An appreciation of new vistas

It was a perfect October day the first time I visited the Algonquin Mill Festival, in October 1973. The leaves were at their colorful peak, the sun was shining and I was comfortable in a light jacket. I enjoyed exploring the grounds with my cousin Gail, who was visiting from Georgia and staying at our house. It was also my birthday, and I carried a new leather wallet in my pocket.
The festival included a hand-operated apple cider press that was set up near the mill. Steam fueled, if I remember correctly, by coal powered the mill and broadcast a pleasing blend of steam mist and coal smoke over the grounds, taking me back to a time I hadn’t inhabited but somehow knew.
I fell in love with Carroll County’s hills and dales in 1972 when our family began camping near Carrollton, and the Algonquin Mill Festival’s celebration of our rural past added to my love of our neighboring county to the south. I felt as if I had stepped into our rural past, and I was especially enchanted by the fiddle contest.
My family camped throughout my high school years and took many longer trips on vacations. The long trips began after my father graduated from college and started work at Goodyear Aerospace, and in my elementary school years we toured a cave in southern Ohio, visited Washington, D.C., camped by Lake Michigan in the state of Michigan and stayed in a cottage near Long Island Sound in Connecticut. In my high school years we camped on sandy ground north of Myrtle Beach and at a rocky campsite on a hillside in the southern Appalachians. The highlight of those years was my graduation vacation to Gettysburg, the Chesapeake Bay, Williamsburg, Jamestown, Yorktown, Petersburg, Appomattox and Harpers Ferry. I discovered a mystical connection especially to Gettysburg, Harpers Ferry and Williamsburg that continues to this day.
Our longest trip, during my college years, involved three weeks in the West hitting many of the best known parks: the Badlands, Mount Rushmore in the South Dakota Black Hills, Yellowstone, Great Salt Lake, Bryce Canyon, Zion, the Grand Canyon and Rocky Mountain National Park. I saw snow by the road in July in the Rockies, hot colored water bubbling from the ground at Yellowstone, and vistas everywhere straight out of what until then I had seen only in movies and documentaries. My younger brother and I walked halfway down the Grand Canyon and waded far out into the Great Salt Lake, where the water was still only to our knees. Those parks deserve their fame, and no photograph or description can convey the experience of walking down the side of the Grand Canyon, zigzagging on a trail in a notch of the South Rim.
From these trips I learned a love of the outdoors and travel, an appreciation of new vistas and exploring new roads, and a fascination with our national parks. My wife and I have taken many long trips, camping in tents, over the last two decades because we both took trips as children. I’ve returned to Williamsburg, Gettysburg, Appomattox and Harpers Ferry, I can never get enough of the Appalachians and the ocean, and we’ve camped in New England, New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, West Virginia, Georgia, Florida and Kentucky and between the Atlantic Ocean and Pamlico Sound on North Carolina’s Outer Banks.
Recently we’ve been watching Ken Burns’ National Park documentary on DVD, and the show reminds me of the love of place I learned from my parents and continued to engage in my adult life. The show tells how settlers, miners, businessmen and ranchers saw the land of the West as something to exploit until John Muir began his campaign for preservation. The idea of setting aside thousands of acres of land left in its natural state was brand new at the time, and Yellowstone was the world’s first national park. Even after it was established rules had not been fixed, and people walked to edges of geysers, scratched their names in rock and shot wild animals.
When I visited Yellowstone in 1977 those days, of course, were long gone. Fences kept us on the walkways, and elk and moose grazed with no fear of gunshots. At Mammoth Cave the park ranger showed us writing made on the cave walls in the 1800s and called it historical graffiti, but he said now such writing is a felony.
The Ken Burns show calls national parks “America’s best idea,” and it says that making them national rather than state parks gives every citizen of the United States a sense of ownership. I am grateful for those parks, and I am grateful for my parents’ taking us on those many trips over the years that instilled in me a love of nature and place.

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