Mac Engel

Looking for a reminder why we love America? You’ll find it in our national parks

Fireflies: The Smokies light show

Thousands of tourists are drawn every year to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to witness the mating ritual of a species of fireflies that blink in beautiful synchrony.
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Thousands of tourists are drawn every year to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to witness the mating ritual of a species of fireflies that blink in beautiful synchrony.

We are in the beginning stages of presidential campaign coverage, meaning you may want to move to a tiny island in the North Atlantic.

If amid all of this nasty noise you yearn to fall back in love with America, go see it again, maybe for the first time.

Americans can screw up a lot, but we cannot screw up America.

You don’t need to fly to southern England to walk Dover’s Cliff, swim the Great Barrier Reef, or hike Machu Picchu, to experience some the world’s, and God’s, greatest works of art. They are all here in America, but because they are not too far from your home, they are not as romantic or enthralling as a far away locale.

There is no better way to be reminded of America’s greatness than a walk not on Broadway or South Beach, but by the Grand Tetons. Or sit in a canoe in the Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend. Jump into Crater Lake. No place in America provides instant innocence, and affection, more than the Grand Canyon. Than Yosemite. Than the Badlands.

Or, Earth’s heaven, Yellowstone.

Never take for granted what a few visionary Americans did to give you and me the best of America. Leaders like John Muir, Teddy Roosevelt, Stephen Mather, John D. Rockefeller, George B. Dorr, and others who protected, and created, one of the best things this country has ever done: The national park.

Even the most ardent atheist would walk through an American national park and contemplate that maybe he or she is wrong.

The beauty of these locations isn’t just a waterfall, geyser or majestic sunset but the feeling they all generate. They are a physical reminder of how small, and insignificant, you and your big problems really are.

And no photograph, film or painting can come with an eon of capturing the scope, soul and serenity of these places.

They are a reminder that the new iPhone is fun, the 7,000-inch flat screen HD TV you just bought sure is great, and Disney is a wonderful place, but the happiest place on earth doesn’t need a commercial or come with a $25 stuffed animal.

America’s true greatness is not in any document or slogan, but rather this land. We abuse it from time to time, and I am a realist when it comes to needing earth’s resources to make a nation go.

The parts that we have agreed, sometimes through legislation and exhausting legal battles, to protect are the best of us. Stand on an untouched beach on the Channel Islands, and it’s tough to be upset. Feel the mist from one of Yellowstone’s many waterfalls, and you simply feel good fortune.

Few things have put an existence in perspective like stepping out into an August, moonless night inside Big Bend National Park. The night is black as tar, and visibility is measured in inches. The scope alone is intimidating.

Then you see stars that don’t seem possible, the Milky Way, and maybe a passing overhead satellite hundreds of thousands of miles above. Instant humility. In one moment, the universe has told you that you just aren’t that big of a deal. None of us is.

None of us measures up to this land.

Stand among the giants in California’s Redwood National Park and you will know exactly how any of us measures up. There is no debate here.

It is in this current climate where point of views are so stridently, and defiantly, opposite we do share a common love for the land. For America’s beauty.

You can turn on any device these days and listen to toxic rhetoric pointing out that our nation is at war with each other over politics, ideologies, and fights over class and race. Just because you turn it off or choose not to listen, it doesn’t mean these issues do not exist.

They are a part of America, and if you watch too much of that it can make you sick.

Our home has flaws, because we Americans are flawed, and full of imperfections.

But our land is perfect.

If you want to fall back in love with America, go see it. You could have lived here your whole life here and seen it without truly experiencing it.

There is no better place to do it than a national park.

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