A Film about America’s National Parks: Ken Burn’s Best Idea?

30 09 2009
Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon

Shortly after we returned from our Grand Tour of the National Parks of the American West this summer, I learned that Ken Burns and crew had been doing the same thing, although with more time, more people, more cameras, and, no doubt, more access.  So I have been eagerly waiting to see what came out of his experience.

Halfway through the airing of the series, I can say I’ve seen every second so far, except for two brief periods when I nodded off about two thirds of the way through both episodes one and two.  Somehow I managed to stay awake through the whole thing last night.



My impressions?

I relished seeing the pictures from the parks I’ve visited—Yosemite, Yellowstone, Mesa Verde, Rocky Mountain, Grand Canyon, Acadia, Zion, and Bryce.  Though I do think at Bryce and Zion he missed some of the best shots.  Maybe he’s headed back later.  The story of building the tunnel to gain access to Zion from the east seems perfect for the show.  I can’t believe he wouldn’t include it.

I’ve added three places to my “bucket list”—Crater Lake in Oregon, Mount McKinley/Denali in Alaska, and the volcanoes in Hawaii.

Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon

I’m glad to see his token Native American and black commentators.  They’re both an asset to the show.  But don’t blink or you’ll miss the female speaker.  Mostly you’re looking at aging white guys, distinguished from one another only by the amount their hairlines have receded.  I guess the general need for political correctness has made me expect a little more variety.

Many times the location of the photography is evident within the context of the show, but sometimes I’m left wondering where certain shots originated.  It would be nice if there were a way to convey that information without detracting from the beauty of the shot.  Something like closed captioning the viewer could turn on and off?

Rocky Mountain

Rocky Mountain

And I suppose it should come as no surprise that in their passion for the subject matter, Burns and crew have gone on a little long with some of the material.  Aren’t we all guilty of sharing a few too many vacation snapshots with people who were willing to indulge us?

Music can take a good show and make it truly memorable.  This series doesn’t seem to have a powerful overriding musical theme.  However, in each episode so far I’ve heard a tune that takes me back to Sunday school when I was in first or second grade.  Everyone in grades one through six would gather to sing a couple of songs before separating for individual classes.  My mother was our distinguished piano accompanist.  About the only song I remember now was “This Is My Father’s World.”  The fact that the words come back to me now is certainly a tribute to long term memory:

This is my Father’s world and to my listening ears

All nature sings and round me rings the music of the spheres.

This is my Father’s world.  I rest me in the thought.

The rocks and trees, the skies and seas.  He is the Ruler yet.



I’ve been unable to catch the title as the credits roll by at 100 mph at the end of the show, but I’m sure that’s what they’re playing.  The volume is very low, almost as if they couldn’t quite fully commit to it.  It seems appropriate, though perhaps a little too religious.  Anyway, I’ve enjoyed the stroll down memory lane when I catch a bit of the tune.

So you know where I”ll be tonight at eight.


If You Were Perfect, You Wouldn’t Be Perfect

28 09 2009

A water bearer in China had two large pots, each hung on the ends of a pole which he carried across his neck.  One of the pots had a crack in it. The other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water.

At the end of the long walk from the stream to the house, the cracked pot arrived only half full.  For a full two years this went on daily, with the bearer delivering only one and a half pots of water to his house.

Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments, for which it was made.  But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it was able to accomplish only half of what it had been made to do.

After two years of what it perceived to be bitter failure, it spoke to the water bearer one day by the stream.  “I am ashamed of myself, because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your house.”

flower_gardenThe bearer said to the pot, “Did you notice that there are flowers on your side of the path, but not on the other pot’s side?  That’s because I have always known about your flaw, so I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back, you water them.  For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate the table.  Without you being just the way you are, there would not be this beauty to grace the house.”

Each of us has our own unique flaw.  But it’s the cracks and flaws we each have that make our lives together so very interesting and rewarding.  You’ve just got to look for the good in each person.

(I first saw this story in a publication for a Parkinson’s Disease association, though various copies of it are widely available on the web.)

