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.
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.
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?
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.