National Parks: A Celebration of Beauty Pt. 1

By Jasmine Cummings on September 27, 2016

2016 finds us celebrating 100 years since Yellowstone, the first national park, was founded. National parks are an exceptionally important part of my life, and so I write this in the hope that sharing my story will persuade you, reader, to experience their natural beauty for yourselves.

This is part one in a series.

~~~

Sixth grade was both intimidating and boring, and stayed that way until we were given a particular project in English class: describe a beautiful place. I can’t remember how I stumbled across the pictures of Yosemite National Park, but they changed what would have been a long, uneventful school life into something most kids only dream about.

I kept coming back to those photographs. There was nothing I wanted more than to see Yosemite for myself. The towering, waterfall strewn cliffs and giant trees, the likes of which I didn’t even know existed, captured my imagination and wouldn’t let go.

In the end, I approached my mother without much hope. I offered my project, printed pictures and all, and said, “I want to go here.”

“Yosemite?” She looked me over and smiled, lit up with absolute delight. “You were too young to remember, but we used to own an RV. We sold it after you started school, but …”

I held my breath. My mother spent most of her life traveling across the United States. Having left England at 19 without a backward glance, she kept bouncing across the country until she met my father in Hawaii almost 20 years later. Even then, they were living in an RV when I was born.

“Well, why not?”

If I finished the semester with good grades, we’d leave this summer. School was still boring, but now I had something to keep me going.

_________________

My mother kept her promise, and by the time June began, there was an RV, white and green and new, sitting in our driveway. We went, but not to Yosemite — I would not reach Yosemite for years — because there was just so much to see, and if we were doing this, my parents wanted to do it right. Instead of going west, we headed north. And I got my first taste of what a national park is really like.

In fact, I visited several national parks in the summer of 2004, the beginning of a tradition that continued for years. Through the Great Rocky Mountains and Shenandoah National Parks, where I encountered my first bear, holding my breath as Mom leaned out the open window to take a picture of the brown predator, lazy head lifting to follow our progress until the road curved out of sight.

It’s me at Shenandoah!

Some of my most vivid memories follow us through the New England states. In New Hampshire, old family friends took me kayaking on a lake, alive with the calls of loons, until my shoulders burned and even the protective gloves didn’t stop my hands from blistering. I was exhausted and hurt for days afterward, but I loved it more than I’ve loved anything in a long time.

We went hiking up steep hills, too, something my parents — older than most, already in their fifties — were in no shape for, and I dangled my legs over the edge of a cliff, leaning forward to take in the land spread out for miles as a breeze dried the sweat on my face. There is a picture of that moment somewhere, maybe lost to a decade of time, but it was one of the best I’ve ever taken of me.

From there, we reached Maine, the very tip of the U.S., which I remember through the filter of Acadia National Park and McDonald’s serving lobster rolls. It was a cool day, and as the sun began to set, the fog rolled in, thin and cold in my lungs. We’d stopped at a lodge for dinner, and I hung back as my parents went inside. Instead of following them, I wandered around the side of the building and discovered a trail up a small hill, covered with flat rocks I used to jump from one to another, up and away from the lodge.

More me! In Acadia this time.

Without paying attention to how far I’d wandered off, I continued up the hill, vision limited to only a few feet in any direction. Sometime later I realized I was lost but didn’t care, too caught up in an absolutely brand new experience. I shivered as the last red sunlight disappeared, but left my jacket tied around my waist, wanting to feel the dampness of the fog against my skin.

It wasn’t until something began moving towards me that I hesitated, but it was only a family descending the trail. I’d have kept going, only it was getting dark now, and I was lost, so I followed them back to the lodge, still leaping from rock to rock, still unable to see much of anything and enjoying it. My parents weren’t as happy.

It was even foggier than this when I got lost, trust me.

One day, I’ll go back.

School was just around the corner, and my mother was worried we wouldn’t make it back in time. I looked up at her and said, “So what?” because I hated school, couldn’t stand the thought of giving this up for something I barely tolerated at the best of times.

“You want to be homeschooled?” she asked, and I nodded. “What about your friends?”

I had no reply to that, because I hadn’t thought of them at all.

“It’s not like they’ll disappear,” I said, because these were friends I’d known for ages — five years and counting. None of them would even consider trying what we were living right now. Suddenly, school wasn’t the only boring thing in my life. I liked my friends, but this was something I’d never be able to share with them.

“You’re sure?” I nodded again. Mom sighed, quiet. “Well, why not?”

And so, rather than turn around, we went to Canada instead, and I experienced Niagara Falls from both sides of the border. The noise was unbelievable, and as the tour boat approached the falls, I clapped my hands over my ears to muffle the thunderous falling water. The roar reverberated through my body and drowned out the rush of blood in my head until I thought I’d go deaf, but who cared, because I was wet and cold with the spray of some of the largest waterfalls in the world. That night, we watched the Falls light up in a rainbow of colors from an overlooking restaurant.

All this, and I was only 12 years old.

~~~

To be continued next week.

Currently attending my last semester at Florida State Univeristy as an Editing, Writing, and Media major. I love traveling, writing, video games, and all things Japanese.

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