Thursday, August 25, 2016

Our National Parks at 100 - It Didn't Have to Be

One hundred years ago today, President Woodrow Wilson signed the bill which created the National Park Service (NPS).

Stephen Mather (1867-1930) was named the NPS's first director.  A millionaire and marketing genius behind the "20 Mule Team Borax" brand, Mather was also a ferocious conservationist who worked tirelessly to protect the nation's wilderness areas and make them accessible to all Americans.

Mather's equally talented lieutenant, Horace Albright (1890-1987), took on all the nitty-gritty projects the "big picture" Mather disliked, including shepherding the National Park Service bill through Congress in 1916.  Albright would become the superintendent of Yellowstone (the first national park), and the second director of the National Park Service upon Mather's retirement.

The story of the birth of the National Park Service is told by Albright (from his book Creating the National Park Service: The Missing Years [1999]) and is a reminder that one of America's crown jewels didn't necessarily have to be.  That's still true today; our national parks are under threat from climate change, pollution, encroachment of mining/oil and gas, traffic, invasive species, and under-funding.  (The sum: 84 million acres, 59 national parks, 353 national monuments, battlefields [including my favorite] and historic sites, $12 billion in deferred maintenance, and an NPS budget that's grown 1.7% annually from 2005 to 2015 while the federal budget grew 39%.)

Albright's tale, then, is one of tenacity, vigilance, success--and warning:

The summer of 1916 was one of the hottest on record in Washington.  It seemed to drag on endlessly . . . .Getting the national park bill through Congress was a thankless job, for 1916 was an election year.  More importantly, it was a presidential election year.  To the incumbents, getting reelected was the only thing that counted, so they were frequently back home campaigning . . . .

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Luxury of Feeling Good

A few weeks ago I took Amtrak round-trip to New York City.  I enjoy riding the train, which usually gives me three or four undisturbed hours to work each way.  On this particular day I was feeling just a wee bit green, like that time I should have gotten off the sailboat 15 minutes earlier than I did. 

I knew I was in trouble when I opened my iPad and tried to read.  A little rumbly.  A little hazy.  A little green.  I closed the cover, and my eyes, and thought happy thoughts. 

Maybe it was too much sun the day before, or maybe something I ate.  Maybe it was simply the human condition.  Whatever the case, I was just slightly off my game that day—not too sick to cancel the trip, but not quite well enough to be comfortable and productive.

There exists in our modern world the presumption--or maybe better--the luxury of feeling good.  Some combination of the right food, enough sleep, exercise, aspirin and flu shots, and access to real medical care when required have been foundational to my decades in the workforce.  Yours too, undoubtedly.  I know there are unfortunate people who suffer without relief, but most of my co-workers through the years have been able to function comfortably on a daily basis thanks to the many blessings of modern life, from coffee to cold packs to dentists to Tylenol, that keep us upright and productive.

What makes the luxury of feeling good so special is that we are among the very first generations of humankind to expect each day to be pain-free and generally comfortable.

Expecting to Die on Your First Job