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.

Joy comes from hearing other people’s stories

Day by Day

Joy comes from hearing other people’s stories

By LIZ THOMPSON

November 14, 2016
This Week News

Every day I’m reminded there are miracles.

When I put my cochlear implant voice processors on my ears, sounds of life flood my brain — voices or music on the radio, water running, the coffee pot dripping and my husband talking to me or our dog — and I smile.

All these sounds were happening, even when I couldn’t hear them. They went on much like people’s lives, even though I don’t know them.

One important fact I learned as a reporter years ago is that everyone has a story with many chapters. The stories range the full spectrum, from celebration to sorrow.

Before my first implant, in 2002, I was a deaf reporter relying on several things: one ear that had some hearing with a hearing aid, my ability to lip-read, pen and paper, computers and people’s patience.

I let people know I wanted to hear their story and they all complied, doing whatever was necessary to get the story right.

My favorite interviews were when friends and family gathered to remember a loved one. I looked at photos, old newspaper clippings, scrapbooks and more. I heard and saw laughter and tears while writing a story of a legacy worth remembering. Legacies born of hard work, loving their families and respecting life.

Once I had my first implant and the ability to understand speech made conversations possible, I treasured interviewing others even more. The strain was gone for both parties, and I developed a deeper interviewing style that was a joy for me.

The local politicians might not have liked that I could understand, but I did. News also ran the full spectrum, and 15 years ago, I reported the facts — both sides, unbiased and without commentary.

Especially since my second implant in the other ear, I love engaging in conversations with others. When I ask, “How are you?” I really want to know and wait for an answer.

Last month, we were camping in Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee. One day, we stopped at a picnic grounds by a creek for a snack. A woman was reading a book, and I asked what she was reading.

“A book by Lisa Wingate,” she said. “I love her writing!”

“I’ve read all her books and am one of her early readers,” I replied.

She saw my cane, I think, and came over to our table. We chatted for a bit and she sat down. She was Junella from Indiana, named for relatives June and Ella. I told her Ella is the name of the protagonist in my fiction book I’d recently finished, and she smiled.

I felt I’d known her for more than the moments we talked about books and life in general. All too soon, we had to be on our way. I left her my card and told her I’d love it if she emailed me.

This conversation would have been impossible prior to 2002, unless she knew sign language, and I was never proficient in that.

Throughout our camping trip, we had various conversations with people from all over the U.S. We talked weather — it was much warmer than usual and very dry — and about our dogs, campers, music, children and grandchildren, trips we’d taken and even politics, which was a hot topic this year.

It thrills me to be able to catch every nuance of the conversation and hear the different accents and still understand the words.

Most of us know the tradition of Thanksgiving began as a way to show gratitude for the harvest. In an era of at least presumed plenty, we need to think of those who don’t have enough to survive well. There are many ways to help — food pantries and missions, to name a couple.

But the need might be on your street or nearby.

The list of what I am thankful for is too long to write here, but hearing and understanding again tops the rest. Each new day, I’m reminded of this blessing. I don’t take it lightly.

If you tell me your story, I will listen. Count on it.

When I start asking people questions, my husband teases me that I’m in my reporter mode. But the truth is, I’m interested and intrigued by other people’s experiences. I may not write one of your stories, but I’ll count it a blessing that I understand your words.

Local author Liz Thompson writes the Day by day column for ThisWeek News. Reach her at lizt911@gmail.com.

 

Anniversaries provide reason to reflect on past

Anniversaries provide reason to reflect on past

Day by Day
by Liz Thompson
This Week News
June 2, 2016

When I walk through the woods and forest glades I wander, and hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees. When I look down from lofty mountain grandeur, and hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze…

This verse in the hymn, How Great Thou Art always makes me emotional.

We camped in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park last month and we experienced all these words imply first hand.

This might not have been possible if a few determined people hadn’t gone many extra miles to make national parks part of our lives. What began in the 1850’s, became official 100 years ago this year. It wasn’t all pretty and it wasn’t all easy.

Some of the saddest pages in our nation’s history include when Native Americans, who had lived on these lands for generations, were driven off the lands. When our government finally had the opportunity to make National Parks in Alaska, they had a chance to “do it right.” The natives continued to be part of the culture, not excluded from it.

But we can focus on the end result of what these determined people did for our nation. First and foremost, to preserve the natural wonders– flora and fauna in all its purest form. And later, the wonders like Mount Rushmore and other monuments to people and historical events.

All this happened when communication was very basic – written letters and telephone. Transportation was by train and car – and many people did not own cars. If you wanted to travel from the East Coast out to California, it wasn’t easy going. I’m not even sure the condition of the roads.

Most of us can’t think back 100 years or even imagine what life might have been like. But preserving our history is important so we can learn from it and hopefully not make some of the same mistakes.

Preserving history also is celebratory.

Recently, my Mother came upon her mother’s wedding gown she had stored in her home. Another 100 year marker. The satin of the gown is in mint condition with only the delicate bodice and sleeves having become more fragile.

