We get to walk on trails blazed by those who came before us.
May 1933: 200 young men arrived at Cape Perpetua, a wild, untamed spot on the rugged Oregon Coast. President Roosevelt, as part of the New Deal legislation of his first 100 days, had just established the Civilian Conservation Corps. It’s mission: provide jobs for unemployed young men to support their families while preserving the richness of America’s natural resources for all to enjoy. During the nine years of its existence, the CCC employed over three million young people and helped keep their families afloat. The 200 at the wild outpost of Cape Perpetua turned it into a magnificent park accessible to everyone.
I’m walking on a forest trail along a flowing stream from the Cape Pepetua Camp Ground to the Visitors’ Center. The trail is covered with dry cedar fronds. Although the temperature inland will be in the 90s today, the morning air in this coastal forest is cool and clean.
Walking crisply, the ranger pauses every once in a while, ever so briefly, to snip a cluster of leaves or wildflowers, placing them in a little basket as he continues walking.
I greet him and ask what he’s doing.
“Preparing today’s plant exhibit,” he says. “We have a new one everyday. You’ll see it at the Visitors’ Center.” He explains that when people, especially kids, see fresh samples of various forest plants together with the pictures & descriptions, the educational impact is much greater. The kids feel more connected to the forest, more curious about it. They ask questions.
I ask him about his job. “I’m a volunteer,” he says. “Four or five days most weeks.”
“You’re retired, right?” I say. “You can spend your time any way you want. Why spend it working here?”
“I grew up nearby,” he says. “My father was here when the kids from the CCC created this park. For me it’s always been like my own back yard. How can I not take care of it?”
Later I’ll be hiking north on a forest ridge trail with magnificent views of the coast. I’m grateful to the generation of Americans who provided the values, commitment and resources in one of our country’s darkest hours, to pay their young people to blaze these trails.
It’s a different time today. America’s commitment to those values is very much in question. So I’m grateful to this ranger and the many others like him who are volunteering, stepping forward on their own to keep those values alive.
Summer 2093 (80 years later): What will be the legacy of our generation? When our grandchildren and great grandchildren are looking for trails to lead them to the beauty and wonder of living on our planet in their time, what will they find? I hope we will leave them good trails.
Nice to see you, I say. I’m happy to share my campsite with you.
The next morning he shows up again, and again I invite him to stay. Later, as I round up my things getting ready to leave, he watches.
Wait a second. He lives here. Who is the guest?
A big challenge each day on the road is finding a place to blog. Most campsites don’t have cellular signal. In towns with signal, there’s the typical crowded cafe where the cacophony of clattering dishes, background music, and traveling families with loud kids surrounds me on all sides.
But yesterday, while hiking up a three-mile trail on Humbug Mountain on the Oregon coast, I came across a blogger’s dream: a comfortable wooden bench with plenty of signal and the kind of view that provides the space to think big thoughts.
I sat down and waited for inspiration. Maybe a poem about the mountains, the redwoods. the sea or the earth.
Instead, I found myself obsessing about something much more mundane — a daily to-do list. It’s a time of transition for me, and I’ve been looking for a way to balance everything that’s going on, everything I want to do and everything I have to do. How about a little poetry, I asked the part of my mind/soul that does the writing. Here’s your poem, came the answer. Pay attention to this list, and share it.
So here it is. And if you’re paying attention also, I invite you to comment and share your own list of actions for daily living. Maybe we can learn something from each other.
10 Actions for Daily Living
- Get up early.
- Thank God for the amazing gift of another day, and for your purpose here in this world. Ask for clarity about that purpose today.
- Drink some good tea (or coffee), the best you have, and write.
- Do what has to be done today. Keep the bills paid, the body healthy, the house in good shape. Keep your promises.
- Do what you’re here to do — your part in making the world better. Do it with all year heart.
- Get out. Connect with people. Connect with the earth. See what the world is saying to you today; see what you can learn. Embrace the mystery of what you don’t yet know, and leave the door ajar.
- Drink some tea in the late afternoon and read.
- In the evening, if you haven’t already done so, sit with Wendy, hold her hand, listen to her, give her a little massage, remind her of how much you love her.
- When you go to bed, check your heart for anger, let it go, and forgive every person at whom it is directed, whether they deserve it or not.
- We never know what tomorrow will bring, or if we will ever wake up again. Commend your body and soul to God’s care.
When you walk through an old growth redwood forest you are surrounded by living beings who were here at the time of Chaucer, Maimonides, and maybe even back to the Prophet Mohammed, Rabbi Hillel and Jesus. This forest, thousands of years old, undisturbed by humans, with the redwoods still in charge, is healthy, stable, clean, orderly, beautiful and temperate, very comfortable for humans.
Question: how healthy, stable, clean, orderly, beautiful and temperate are the cities where most of us humans live? How is the planet as a whole, the “forest” where we are in charge, doing? Maybe we could summon the humility to learn something from the wisdom of these ancient beings.
Here’s one thing: burls. A trail sign in Humbolt Redwoods State Park says:
Redwood burls can weigh several tons and hold hundreds of cloned dormant buds which can sprout into new saplings if the tree is put under too much stress … [such as from] fire, injury, or even the toppling over of the entire tree.
Take another look at the picture, at the burl and at the little tree. Imagine if we were a little more like the redwoods. Imagine if we devoted ourselves to properly preparing the inheritance of life for the next generation, for everyone who lives together in the forest.
I, a silent old man alone at his campsite retreat, sit surrounded by the cheerful noises of young families looking prosperous, healthy, well-educated, energetic, optimistic. When I encounter them on the way to the bathroom, they smile politely.
The RVs, pickups, bikes, two-tents-per-family, camp tables, chairs, cookware, tableware, endless other family-ware, crowd like shiny, brightly colored invasive mushrooms into the clearings among the tall redwoods.
Morning comes quietly. Yellow sunlight pouring down from the tops of the redwoods washes away the grey fog, while a young Hispanic woman, looking older than her years, carrying her excess weight with resigned determination along with the mop, pail, garbage bags and cleaning supplies, washes away the evening debris from the bathrooms.
You may not notice,
but I’ve accomplished a lot.
My turn is coming.