Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Better Angels of our Nature Live On

Today was the second opportunity for me to give my special program on the "Better Angels of our Nature" as Joshua Chamberlain at the Lincoln Memorial. As you may remember, when I did it the first time two weeks ago, things did not go the way I had expected, not poorly, but not the way I had thought they might. Today, however, was a completely different story.

First of all I was in my complete Civil War uniform, all the pieces having arrived in time. It was a lovely hot muggy day today, but there were clouds, so it was bearable. I tragically had to abandon the mustache because between the wind whipping at it and the sweat pouring down my face it just wasn't going to stay on. But I think it still came out looking pretty good! I have included a few of the pictures that one of the other rangers took for me today. She offered to take them, which was really nice because now I have a record, not only of what I looked like, but also of me actually doing the program! 

When I went out for the first time at 11:00 this morning I really didn't know what to expect. What I found was a very different situation from two weeks ago. I had placed my advertising signs more prominently, and was also doing the program up on the higher landing where I normally do the MLK program (I was down in the plaza last time) and these two changes, combined with the full uniform seemed to make a notable difference. I was immediately mobbed very much as a character at Disneyland might be, particularly by foreign visitors, which is always funny to me. But most of them knew that I was a Civil War soldier, which impressed me. Several Americans, on the other hand, most assuredly did not know who I was! 

I actually finally had to cut people off from taking pictures with me so that I could actually do the program. I had 39 people for that first one, many of whom stayed for the entire time. It was much more fun that way because I got much more into it and begin to give a true performance. Things connected and my memory worked reasonably well to keep all of the information and quotations straight. It wasn't perfect, but it was good, and people seemed to appreciate it. 

There were only two of us stationed at Lincoln today and the other ranger has never done the MLK talk, so I ended up doing that talk as well, only I was still dressed as a Civil War soldier. I took off the coat and weapons and switched my hat for the park service ball cap, and just explained to people before and after the talk why I looked so unusual. It seemed to work okay. I had a great crowd for that talk today, and people were really into it. I really enjoy giving that program, and today was especially unique since I was dressed in such an unusual fashion! 

So after finishing that program I quickly ran back inside where I donned the rest of my uniform and came right back out to the same spot to do my 2:00 and 3:00 special programs. Several of the people from the 1:00 MLK program stayed for the other, which was exciting. And many more people came besides. Several of them had seen the signs and came on purpose to hear the program. Others saw me in uniform and were drawn in that way. And once I started talking the crowd grew even more, so that I had a good 60 people for both of the latter programs. That was really fun and I put on a good show. I had both the gun and sword out on several occasions as I told the stories of Chamberlain charging down Little Roundtop, being wounded at Petersburg, and saluting the confederates at the final surrender of Appomattox. And people were actually interested and very engaged in the program!

I successfully used the quotations I had wanted to, which included reciting the entirety of the Gettysburg address, quoting Lincoln's 1st and 2nd inaugural speeches, as well as quoting the psalm 8, Hamlet, Walt Whitman, and Chamberlain extensively. It was quite the challenge for my memory, but my study and practice really paid dividends out there today. People erupted in applause at the completion of both programs, and many came up to me afterwards, which I always consider to be the sign of an effective presentation. All in all it was an awesome experience, one that will definitely go down in the memory books!  

~Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A Year in the Service

It was one year ago today that I started as a park ranger at Wind Cave National Park. It seems like much longer ago than that! What a year this has been! As I approach my 27th birthday and Memorial Day I thought it might be appropriate to recount a few of the things that have changed for me in this last year. 

A year ago I was just beginning the adventure of working for the parks service having quit my job and picked up and moved from California to South Dakota for a three month seasonal position. I ended up working at Wind Cave for more than 5 1/2 months and now find myself working on the National Mall in Washington DC. I definitely did not see that one coming! And since being here in DC I have continued to expand the breadth of what I am doing. I gave another exciting MLK talk at Lincoln on Sunday, gave a talk at Jefferson incorporating things I learned visiting at Monticello yesterday, and also got to go out on bike patrol for part of yesterday for the first time. I rode the entirety of the park and got paid to do it!

I have been blessed with the opportunity to see much of the country in the last year. I have seen 29 of the 50 states (36 if you include all of 2009).

South Dakota
North Dakota
New Mexico
South Carolina
North Carolina
West Virginia

I have also had the pleasure of visiting a fair number of National Park sites. I can think of 42 off the top of my head. (again you can add 6-8 more if you count all of 2009)

Wind Cave
Mt. Rushmore
Jewel Cave
Little Bighorn
Theodore Roosevelt
Devil's Tower
Minuteman Missile
Scott's Bluff
Ft. Laramie
Rocky Mountain
Mesa Verde
Sunset Crater
Grand Canyon
Brown vs. The Board of Education
Great Basin
Guadalupe Mountains
Jean Lafitte
Chalmette Battlefield
The Wilderness
Spotslylvania Court House
Harper's Ferry
Prince William Forest Park
Ford's Theater
George Washington Memorial Parkway
Theodore Roosevelt Island
The National Mall (could count each site separately)
Rock Creek Park
President's Park
Great Falls Virginia
C & O Canal

So all that is to say that I have had the pleasure of doing much during this last year and I believe that I am exactly where I should be, following God and working for His kingdom in the midst of the National Mall.

