Cbr14bingo Verse — because many of the selections in this tome are poems, and because our National Parks seem to be a ‘verse unto themselves.
Full disclosure — I have never visited any of the parks featured in this book and I do not camp. I have zero interest in camping or even glamping. When I go on vacation, I want to stay someplace more comfortable than my own house, and I am not at all interested in encounters with the local fauna. I do not even want to see bears at the zoo, much less in a forest while I’m taking a walk. I do, however, enjoy others’ lovely photos and stories about their experiences, and I am very happy not to be part of the overcrowding at our national parks. You’re welcome!
I found this book as a result of targeted advertising on FB, which is pretty hilarious given my statement above. Anyway, it sounded like it would make for fun summer reading and I was hoping for some Native American tales, which are there (although not as many as I would have liked). I also recalled that it was the National Park Service (NPS) that fired first shots for the resistance at #45’s inauguration in 2017 when they dared to tell the truth about how many people attended. That seemed a delightful surprise at the time, but it turns out that the NPS has always had a tiny subversive streak in it, and some of that comes through in the stories included here.
The editors of this book, a husband and wife team who discovered they were expecting their first child while on the road doing this research, are city folk whose first encounter with the National Park System was through Acadia National Park in Maine. They became hooked on the park and camping experience, the disconnect from screens and the telling of stories around the fire. Learning about Acadia’s history and some of the stories of that park led them to wonder what other parks were like and what stories they had to tell. Over the course of 4+ months, they visited Acadia, the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, Zion National Park, Yosemite National Park, and Yellowstone. These parks serve as the book’s chapters, each featuring at least five stories, poems or brief historical extracts related to that park and its history. The Kyus provide a list of sources as well as information about communities related to the parks at the end. They also describe their process for finding stories, authenticating them and making sure that those whose voices have been silenced get their due. At the end of each poem/story, they provide a little information about the writer(s), who are quite a diverse bunch — folks who grew up near the parks, those who moved to be closer to them, Native Americans telling their own people’s stories, park rangers, newspaper men and women…. Some are folks you would have heard of, such as Bill Bryson and naturalist John Muir, but most are people whose love of the parks inspired them to write about them and whose works the Kyus discovered via the park service, local libraries and historical societies. Some of the stories are factual, many are fanciful; some were written a hundred years ago or more, others are contemporary. What we learn is that each park has its own personality and history that can be a mix of the wondrous and tragic, because, after all, they are part of the broader history of our country.
A number of the stories stood out for me. A fascinating excerpt from Bill Bryson’s “A Walk in the Woods” provided a sort of “geology for dummies” account of the formation of the Great Smoky Mountains. “The Legend of the Blue Mist” is a spooky short story set in the Rockies, while “Other Campfires” is a reflection from one of the first park rangers about what he sees and finds on his hikes through the mountains. “Why the North Star Stands Still” from Zion National Park is a native tale via the Paiute, with an interesting end note that the Kyus received from a local to beware of the way many native stories can be “Mormonized.” “Lombard Gate” is Shelton Jackson’s account of being one of the black soldiers sent to protect Yosemite; it is because of Jackson’s research that we know about the Buffalo Soldiers, the African American Cavalry unit sent to protect Yosemite from poachers and timber thieves in 1899. Shelton went on to become a park ranger himself. Then there is the excerpt from “Thirty Seven Days of Peril” by Truman Everts. Everts was part of the 1869-71 expeditions to explore Yellowstone. This guy got separated from his group and spent a month in the cold and snow, losing his horse and most of his tools almost immediately. He had to deal with mountain lions, frostbite, getting burned while sleeping too near a hot spring, and then getting constipated from eating the roots he foraged. He also accidentally started a forest fire. He was near death when a search party finally found him, and even then he might have died while waiting for medical help if not for a trapper who gave him bear fat to drink. Apparently that is a cure for constipation. Gross. Anyway, interesting to note that for a long time, white people thought that natives avoided Yellowstone because they feared the geysers. It seems much more likely that natives were well aware of them and probably a million times more careful around them, but they did not want white folks to ruin the area so they never mentioned the area to them.
I learned a lot of interesting facts while reading these stories. Acadia National Park, est. 1916, was the first national park east of the Mississippi. The Great Smoky Mountain National Park, est. 1934, is the most visited national park, and its Appalachian Mountains were once the tallest in the world. It was difficult to get native stories for the Rocky Mountain National Park because the native people tended to migrate through the area rather than stay. Zion National Park began in 1909 as Mukuntuweap National Monument but was renamed 10 years later (which I think is a shame; I support movements to bring back native names). Yosemite was the first federally protected land in the world and the site of a golden age of rock climbing, 1955-70. Yellowstone was our first national park and its “discovery” was a point of fascination back east where stories of geysers etc caused both skepticism and wonder. Did you know that half of the world’s geysers are at Yellowstone? Or that it sits on top of an active “super volcano”? Can you sleep at night knowing this???
This book is very entertaining and would make a great gift for the person who loves the national parks and camping. I will confess that I did end up googling a lot of the landmarks mentioned in the stories so I could see what they looked like, and I am sure that if I saw them in person I would be overwhelmed by their grandeur. We are lucky to have the National Park System. Here’s hoping that people and global warming don’t ruin a good thing.