A Gentle Man with a Stubborn Streak

24 09 2009

A delightful gentleman comes into the Restore every week on the day I volunteer.  He’s in his eighties, I think, and is one of those people you can tell is very smart, though he certainly doesn’t flaunt it.  Things just come up in conversation that reveal this guy is no slouch.  He’s lived a long and interesting life, and he’s shared bits and pieces of it with us over time.

I volunteer one day a week, and I used to think he only came in that day, to see the Thursday volunteers.  I guess I was a little disappointed to find out he comes in every day to see everybody.  So we’re special, just not that special.  Then I found out he doesn’t just hit the Restore.  He has other shops on Route 1 that he frequents, with friends at every stop who no doubt love him as much as we do.  That’s okay.  There’s enough of George to go around.

Whenever he has something to donate that he thinks one of us might like, he gives us first dibs on it.  I got a nice oriental rug for my living room that way.  And a wooden baseball bat that has “The Dougster” scratched on it.  I thought it referred to his son, but he informed me it was the neighbor kid.  I kept it because my son thinks it’s funny and I feel sentimental about it.

A year and a half ago George’s family and his doctor decided he needed some fairly serious surgery to improve and extend his life.  He was not convinced, but, under pressure from them (the term ambush comes to mind), he relented.  His recovery was a struggle, especially considering he was pretty annoyed going in, but in retrospect it was a good call.  For a week or two after the surgery when he was able to get out and about a bit but not up for driving, his wife brought him in.  She is just as sweet as he is, but we know that if she comes in with him, all is not right with the world.

So I guess that should have been my first clue when I looked up last week and saw them both in the store.  Plus the fact that it was afternoon, and he always shows up promptly at opening time.  But it wasn’t till I saw his black eye that I really got concerned.

It turns out that the day before he had gotten held up when he got in the car in the parking lot at the grocery store. This was not on some back alley.  It was at a big, newly-remodeled strip mall—Staples, Home Depot, TJ Maxx, Bed Bath and Beyond, Michaels, and grocery store.  And it wasn’t late at night on a moonless evening.  It was at 10:00 a.m.  The guy snuck behind him as he sat in the driver’s seat, put his arm around George’s neck, and demanded the cash from his wallet.  George was so mad he threw the wallet to the side as he reached for it.  Which made the guy madder and resulted in a huge lump on George’s forehead, the black eye, and a substantial contusion on his forearm.

Perhaps most amazing was the fact that later that day the guy turned himself in.

Anyway, I’m wondering if George should have put up such a fight, putting himself more at risk.

I’m also reminded of what we all know.  Look in and around your car before you get in.  It’s smart to be cautious about where you go and when you go there, but nothing makes up for being alert to your environment. Plus lock your door as soon as you get in the car.

And I’m realizing that as charming a fellow as George is, he’s definitely got a stubborn streak!

Walking on Sunshine

23 09 2009

Having taken the summer off, I’m busy walking with my neighborhood buddies again.  We walk Monday, Wednesday, Friday.  There are actually three groups out during the 8:30 to 9:30 hour.  The bus stop moms walk after the school bus picks up their elementary age kids.  These younger moms spend most of their time talking about education issues.  I belong to the have kids in college group.  We talk more about health related things.

walkerThe senior citizens group is a pair of women, both widows, who’ve been strolling through their mornings together for twenty years.  They have either figured out all the education and medical stuff or given up trying because they talk about stuff like picking up men.  At 9:00 a.m. in our neighborhood the choice is pretty limited—lawn care guys, fellows who drive the garbage trucks, home re-modelers—but these women have their radar on.  Good for them!

Tuesday and Thursday, if I walk, I walk alone.  It’s good to have time for personal contemplation.

And on the weekend my husband and I walk together.  That can be frustrating because he always wants to go someplace new, and he never wants to just turn around to get back home.  We have to make some kind of a giant loop.  I think it’s a guy thing.  We tend to take very long walks on streets with tons of traffic.

