The importance of family and shared experiences were touched on a little in several instances during the first five installments, and fully broached as the series reached its conclusion last Friday night. That Burns and writer Dayton Duncan saved such a powerful message for the end showed just how meaningful this handing down of family tradition through our parks is.
It is important to the fabric of our country that we have the parks and it was noble of those who worked together to make it happen, but it is up to us as Americans to keep the system going, and the best way to do that is to not just visit them, but to teach our children what they mean and how fortunate we are to be able to see them, or in some cases, as one writer said during the show, "to just know that they are there."
I would not have the appreciation for our park system that I do were it not for my father. The Grand Canyon, Bryce, Zion, Mesa Verde, the Rockies, the Smokeys, Hawaii Volcanos, Mammoth Cave, Hot Springs, the former Platt NP in Oklahoma and of course Big Bend ... I now look at visits to those national parks as gifts given to me by my father and it felt as if he was watching Burns' documentary alongside me last week, a series that was as much about us as it was about anyone else who sets foot in the parks out of a sheer love of America. It will likely never fall off my list of the best things I will ever see on television.
I remember distinctly in 1970 when I was 10 finding a hollowed out rock, sitting in it and pulling out the latest copy of The Sporting News with a cover story about Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Manny Sanguillen and his infectious smile. I want to find that rock again and someday I will. I remember standing on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and, still today, recall just how magnificent the feeling was even though 40 years have passed. I remember Gatlinburg and how my mom loved it, and I remember sleeping in the Volcano House hotel on the rim of Mauna Kea and wondering if I would live through the night out of fear the darn thing would erupt, or poison me because of the constant choking smell of sulfur. I remember summer after summer at Platt, a national park which exists no more under the park system but at the time meant more to me than any park in the country simply because I was a boy growing up there every June and July.
My father never stopped educating me about the National Parks. It wasn't until six years ago when I finally visited Big Bend with him for the first time. To see a grown man marvel at such beauty is a site almost as spellbinding itself and one everyone should see.
These visits to the parks are a lifelong gift that I never appreciated fully until it was verbalized during last week's PBS series. I now consider these visits among the most precious memories my dad left for me: a love for nature and for God's great natural beauty, and for a country that had the vision and the foresight to set aside land for the enjoyment of us all.
Just as I will always remember that vacation in the Rockies or those summers in Platt, I hope and pray that my son will remember hiking the South Rim of the Chisos or into Boquillas Canyon and running to the park store to buy Mexican villagers dinner for a few days. I hope our children will always remember our time spent at Guadalupe Mountains and Mesa Verde.
And I hope that one day, they will hand down to a fourth generation and teach their children how important these shared experiences are to a family.