You could say that America’s National Parks changed the course of my life. So I want to add to the chorus, in celebration of 100 years of the U.S. National Park system.
I don’t have the most beautiful pictures of our National Parks. In fact, none of my old personal photos, with their poor composition and lack of contrast, do justice to the rugged beauty of the western parks that influenced my life. But I don’t have to apply a special filter to make my photos look vintage either.
My mother’s family took a camping trip every year. Black and white photos of Sequoia, King’s Canyon, Yosemite and Lassen Volcanic National Parks are among her treasured mementos. Her stories of arduous hikes “with daddy” and counting mosquito bites and jokes around a campfire abound. Her love of camping led to my own childhood of hikes, tents, bites and memories and an important early exposure to “nature”.
For me, it wasn’t only the grandeur of the beautiful settings but the educational efforts of the park system that intrigued me. I distinctly remember a sign at Yosemite, when I was probably 12 years old, that explained how Mirror Lake was slowly becoming Mirror Meadow as nature took its course. This was my first ah-ha moment that nature was a process and not just an unchanging point in time.
From Park Rangers I learned why you shouldn’t take a short-cut through a wet meadow and how to tell pine trees apart by the smell of their bark. This led to a life-long interest in plants and nature. I made early efforts in helping others appreciate the natural world by assisting groups of teens backpacking to Yosemite’s Half Dome during a summer of college. .and later..leading the educational efforts for Big Basin State Park for a time.
The most important time I spent in Yosemite was the summer I was 16 and worked in the back-country on a trail crew for the Student Conservation Association. We were sent to fix some erosion problems in “The Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River”, that had previously been worked on in the 30’s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. I learned many fundamentals about drainage, water flow management, and the satisfaction of hard work and a well-swung sledge hammer. (I had not known that breaking rocks was actually…a thing.)
We got weekly shipments of food and mail by mule train and slept with pots and pans to scare off bears in the middle of the night. It was an influential summer for me in many ways. I learned real-life lessons in practical physics and the magic of a fulcrum and lever, to move rocks many times my weight. I learned how to make thimbleberry cake in a sheepherders oven and the joys of a job well done, in the company of others. All of this, while surrounded by the amazing wilderness of one of our national treasures.
I’ve had the great privilege of enjoying many of America’s National Parks but there are two others, in California, with special significance for me. Mt Lassen Volcanic Park was the location for a memorable trip with my god sons, when they were tweens. In addition to learning everything I never wanted to know about World of Warcraft, I got to make lovely memories with another generation …..many years after my mother visited the same park, and created her fond memories, when she was a kid.
More recently, I’ve been enjoying a park that is closer to home; the fascinating Pinnacles National Park. The rugged beauty of this Volcanic remnant, that is home to the endangered California Condor, is spectacular and varied, from bare craggy peaks to lush riparian color. This year was noted as an especially good wild-flower year with many species blooming that hadn’t been seen in such numbers for a long time.
In addition to making memories, observing nature holds important lessons, not only for life, but as inspiration for anyone who wants to make or care for a garden. Below are just a few things I’ve learned from spending time in my favorite National Parks, that I think make me a better designer. —————–
-What grows where; the importance of conserving and observing native flora and habitat.
-Nature usually plants with a broad brush; creating sweeps, layers and groups. Imitating this makes for more natural-looking landscapes.
– Nature is a process, not a static system; Accept it and plan accordingly.
– The power of water and fire; Respect it and plan accordingly.
–Paths only curve for a reason; to adapt to a change in topography or go around an obstacle. Design accordingly.
–How nature uses its rocks; rarely mixing types, generally settled into the earth. Crevices and shadows are important.
-The focused beauty of a framed view; consider the possibilities
Now go out and visit a National Park, or simply find time to spend in nature …..and notice the details….. and make memories of your own.
find a park here; www.nps.gov
“If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore; and preserve for many generations the remembrance….” — Ralph Waldo Emerson