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.

Yosemite

Yosemite

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.

Yosemite

Yosemite

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.





Many Faces of Yellowstone

14 07 2009

While packing for an upcoming trip to several western National Parks, I’m reminded of an earlier trip we took to Yellowstone. Before we left, my mother-in-law commented that we would be visiting “one of the strangest places on earth.” Was she ever right!

Old Faithful

Old Faithful

Morning Glory Pool

Morning Glory Pool

Mammoth Hot Springs

Mammoth Hot Springs

We traversed the territory for roughly a week and were constantly amazed by all the bubbling, steaming, spewing, cascading and eroding we saw taking place at the geysers, the hot springs, the canyon, and the lake. We gawked at the mudpots, the steam vents, and the dead “bobby socks” trees which soaked up silicates from the ground, turning the base of the trees white. We were awed by the big creatures like moose and buffalo, and amused by those quirky little squirrel-like things (yellow-bellied marmots?) that ran around the foundation under our cabin at Mammoth Hot Springs. We studied how the forests regenerated themselves after the fire of 1988.

Depending on what sites two  people visited, each could have a wonderful time, but when they compared notes they might not think they’d been in the same park at all!

It occurs to me that multiple sclerosis can be a lot like that. Because the nature of one’s symptoms depends on which part of his nervous system is under attack, different people can have very different experiences with the disease. The laundry list (oh yes…that’s what I meant to do…laundry for our trip) includes such wide ranging experiences as numbness, gait problems, coordination issues, vision problems, dizziness and vertigo, cognitive functions (or lack thereof), depression, spasticity, and fatigue. And furthermore, not only does the severity of the symptoms vary widely, they can disappear altogether, only to reemerge later. So two people could both be diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, but their experiences could be totally different.

The moral of the story is not to jump to any conclusions upon learning about an MS diagnosis. It’s the beginning of a journey, not the end of one, and everyone’s trip is unique.