Living in dangerous wonder...

Friday, May 14, 2010

Oh Shenandoah, I Long to Hear you, Away you Rolling River...

The beauty and wonder of the world surrounds us at every turn if we are but willing to pause along our journey and see with the eyes of our hearts. I have been keenly reminded of this truth during these past few days. It is always there, waiting for us to stop and see it.

I have been posted at the WWII Memorial twice in the last week. As has oft been the case, I was blessed by the opportunity to speak to veterans and to help make their visit more significant and enjoyable. Two stories stand out as especially moving for me. The first involves a man who landed in France shortly after D-day and served during the remainder of the war as a tank commander, leading a squadron of Sherman tanks through the hedgerows of France and forests of Germany. He spoke of the awe-inspiring power of the German .88 and that we had nothing in the American arsenal to match it, so we simply threw more and more sherman tanks into the fray and ultimately the sheer numbers prevailed. 

As then as I sat inside the kiosk yesterday a man walked up to me and asked for a wheelchair. He had brought his 91 year old father across the country to see the memorial, a dream very literally coming true. I helped him with the chair, but then had to leave them in order to go and give a talk. As I neared the starting location for my talk I was approached by a teacher who asked me if I could come and speak to their school group, which consisted of about 130 5th graders. So I brought the other visitors that were interested with me and walked down into the center of the memorial where I miraculously held the attention of these kids for more than 15 minutes as I painted a picture, not only of the memorial, but of the significance of the war on the lives that they were living today. As I spoke I told them that this was not simply a chapter in their history book, but the story of real people, and then went on to tell them that one of the men who had actually fought in the war was in the memorial at that moment. As the group dispersed throughout the memorial I became engaged in a series of conversations with several different visitors, but about ten minutes later I was able to continue to walk around the memorial where I discovered the men I had spoken to earlier, surrounded by about 20 of these 5th graders, in rapt attention as the seated veteran spoke to them of his experiences and showed them a card he carried with him denoting him as a Pearl Harbor survivor. 

It turns out that this man was actually in the army air corps and had, indeed been present at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, stationed at one of the airfields as they were bombed. He went on to fly bombing missions of his own throughout the pacific as the tail gunner of a B-17. He spoke of the fear of being surrounding by flak and the hail of enemy bullets as he fired back with his twin .50 cal machine guns, and of how he would bring his canteen with him while on missions so that it would freeze and he would have a cold drink of water when they got back to the ground. 

His son saw me and came over to me with tears in his eyes and told me that his father had never been thanked for his service before and how meaningful and touching it was to have these kids come up to him, thank him, and want to hear about what he had done. That is why I love this job. I was blessed indeed to simply be present for such a moment, much less to play some small part in helping to make it possible.

Last Saturday I donned a different uniform, that of a Colonel in the Union Army as I spoke to visitors about the ultimate triumph of the better angels of our nature over the hell of war as Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. I didn't have as many people interested in hearing my whole formal program (about 35 minutes) as I was hoping, but I had no problem finding people to talk to, who wanted to know more about Chamberlain, about the war, or at least why there was some guy in a Civil War uniform on the plaza of the Lincoln Memorial! For a first attempt at doing a living history program, it went pretty well. I will be doing it again on May 22, this time with my coat and boots, which just arrived in the mail, a bit too late for the first program!

I took a special bike training class on Wednesday which will now allow me to go on bike patrol around the park, which is exactly what it sounds like, riding a bike around the park and talking to visitors wherever you might find them. In order to take this class I had to shift my days off to Monday and Tuesday at the last minute, which meant I had time off when I wasn't expecting it. So I decided to take advantage of that and drove to work on Sunday so that I could leave as soon as I was off to drive out to Shenandoah National Park, where I spent all of Monday and Tuesday exploring a small percentage of the 500 miles of trails winding through the blue ridge mountains.

As I drove into the park along skyline drive I came to an overlook just in time to stop and watch the sun setting behind the mountains over the Shenandoah Valley and the river snaking below me. I slept in my truck that night because it was quite cold and I didn't get to a campgrounds until after 10:00.  The next morning I climbed to the top of Old Rag, which offered me inspiring views of the entire valley and surrounding countryside of Virginia. It was indeed majestic. That night I enjoyed a campfire while watching the sky fill with stars that I have not seen since camping in Utah in November. I awoke (this time in the tent) Tuesday morning to find an overcast and cloudy sky, which began to drop water upon me as I was cooking breakfast. So after hurriedly breaking camp I had to make a decision; should I get out of the rain and go back home before it got worse, or go hiking anyway?

