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Essay 4 from my recent camping trip; I’ve gotten a bit behind.

A few days after we celebrated my mother’s century birthday in grand style, I celebrated my own birthday alone in a national park. The National Park Service was born the same year my mother was. Because my mother was born, I exist. Because the NPS was born we all live and breathe.

The NPS is a national treasure. Thank you to Teddy Roosevelt who designated the first national parks, to Woodrow Wilson who signed the National Park Service into being, and to Franklin Roosevelt for the Olympic National Park. The NPS has been called America’s best idea. Amen to that.

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If you’ve never visited a national park, there are 59 of them. There’s one near you. Get yourself there. I’ve been to 19, that I know of. I’m a little foggy on which “canyon” ones I might have visited as a child, and others I visited during childhood I barely know I’ve been to. It’s a drop in the bucket.

At the top of my bucket list, just above “go to Italy” (or move to Italy if a certain terrifying presidential candidate wins) is to visit all the national parks. I’m pretty sure that won’t happen, but I do plan to add to my list. I’ve been in all 50 states, which is worthless if I haven’t been to their parks.

Granted, they aren’t all the Olympic National Park, where I was on my birthday. Though all the parks are special in their own way—highlighting the diversity of America the beautiful—the ONP holds my heart.

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Guardian dragon

As the daughter of a forester, I get that trees are a crop and that if we are going to keep using toilet paper and living in houses, we have to grow them and we have to cut them. But standing in the ancient enchantment of an old growth forest quite literally causes me to forget to breathe. The trees are immense, and their age is mind-boggling; they are older than my mother, older the NPS.

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Western Red Cedar, 14 feet in diameter

The destruction when they fall in the wild winter storms here on the Peninsula is staggering. Because of the NPS policy, except for clearing trails, they are left to lie where they fall, along with everything they take down with it. And their life is not over. New trees grow on top of them, spreading their roots to embrace the fallen mother, holding her close, taking nourishment from her even in death.

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I’ve seen no one for over an hour and I feel deep, deep in the beating heart of the forest with only the river and the trees for company, and a host of unseen critters. As I walk, utterly alone, a grouse beats out a rhythm: happy birthday, National Park Service; happy birthday to me.

At least I think it’s a grouse. Could be a Sasquatch I suppose.

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