Family owes Muir for years of memories

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.

Empty nest prompts advice for moms, dads

Day by Day: Empty nest prompts advice for moms, dads


January 27, 2020
This Week News

One spring, I watched an adult male robin and a young male robin as they hopped in my yard, pecking at the ground.

I noticed the larger robin was leading the smaller one – obviously papa and son.

I was fascinated. I had never seen that obvious action of teaching in nature before. I wondered how long it took the mama bird to push him out of the nest, and then the papa took over the teaching so he could survive.

Papa’s role had changed; he no longer brought worms to the nest for the babies.

That’s what we want for our children – not so much the worms but the learning and growing. We care for our children when they are young and cannot care for themselves.

As parents, we do our best to teach them by example and in all the ways anyone learns anything. We encourage their talents and provide opportunities as we can. We gradually nudge our children out of the nest so they will learn independence and live the lives they were meant to live apart from us.

The door always is left open with a soft place to land, no matter their age or place in life.

But the day comes when they fly the coop and we wave goodbye, helpless to stop time. A mixture of sadness, pride, love and hope rises within when we comprehend we have been working toward this day since they were born.

The time with them has moved far too rapidly, we realize, as we blink away tears.

My husband and I became empty nesters in 1995. All three children were grown and out on their own. When our youngest, Mary, waved goodbye to us after her wedding, I was told it was OK to cry.

But I said I was fine and very happy for her. She had married a nice man whom we loved.

The moment I landed in the passenger seat of our car to go home, I burst into tears.

How had time moved so fast?

I recovered on our drive home. I reminded myself again how happy we were for her.

Later that evening, I walked into our bedroom and found a framed picture of Mary with us, taken when she was about 3 years old.

A letter had been placed next to it.

As I read the letter, my hands shook with emotion and the tears once again fell. She was thanking us for being her parents.

The litany of mistakes I’d made over the years could have canceled out her loving words. So often I felt that I had messed up and had done things wrong as a parent.

If I could do it again today, I would do things differently. This same daughter went on to successfully homeschool all three of her children, and now she’s on the verge of being an empty nester, too.

That day, in 1995, as I read and reread her letter and then shared it with my husband, the old regrets melted away.

The letter is still tucked behind the photo. I have shared it with a few close friends, and each time, the tears return.

A quote from the book “Live and Learn and Pass It On” – described as “a collection of wisdom from people aged 5 to 95″ – states, “I’ve learned that simple walks with my father around the block on summer nights when I was a child did wonders for me as an adult.”

Pastor and author Gordon McDonald agrees: “All effective fathers learn the importance of a wise and flexible response to their children’s calls for attention. No busy signals here. No hold button.”

That also holds true for mothers, stepparents, grandparents, foster parents, adoptive parents or any adult in a child’s life who can offer the simple things to our children that involve time.

Talk and listen, cook, read, laugh and solve problems together.

Help with homework and attend their sports games, plays, concerts, art shows and science fairs.

Show up. Be present.

As ordinary people, we can show extraordinary love as we see each child as a unique gift, pecking his or her way through life, looking for an example.