Some months ago I received an invitation to be a panelist at the MountainFilm Festival 2016 at Telluride in Colorado over the Memorial Day weekend ...
... and a few days after that initial contact learned that I was to be participating in a symposium with New York Times columnist Timothy Egan, and noted historian, Douglas Brinkley. You can imagine how surreal this struck me, but not having ever been involved in such an unbelievably significant event -- what did I have to lose? At my age (having outlived all the naysayers in my life) why not? By the time they realized their error I would have had my say and moved on, right?
So I accepted but filed it away for re-thinking when common sense might return and life assumed its ordinariness, and there would be enough time to reconnect with my new reality at some less spirited time.
Meanwhile, there were a number of occasions that Douglas Brinkley appeared on the screen of my television on panels of some sort -- mostly related to punditry, and nagging at the back of my mind would come the words, "...whatever was I thinking?" What form of insanity had overtaken my usual ability to sort out the real from the unimaginable, and what were the expectations of others that I'm supposed to fulfill?
Then it happened: Being a faithful CSPAN junkie, I just happened to flip into BookNotes last week when this eminent author was being interviewed about his newly-published book about President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his years of expanding and developing the National Park Service through the acquisition of new park lands, protections of wildlife, developing and maintaining properties and roadways through the use of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC); a program designed to provide employment and teach skills to young men of the country at a time when jobs were scarce and resources for youth at an all time low (not unlike our current state of the nation).
Over the course of the hour I became fascinated by NPS history -- some of which I had been exposed to over the past 15 years -- but that had never come alive for me; not really. The park system Professor Brinkley was referring to was that which has been inspired by environmentalist John Muir, President Teddy Roosevelt, Albright, Mathers, etc., and through his research he was presenting a National Park Service that was clearly male-dominated -- a federal agency closely resembling the model of the Armed Forces. This was not the park system that I recognized, except as an agency worthy of giving the rest of my life to (I'd figure out the whys later). In the beginning it was pure intuition and little more.
I'd learned over past years that -- about 1981-- there began to grow in the Department of Interior the slow realization that -- though all American taxpayers paid for the creation, development, and maintenance of this incredible system of a growing number of units, it was only those with the financial resources and the leisure time who could afford to visit them. It was during the early 80's that the concept of urban parks began to gain traction; the need to bring the parks to the people. Our park is one of those. There were no models for these so there had to be thinkers looking at the problem in new ways. How, for instance do you create national parks without federal lands? How do you create parks without borders -- parks based on stories alone? How do you create parks that only exist under the hats of the interpreting rangers? How do we create parks when the legislated scattered sites were owned commercially, by city or state, by private individuals, by non-profits? We were to own nothing, and would need to create partnerships with those who did. How do we do that? Each of these urban parks had to be created from whole cloth, with no models to guide those original planners.
As an original source, this is where I entered the park system because this is where women and "the feminine factor" began to augment what had been a purely male-dominated agency. "Rosie" gave us the possibility of equating the building of those Henry Kaiser-built 747 ships in 3 years and 8 months with the human stories -- the why, and why not?, the female-oriented questions like, ... how on earth could we have fought a war to save democracy (a war which cost 54.8 million lives worldwide), with a racially-segregated armed forces? That is delusional, but that's a question men would probably never have asked themselves, and never did, as far as I can tell. It is just such questions that we had the audacity to boldly ask.
Men have always been more concerned with how many bullets were used, and how many miles did we march, and how many ships did we build -- while women -- who were sending husbands and sons off to be killed, would have been asking very different questions, but rarely having their voices heard or warnings heeded lest they be seen as soft and unrealistic; womanly.
We are asking those questions now, in a system of urban parks now scattered at strategic sites that relate to the heroic places, the scenic wonders, the contemplative sites, the shameful places, and the painful ones. The feminine embraces the human stories -- there is a visitor center that sits at the bottom of the south end of Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama; another at Manzanar on the eastern ridge of the Sierras; at the graves of Dr. Martin Luther King and his Coretta, at Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad; at Port Chicago in Concord, California. We can re-visit almost any era in our history in order to own it, to process it, in order to begin to forgive ourselves so that we might move toward a more compassionate future, together.
The raising of the feminine consciousness to match that which those far-seeing NPS icons brought into being may yet provide the balance so necessary to face the challenges to climate change, rising sea levels, global warming. Those illustrious environmentalists of long ago may have provided us with the incentives to save ourselves by instilling in us -- not only the respect for the beauty of our natural wildlands and the will to survive, but the valuing of all of life in all of its forms,
... because Life matters.
After living with such thoughts over the past few hours, I'm thinking that Prof. Brinkley and I might provide a respectable range of perspectives for audiences -- he, with his proud male-oriented view, balanced by my more recently-lived nuanced experience that is so strongly shaped by the female-orientation provided by the complexity of our interpretations at the Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park.