My story is no different than most personal accounts of people who were born in the 1950s and lived through the sock-hop rock-n-roll Sixties, the tie-dyed Seventies, the Cold War Eighties, the internet-connected Nineties, the Great Recession of the 2000s, and now the Age of Enlightenment 2010s. I have sleep-walked through several of those decades, experienced the highs and lows of social interaction, found a successful trade that I could turn into a career, and then, finally, “Thank God!” I found something that I really enjoy doing. For me, it was photography, and specifically, digital photography that unleashed my creative desires, awakened me at night with new ideas, and yes, photography gave me a reason to experience the most wonderful places on planet Earth. Oh, just one more thing…I found love, too, but that’s a story for another day.
“Thank God! I found something that I really enjoy doing!”
Now my story really gets interesting. I have been blessed with the opportunity to travel extensively as a part of my military service, engineering, and business careers. Travel opportunity has taken me to a number of countries around the globe, and pretty much every state in the USA, save for Maine and North Dakota. I’m not sure how I managed to miss those two. I mention this fact only because it has been through travel – forced at first, but later voluntary – that I have learned to love the Earth, and eventually myself and my place on it.
“…we sat down and talked about how small we felt, looking across the ocean toward the horizon, far in the distance”
My personal enlightenment started to happen in the 1990s. In 1993 and 1994, I visited Hawaii, for two weeks each trip. My youngest son was with me, and it was just the two of us. We walked to the beach each morning, and I recall that on one of those beach walks, we sat down and talked about how small we felt, looking across the ocean toward the horizon, far in the distance.
The experience of feeling small was one of the most enlightening experiences of my life! This may have been the first time I had ever taken notice of how wonderfully big, and scary, and magnificent the Earth is. I recall now, twenty-plus years after this revelation, thinking about that moment as I lay awake at night, the windows open, letting the cool Hawaiian evening breeze come in. When we open our minds up to something that we can’t stop thinking about, we are changed.
“The experience of feeling small was one of the most enlightening experiences of my life!”
The current Age of Enlightenment started incubating for significant numbers of people around the same time, the 1990s or thereabout. Some credit goes to creative talents who created wonderful content about National Parks and many other fascinating places that made compelling programming on television at first, and later streaming online as bandwidth made its way out of the major cities and across the country. After incubation comes birth, and after birth is ‘coming of age’, and that is happening now.
I have lived this entire cycle. I experienced feeling very small, and that opened my eyes to the fact that there are things much larger, much more significant, than me or my ‘goals,’ or my investment account balance, or any of the other things that I stopped worrying about after that day at the beach in a far away land in the South Pacific.
“If Hawaii opened my eyes for the first time, it was Yellowstone that changed me forever.”
In the late summer of 1995, I visited Yellowstone National Park. Once again, it was just my youngest son and me on the trip. Prior to the trip, we studied the geology of Yellowstone, the supervolcano, the wildlife, everything we could find. Yes, we studied in advance, and it was not even a school assignment! That would not have happened before I first felt small. If Hawaii opened my eyes for the first time, it was Yellowstone that changed me forever. It was in Yellowstone that I first experienced feeling vulnerable to nature. For the first time, I knew that nature was in control of the Earth, and that all things good and bad that nature has to offer, will probably happen to me, and there is absolutely nothing I can do about it – in the moment, at least.
“It was in Yellowstone that I first experienced feeling vulnerable to nature. For the first time, I knew that nature was in control of the Earth…”
That, my friends, was my ‘coming of age’ of enlightenment – the first time that nature got my attention, to the point where I knew I was living at the grace of nature. A day may come that you witness something wonderful in nature, like the bugling of elk in rut. The realization may come to you, in that moment, that you witnessed this amazing event, not because you skillfully located the right place at the right time, but because the elk allowed you to witness it. That realization is enlightenment. When you understand that witnessing a bald eagle swoop down to capture a fish is no great accomplishment on your part, but instead, a wonderful act on the part of the eagle to proceed despite your presence. That is enlightenment!
Enlightenment is perhaps the quintessential pre-requisite to becoming an activist for conservation. With enlightenment comes awareness and sensitivity of nature all around us. It changes us. There was a time, years ago, when I would start channel surfing if a program came on the television asking me to watch the devastation of rain forests, let alone contribute money to save them. Now, I search for those programs and set them to record, in case I miss the broadcast. I feel ‘saved from myself,’ at last.
“I realized I was getting much more out of my Yellowstone experience than Yellowstone was getting out of my being there”
Since childhood, I cannot recall a time when I did not have a camera. My first camera was a Kodak Brownie Starflash, then came the family Polaroid. In military service, I spent my meager savings at the PX on my first single-lens reflex (SLR) camera and a lens or two. Along the way, I have gone through just about every series of SLR, auto exposure, auto-focus, and digital SLR. I raise this point only to note that I am a photographer at heart, and through photography (not career) I found a love for nature and the environment. I have captured photos all around the world and across my homeland, the USA. But it was during my first trip to Yellowstone that I realized I was getting much more out of my Yellowstone experience than Yellowstone was getting out of my being there. There were Rangers working around the clock, people keeping the facilities clean, and everyone was happy to be there.
I felt like I needed to do something to repay Yellowstone for the great experience I had that first year of 1995. Today, after more visits than I can count, I have become an activist for conservation of these wild places, and the flora and fauna that call them home. I support Yellowstone Forever, the official non-profit partner of Yellowstone National Park. At first, supporting YF through financial contributions scratched my itch to pay back Yellowstone. But after visiting many more of our National Parks, and studying their challenges all across our country, I realized that I can’t make dent through financial contribution alone. Please don’t misunderstand my point – financial support is the lifeblood of the non-profits that are critical to the continued operation of our parks. But, we can do more, and that is my ‘ask.’ Please do support your favorite park and its non-profit partner, but also, please look for ways to contribute more – your life’s experience and education.
Please help us do more
This is my call to action: Please help us do more by (1) supporting the non-profit partner of your favorite park or parks, but don’t stop there. You can do more by (2) volunteering your life skills and talents in service to our national parks, either to one of the non-profit partners like Yellowstone Forever, or by joining me in the future non-profit I am creating today, The Conservancy Project. Please visit our site, learn more about us there, then (3) click Register to receive news as it is posted. If you have skills and a few hours each month to volunteer in service to our National Parks and other wild lands and rivers, please (4) click Contact US to share your experience and interest with us.
Thank you for taking time to read my story. I hope you will build your story, too.