© Another Day in the Country
I am such a public television fan! This past week, I’ve been watching the special series by Ken Burns on the national parks.
We’ve all seen books filled with the grandeur of the scenery preserved in our national parks and their names have become part of our permanent vocabulary: Yellowstone, Yosemite, the Grand Tetons, the Grand Canyon. However, I’ve only been to a handful of these marvelous wonders for myself and never stopped to realize they were not always — preserved!
And then for five or six nights straight, I not only gloried in the beauty of the United States of America, but I listened to the words, and sometimes the voices, of the people who dreamed of this preservation of the natural world for future generations.
All too often, these dreamers for the future had to fight long battles with greedy businessmen, politicians, and ignorant people in general to save a piece of Americana for Americans. I am so grateful for their courage, their foresight, their sacrifices, and their doggedness.
John Muir was one of those early voices with an elegant vocabulary who found himself hired by loggers (of all things) in the Yosemite Valley and began a crusade in his writing for local newspapers to save what he found in Yosemite from the very forces who originally employed him. A spiritual man, he spoke of nature with a religious zeal, seeing God’s handiwork in every vista and nature itself as a Divine source of healing.
Of the countryside he explored and wrote about, the Hetch Hetchy Valley (which you probably heard about in the news lately because of the forest fires raging in California) was his favorite. He saw this most beautiful of places as God’s cathedral, perfect in its splendor and gloriously unique in creation.
You can imagine Muir’s horror, toward the end of his life, when politicians in Washington, D.C., spurred on by influential men in San Francisco, decided the Hetch Hetchy Valley would be dammed and flooded for the water supply of the growing city of San Francisco.
As we sat listening to story after story of people who were drawn to our national parks — perhaps first as children, traveling with their parents to view America — and then found it imperative to bring their own children to see these wonders, I compared their experience to my own. Our family rarely took vacations. While our parents revered nature, it was celebrated mostly in our own back yard or on our visits to Grandpa’s farm.
“Where was our magical place?” I wondered. “Where were the vistas that took my breath away and begged me to return time and again?”
Over breakfast, still ruminating about the previous night’s program, Jess suddenly blurted out.
“Ramona was my Hetch Hetchy.” I stopped eating and looked at her. “That’s what it was,” she said, “My sacred place.”
The pieces of the puzzle fell into place. Here I’d been wondering what spot in America stirred my heart, took my breath away and brought healing to my soul? And this was it, our Hetch Hetchy: Ramona.
This is the place I want to see preserved. This is the slice of America that I want future generations to experience. This is that piece of Kansas where my family had carved out a home, their American dream and I want to bring my children and my grandchildren back to this tiny sliver of the Heartland in the years to come.
We used to arrive in Wichita from California, find Uncle Clarence’s car left for us at the airport by a cousin, head eagerly out of town, sticking to the main highways on the map because we didn’t know our way on the back roads, then.
When we’d turn off of U.S. 77 onto the gravel road to Ramona, we’d slow our pace, roll down the windows of the car so we could better hear the meadowlarks and revel in the 360-vista.
“We’re back,” we’d say and smile, “back to our Hetch Hetchy, back to our sacred place,” this little town most everyone had forgotten where a traffic jam was two parked cars and a dog in the road.
Seldom do I use words as eloquently as John Muir and maybe once in a while my photographs are inspiring like Ansel Adams. Nevertheless, for many years I’ve been taking pictures of Ramona and writing about the wonders of this place. Still do! I want future generations to know what it is like, in all its most idyllic and rejuvenating ways, to spend another day in the country.