, it needs a little taking in, as I’m shaped like a sack of potatoes and I think (I hope) I’m losing weight. I also need to wear my hat right, according to the Director’s Order #43: Uniform Program, but not everybody’s heads allow the precise tilt of the ranger hat required by DO #43. At least I don’t refer to the uniform as a “monkey suit” like we did the Army fatigues worn in the mid-70s. I’m aiming for “sharp” like my associates and superiors here.

Visitors sometimes take my picture, as if I’m a “real” park ranger. I feel like a big fake. Go take a picture of Ranger Rob or Ranger Bob (either one) or Ranger Natasha or Ranger Jennette, I think. But I’m the one they see, so I try to look sharp.

I did point out the desert bighorn sheep on Persimmon Mt. this afternoon to those who brought binoculars through the Entrance Station. That’s what my uniform allows me to do, even compels me to do. To share an “interpretive moment” with the people who have come here to experience the very things that excite me.

Let’s hope we have people in power who will continue the vision of preservation for future generations. It takes you. And me. We elect ’em. We are Them.

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