Family owes Muir for years of memories
October 8, 2020
This Week News
“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.” John Muir (1838–1914)
When I first visited Yosemite National Park, the beauty overwhelmed me: towering mountains; treetops that seemed to touch the clouds; the rushing river that never ceased its cleansing quest.
I felt so small yet peaceful amidst the reverent hush.
That was 47 years ago. I can visualize my young self seeing it all. I don’t think I could have put into words what I felt at the time. But all these years later, I remember the awe and sensory euphoria more than mountain names.
Then five years later, I had my first experience in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee. I hiked the trails and to the tops of mountains breathing cool air as I gazed at the smoky haze settling over the mountain range.
I felt awe once again being surrounded by God’s creation. A new kind of quiet and peace covered me. I breathed deeply and felt revived.
The Smokies is where my husband and I camped with our children and met people we never would have met otherwise from around the country and the world.
These experiences are what people like John Muir hoped for when the national parks idea first began.
Muir was a naturalist, writer and advocate of U.S. forest conservation. He founded the Sierra Club and published essays pushing for the establishment of Yosemite National Park, which was created in 1890. Muir became a major figure in the creation of parks for the Grand Canyon and Sequoia regions as well.
My husband and I have visited the Grand Canyon three times. The vastness is breathtaking. Words cannot capture the experience.
Last summer, we watched Ken Burns’ 2009 documentary, “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea,” again.
Muir was front and center throughout the many hours of this series of films. The history of the U.S. National Parks system is artfully and factually filled with the history of the parks themselves.
The series did not gloss over history that we don’t smile about. Case in point: The removal of the residents of the Smokies, including the Cherokee.
Watching this series was especially gratifying since this year we were not able to make our planned camping trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for various reasons.
Many of our memories are documented in photo albums. But the best memories are the ones we talk about even today.
In the 70s, there were no reservations available. We drove all night with the children asleep in the back seat. We arrived, often before sunrise, to wait in line for a campsite. We were young and even after a sleepless night, had energy to set up camp and head out on the trails.
Jean and Lee Schilling were local musicians who entertained campers at the campground amphitheater. They played guitar, dulcimer and autoharp and sang mountain songs. One trip, we went to their music shop, a cabin literally in the woods, and Bob bought a kit to make me a dulcimer.
We always drove though the Cade’s Cove loop and saw deer and bear. The latter often creating what is called a “bear jam” because people stopped on the narrow, one-way lane to take pictures.
We finished each day with a campfire, music, s’mores, and star gazing.
Last October we felt the years march past since we started camping in the Smokies. Our two grandsons, then 19 and 22, and one of their friends, rode their motorcycles to Tennessee to camp with us on the tent pad next to our Airstream.
The experience gave us new, precious memories made possible by forward thinkers like Muir.