Tuesday, October 6, 2009

National Parks

In 1965 my parents were on their third separation. We reassembled as a family in Florida in 1963 after exiting Cuba at different times. Chicago had not been the best choice for a tropical family to make a new life. My father, had left us in Chicago in the winter of 1964 and gone off to seek a better fortune in Los Angeles. After many a phone call my parents decided to forgive and try to forget and decided to give it another go. My mother and I boarded a Greyhound bus and traveled Route 66 to the Smoggy City in February of 1965.

That same June, as a sort of a family vacation and a make up honeymoon of sorts we traveled to our first National Park: Sequoia. We had managed a camping trip (if you want to call it that) to Lake Geneva Wisconsin on one of our two summers in Chicago. This was a total fiasco as we had never gone camping and were not equipped to do so. It is hard to imagine freezing in Wisconsin in the Summer; we did! With that memory in mind, my father had secured a very basic cabin near the main grove of Sequoias with heat, kerosene lamp lighting and a water pitcher and basin. It was marvelous. We loved camping!
On Moro Rock
More than marvelous, it was magical to be in this forest where these magnificent trees were bigger than anything any of us had ever seen. Here, located on the western facing slope of the California Sierra Nevada Mountains at an altitute of 6-8000 feet, they had been saved by the creation of this National Park. The sky was crystal clear. There were stars like no place I could remember. We visited all the groves of giant trees including the General Sherman tree, at the time, the largest and oldest living thing on the planet. We even, climbed three hundred some steps and visited a summit called Moro Rock. It was very different from the Morro Fortress in Havana harbor but we knew it was named after our Spanish heritage.

For four days, our lives became uncomplicated and my father’s drinking problem was somewhat under control. My parents enjoyed themselves and I was happy to share this great American experience that I have embraced since that magical summer in 1965.

PBS strutted out its new series on the National Parks: “a film by Ken Burns.” The episodes, however magnificent, were given to us in mega doses for six nights in a row last week. I hope you caught at least an episode. It is a shame that all that information was not left to simmer in your mind and accrue in appreciation as we became familiar with it over the span of a season. I would have gladly made an effort to see an hour of magnificent story telling, historical graphics and most of all, of some of the most beautiful landscape on the face of the planet.

Broadcast entertainment does appear to hinge on buying gadgets or services. I don’t have a TIVO or any recording devices because I don’t watch much programmed television anymore. I don’t even have cable which gets an odd raised eyebrow from friends who all seemed to be connected. There is not much to see in spite of the hundred of channels offered. PBS, the radio, a good book or a rented DVD do job for me. Now that we have digital TV, the National Parks program will undoubtedly be rerun hundreds of times as we now have three versions of WHYY, our PBS station, that needs to fill its programming schedule.

At Acadia National Park
I was 12 when I visited Sequoia with my parents. Over the years, I have camped and backpacked all over California’s mountains, shores and deserts and around the country in the National parks. There is nothing like sleeping out under the stars in places like the National Parks where you are assured an incomparable slice of nature. Years ago I camped in Acadia NP in Maine with my dog Taxi. She was supposed to guard us from wild animals, but she too, so enjoyed the camping adventure that she slept soundly while some wild animal broke into our cooler and ate all our fine German sausages and black forest ham! Happy trails to you.

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