In my quest to find a home for this gown with a historical society, I wanted to get a copy of the February 27, 1916 Columbus Dispatch. The front page of the Society Section had a story about my grandparent’s wedding with a photo of the bride, her six bridesmaids and two flower girls.

My grandparents were married in a downtown Columbus church. 1,500 people attended and the reception at my great-grandparent’s home at 368 E. Broad greeted more than 300. The church still stands but not the large home.

I was amazed the paper copy my mother had of the story was still intact and, for the most part, we could see the photo and read the article. Personally, I’m glad I didn’t have 1,500 people at my wedding. My Mother and I were trying to imagine addressing invitations or writing thank you notes to all those people.

I learned the Dispatch only keeps papers in storage back to 1980. They suggested contacting the library, which I did.

Julie Callahan, of Reynoldsburg, Librarian in the Local History and Genealogy Department of the Columbus Metropolitan Library gave me the good news.

“We have every copy of the Columbus Dispatch since it began.”

I told her of the paper copy my mother had and that I wondered how it survived 100 years. Julie explained that paper in the 1800’s was fiber and lasted much longer. So the newspaper in 1916 was still a much higher quality paper than is used today.

Now I’ll have my copy to go with the dress once I find it a permanent home. No gown 100 years old should be hidden in storage.

Time does march on, but when I see my grandmother’s wedding gown I can’t help but wonder what was going through her mind as she placed the gown over her head and walked down the aisle. What gems did I miss in the 30-plus years I knew her?

She was starting married life the same year that the National Parks began.

I know she could play “How Great Thou Art” on the piano beautifully.

So while I walk through the woods, I can see the connection to the beauty in more ways than one.

For more information, go to: pbs.org/nationalparks

Government shutdown turned park to crime scene

Day by Day
Government  shutdown  turned park  to crime scene

By LIZ THOMPSON
THISWEEKNEWS
Thursday, October 24, 2013

We’d planned our trip for about six months. My Girl Scout training of 10 years taught me to “Be Prepared.” In any case, reservations at a national park can only be made six months out.

The Great Smoky Mountain National Park is a feast for the senses. October is our favorite month to camp. Crisp sweet-scented air, cold nights, rustling leaves underfoot, fewer campers and mostly the older set, like us, who are ready for conversation at any time and respectful as to when to interrupt others to engage in that chat.

Campfires are welcome as the temperature dips throughout the day and we get a lot of reading done while listening to the rushing creek.

We arrived on Sunday, Sept. 29 and planned to stay two weeks. Our campsite was all set and, a little weary from a long drive and the work, we were about to claim our chairs to relax. Before that, we walked to get a newspaper at the camp store. That’s when we read the headline that the government might shut down at midnight. If that happened, all the more than 400 national parks would close.

Tuesday morning the park ranger confirmed the outcome. We were told to pack up and go home; or wherever your next visit was to be. Home for us.

We headed to town for a cell phone signal only to be met with rangers at the visitor center setting up the orange cones, yellow tape — it felt like a crime scene actually — and we made sure we could get back into the park to retrieve our gear.

“Yes, but make your arrangements and be out by Thursday noon,” he said.

So the task of taking down what we had just put in place began. Campers started to vacate quickly. The local news station came through the park to get on-camera interviews asking the question our lawmakers should be asking, “How does this affect you?”

We enjoyed our last day as much as possible and when we drove out Wednesday morning, only four trailers were left in our area. To see the rows of vacant campsites was eerie at best. As we left the park, roads were blocked and when we got to one point, we had to open a metal gate and shut it after we passed through.

We didn’t see another car until we hit town, about 10 minutes or more out of the park. Not the usual occurrence.

While we were packing our campsite, it brought to mind what I’d heard over the years; different versions of, “If you had to leave your home quickly, what would you take?” The thought being, if you were to never return or if the house was on fire, what would you deem most important or irreplaceable? As long as my family was safe, the things don’t matter, in the long run.

Would I pack a suitcase full of the things of my life? Could I really do that? Pack the important things in a case or box? Not really. It’s the people and memories that matter.

While I sat by the rushing creek at our campsite, I was surrounded by memories we had made in the Smokies since 1977. I was sad we had to leave so quickly and 12 days before planned.

The sadness also came on another level that is difficult to put in words. I could almost see the people who carved out this particular national park so many years ago. In my mind’s eye, it was in black and white like a documentary. Then I realized if the park were to never reopen, the forest would reclaim all that man had made for access to this natural wonder.

The few campers still remaining on Tuesday milled around and talked. One couple from Arkansas were traveling all around the country visiting national parks for another few weeks and would have to figure out whether to go home or find a state park.

A couple from Illinois came to enjoy the sound of the creek. He had gradually lost most of his hearing but five years ago got a cochlear implant. A man from North Carolina had questions on details about leaving and said, “I don’t want to get political but …”

How could we not get political when the whole mess was just that? We all agreed, shook our heads and kept packing.

Will we return again? The Good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise, yes.

Local author Liz Thompson writes the Day by day column for ThisWeek News.