As we watched the first episode of director Ken Burns’ new film, “National Parks: America’s Best Idea,” I was humbled by a deep sense of gratitude.
Of course, we’re all indebted forever to the people who battled the establishment and made the first giant leaps. They took gorgeous, raw land and set it aside in its natural state for everybody else, forever.
But my sense of debt that night was also much more personal: I’m so thankful that my mother was the person she was.
In the show’s intro, as Burns’ cameras soared over mountains and mud pots, canyons, seashores and glaciers, I realized how very blessed I am to have experienced so many of our national and state parks, monuments and beaches.
I saw many of them with Mom.
Most of the our journeys were day trips, so we saw every park, monument, battlefield, beach, vista point, nook and cranny within a half day of Westchester County, New York. But we also went cross-country several times.
As a child, I wasn’t as appreciative as I am now. There were no kiddy car seats then, and I’m short. So, when I wearied of looking out the window at the sky and treetops, I often buried myself in a book in the backseat of whichever vehicle we were in.
“Oooooh, Kathe!” my driver mom would say, “Look at that beautiful (mountain, bird, animal, rock, whatever)!” I’d rouse myself into an ultra-upright position, peer out the window and make some appreciative noises before sinking back into my Nancy Drew mystery or book about zoo, African or archeological adventures.
But despite my youthful preoccupation with other things, the beauty and majesty of the lands we saw made a deep impression on me and created the magical memories that I cherish so much.
Some of our trips were literally life-changing. As we traveled near Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Teton mountains, Mom met a charming Irish-Texan chef.
They married 10 days later, and I began my high-school years amid the spectacular scenery of Jackson Hole, Wyo. Within the next four years, we moved more than a dozen times, mostly in the mountain or desert states or California.
But on the way from one home to the next, we’d always take in the sights, especially the natural ones.
As I look back now, I realize what a rich background of memories and experiences my mother gave me and, later, my children. And I’m so very grateful.
However, I also feel a deep sense of indebtedness to our local, modern-day John Muir types, people who literally dedicated their lives — for a time or seemingly forever — to setting aside North Coast properties to protect them from development.
For instance, so many of us are grateful for the astounding way in which Cambrians and others banded together with various agencies to buy East West Ranch and turn it into the community-owned Fiscalini Ranch Preserve.
The North Coast has so many parcels, large and small, that won’t have houses on them or resources removed from them because determined people fought to conserve them. The Hearst Ranch coastal strip, Covell Ranch, Estero Bluffs, Harmony Headlands … wild then, wild now, wild forever.
It sounds like magic, and it is.
But we’re not done. Setting aside the land is one thing. Keeping it as it was is something else entirely, and it costs money.
Many of this area’s protected lands are now part of California’s State Parks system or part of the forest service. Other park areas are locally owned, from the Cambria Community Services District’s Fiscalini Ranch Preserve to a creekside preserve and other trails and parks owned by Greenspace — The Cambria Land Trust.
All need our support now more than ever.
So, as we watch the other episodes of “National Parks” and marvel at our good fortune to live in such a land, a state, a neighborhood, we will remind ourselves that there’s more work for us to do, and always will be. Whether with our hands, our minds or our money, we will do whatever we can. It’s our only way of repaying a debt that stretches back to John Muir and my mom, and forward to our great-great-great grandchildren and beyond.