At Yellowstone, a Cathedral of Peace Glories to the Very Best of America
FlaglerLive | August 25, 2013
Traveling with three friends, my wife and I just had the great good fortune to spend five days in Yellowstone National Park. The nation’s and, most likely, the world’s first park dedicated to the enjoyment of unspoiled wilderness and free-roaming wildlife, Yellowstone is simply remarkable. The mountains, the lakes, the waterfalls, the otherworldly geothermal pools and, of course, the animals transport you to a haven of tranquility that is difficult to leave.
On a tour boat in the middle of Lake Yellowstone, our skipper steered the craft in a lazy circle while the guide pointed out something that was only obvious once he pointed it out. “What don’t you see?” he asked his guests. As the boat continued its slow turn, you realized that, from this vantage point, you see no buildings, no cars, no power lines, no structures of any kind. It is exactly the vista that the area’s earliest explorers would have seen. And of how many places in our cluttered landscape can that be said?
According to the National Parks Conservation Association, the annual spending on our national parks system accounts for one-fourteenth of one percent of the Federal budget, but generates some $31 billion in revenue. Nevertheless, the parks system was forced to endure its share of the irresponsible, indiscriminate budget cuts called the sequester.
During our stay, we saw a grizzly bear, pronghorn antelope, a bald eagle in flight, a moose, and of course, lots of bison, whose lumbering journeys across the park roads provide drivers with the world’s most joyful traffic jams. We also saw young, seasonal employees from countries as disparate as Macedonia, Taiwan and Ecuador. Hearing conversations and glimpsing the faces of families transfixed by Yellowstone’s sweeping vistas, we were joined by tourists from France, Italy, Germany and The Netherlands. The park was also host to an extraordinary number of tourists from Asian countries, whose dialects were less familiar than those of the Europeans, but clearly belonged to Japanese, Chinese, Malaysians, Indonesians and Vietnamese. Our national treasures may belong to us as U.S. citizens, but they are borrowed, if only for a week or so, by grateful citizens of the entire world.
As our stay came to a close, and we prepared to drive back to Jackson, Wyoming, for our flight home, our little group reviewed what we had seen, tucking away the memories that would be as sharp and clear as the photos we had taken.
But I was also struck by what we had not seen. Though the park was predictably crowded for the third week of August, we saw not one instance of impatience, antagonism or hostility. Among all of these visitors from every corner of the globe, not a cross word was spoken—at least not that we heard. This was a place for people to be at peace, both with nature and with their fellow man.
There was something else missing, too. While many of the park’s vehicles were obviously rentals, there were also thousands of family cars, trucks, vans and RVs with license plates from Massachusetts to Oregon, California to Florida. And on those vehicles we saw exactly one bumper sticker with an angry, venomous political message. We saw no stickers praising the virtues of one political candidate or another. We saw those ubiquitous “our family” decals and tributes to various youth athletic teams, but not a single “Impeach Obama” or “Still support Obama? How stupid are you?” sign. Nor did we see any stickers from the left side of the spectrum.
Lettered T-shirts were everywhere, with proud messages from Yellowstone and other parks, in addition to the usual sports teams and colleges and universities. What we did not see were T-shirts proclaiming “The 2nd Amendment is my gun permit” or “Heavily Armed, Easily Pissed.” Were there hunters and gun aficionados in the park last week? Undoubtedly, but in this peaceful global village they clearly did not feel the need to alert others to their anger and paranoia.
Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with children of immigrants from many lands, and alongside those whose greatest hope is to become a U.S. citizen and claim ownership of a small piece of this wondrous landscape, it is impossible to fathom anyone declaring “Take Back America.” Whatever their political persuasion, the visitors who surrounded us last week, in quiet, awestruck enjoyment of this national treasure, knew that this was indeed the very best of America.