Consorting with the Enemy

21 09 2009

I’ve spent a bit of time over many years pondering the relationship between my mental being and my physical being.  It’s a philosophical question, maybe a theological one.  My feeling has been that who I am is identified by my brain, my mental being, my soul or spirit, as it were.  But my body, my physical being, the business controlled by my heart, lungs, etc. seemed inextricably tied to this soul.  As the song says, “You can’t have one without the other.”brain

However, when forced to ponder the full array of autoimmune diseases, including multiple sclerosis, I am tempted to put some distance between the two entities.  I feel quite betrayed by my body.  It’s a loose cannon.  There’s mutiny in the nervous system.  White blood cells are running amuck.  The French Revolution is being carried out amongst my axons and neurons.  My spirit is the Good Witch of the North; my body is the Bad Witch of the West.

But wait, this won’t do.  Because to ease the impact of this disease, I have to grease the skids, to consort with the enemy.  I have to bribe it with high fallutin’ medicine, nutritious food, regular exercise.  I have to make nice.  But honestly, some days I’m so annoyed with y body I want to toss the injection, skip the yoga class, and chow down on a plate of ribs and fries (extra salt.)

I think Michael Stein was alluding to this in his book The Lonely Patient when he said, “The chilling message of illness is that the body has a life of its own.  Our minds, we understand most clearly when we are sick, follow rather than lead.  The body is despotic.”

Maintaining Secrets

18 09 2009

Ellen DeGeneres has certainly been in the media spotlight of late.  All the talk reminds me of something she said a while back.  (I can’t remember when or where or what the circumstances were.)  Though she wasn’t referring to medical privacy issues when she spoke, I think her reasoning could easily apply to decisions about disclosing a diagnosis.

She proposed that the important thing is not whether you’re in the closet or out of the closet.  The important thing is how having a secret or telling a secret impacts the quality of your life.  When keeping a secret becomes a burden, then consider how much your load would be lightened if you let go of it.  If apprising everyone of your situation would create an unmanageable weight, then keep it to yourself.  That makes sense.

A Tree Grows in Fairfax

15 09 2009

The tree was not some exotic species, not particularly shapely, not terribly old.  It bore no scented flowers in spring nor colorful leaves in autumn.  The thing that earned that pine a spot in my family’s chronicles was the fact that my Mom brought it home from the nursery in a milk carton. For the first several years of its life with us, I was taller than the sprout.  But one year (no one ever made note of the date), it grew taller than me.  And it never looked back.  Year after year it grew and grew, eventually surpassing most of the other trees in our yard.

I wasn’t thinking about that tree when my son, a mere second grader at the time, brought a pine sprig home from school in honor of Arbor Day.  I was considering how I could plant the seedling and teach him a lesson about life and growth and nurturing.  Though in the back of my mind I was wondering if in fact it would turn out to be a lesson about death and dying, given the sapling’s appearance.  It wasn’t actually planted in anything.  The root structure, such as it was, had been wrapped in a damp paper towel, but by the time Tyler got off the bus, the scrap of paper was almost dry and was unceremoniously wrapped around the tiny limbs, crushing them.  We stuck it in the yard and hoped for the best.

When we moved from New Jersey to northern Virginia two years later, the tree was alive, but still so small that digging it up, sticking it in a pot, and taking it with us was not a problem.  I guess I was already getting attached to that tree because that’s exactly what I did.

Our yard in Virginia?  Postage stamp comes to mind.  We had some bushes planted roughly in a circle with a little space in the middle so I plunked the tree down there.  As the bushes were taller than the tree, it was not visible unless you walked right up to it, but it got some sunlight there and started to grow.

After several years it grew taller and more shapely, while the bushes grew large and unwieldy, so we pulled the bushes out and let the tree stand on its own.  Whereas before it had been too small to decorate with Christmas lights (think Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree), it became the centerpiece of our exterior holiday illumination scheme.

treeThe year we had a particularly wet growing season the center stalk sprouted so quickly that there were no side branches around it.  My husband proposed lopping  the top off to get rid of the bare spot.  I insisted that its growth spurt, like that of an ungainly teenager, would work itself out, and that to cut the top would be a detriment in the long run.  I prevailed, and you can hardly see the gap anymore.

Now the tree is so large the best we can do at Christmas is throw a string of lights on a tall bamboo pole, hold it up as high as we can, and try to toss them over one of the upper branches of the tree.

I wonder about all the other trees carried home by that blossoming bunch of second graders fourteen years ago.