Being me it wasn't even really a question, clearly I had to go exploring! So I hiked one loop of about 4.5 miles that took me by two water falls including Dark Hollow Falls, which is the iconic waterfall of the park. But it was not just the falls that were impressive, all of the mountain streams are filled with one cascade after another in a symphony of beauty and majestic sounds that inspires the soul. I was entirely alone for nearly the entire time as most sensible people had headed out of the mountains. That meant I got to really experience the forest the way it actually is and not as a tourist attraction. It also meant I nearly ran right into an owl who was sitting on a branch of a tree ahead of me on the trail. 

As I neared my truck once again the skies opened up in force, dumping so much water and so many layers of fog that I could not see anything at all from the overlook where I was parked and my windshield was itself a river. Once again I could have left, but there was another trail I really wanted to journey down so I decided to hike anyway, despite the rain. I waited until it appeared to be slackening and left my truck. About 30 seconds into the hike the rain returned and did not leave again until I approached the outskirts of DC later that night. So it was a rather wet trip, but the rain brought out a different aspect in the forest that I might not otherwise have seen.

I lost the path at one point when it crossed a river without denoting this fact to unsuspecting hikers like myself. After about a 1/3 of a mile of bushwhacking, rock climbing, and hanging onto the edge of slippery rock faces as I tried to find the trail I finally went up as high as I could, discovered a decisive lack of a path, so headed all the way back down to the river. As I descended I noticed a lack of foliage in a particular area on the opposite side of the river and became suspicious. So I crossed the river and climbed up the opposite bank and confirmed these suspicions when I once again found myself on the path, now with a much greater appreciation of the value of such things whilst hiking in that type of terrain in the rain! 

I saw at least 8 waterfalls on that hike, or at least sort of saw them. By the end they were so shrouded in mist that I could but make out the slightest hint of the falling water, but it was still beautiful and inspiring. It was quite the hike to get up the slippery rocks leading back out of the canyon that I had descended into, but well worth the journey through the rain and the mist despite my cold and exhausted body struggling to return to the safety of my truck as I approached the final miles of the journey. 

And then last night when I went to the discussion group that I have become a part of I was greeted by a special guest speaker, a gentleman by the name of Bob Goff, a name many of you Loma-ites know well. He spoke to us of the importance of doing, of taking action and simply doing. Don't sit and wait, don't think too long, but do. He is a wonderful storyteller and he had some powerful stories to tell, stories of changing the world we live in through the loving touch of Jesus. And as I sat there last night, I was reminded once that the beauty and wonder of the world surrounds us at every turn if we are but willing to pause along our journey and see with the eyes of our hearts.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Cannonball Clocks and Running up Giant Obelisks

So I have discovered a new form of exercise... running up to the top of the Washington Monument! One of the other rangers did it in nine minutes last week and that made me very curious as to how long it would take me to do the same. So I decided to try it last Sunday, and managed to reach the top in 8:32, which was better than I thought I could do! Well this has now spurred an unofficial contest amongst us younger rangers to see which of us can get up there in the fastest time. I did it again yesterday, this time in 7:45, so I am holding my own! It is ridiculously tiring. I don't actually know how I kept myself going because I wanted to quit after about 200 feet, and you are going up 500! So my new claim to ranger fame is holding the current record (for at least today!) of ascending the Washington Monument amongst the 2010 National Mall seasonal staff.  

After running to the top last Sunday I went out onto the mall for an earth day celebration, ran into some of the navi from Avatar, listened to James Cameron ramble onstage for a while, and got to hear "Sting." That was pretty fun. You don't have things like that happen in most national parks!

I am only a few days away from giving my special program on Joshua Chamberlain at the Lincoln Memorial. I am excited for it! The last pieces of my Civil War uniform are supposed to arrive in the mail today so that I will be able to do the program as Chamberlain himself. I still have quite a lot to do in order to prepare for this program and it is adding a lot of unrequired effort and work to what I would otherwise be doing, but I think it will be completely worth it to be able to actually portray a Civil War soldier and to talk about something I am so interested in.

When I went to go to Lincoln this last Friday I discovered that the stereo had broken the night before which meant I could not play the recording of Dr. King giving his speech for the program. Most people would have probably just canceled the program, but I figured why not go talk about it anyway? It turned out that I had a larger group that was very interested in what I was talking about so I spontaneously decided to give the speech myself. Since I now carry a copy of it with me whenever I am at Lincoln (after giving it myself in January) I simply had to take it out of my pocket. It ended up being another powerful moment for me as I did my best to emulate the spirit and meaning of Dr. King as he addressed the crowd from that same spot 47 years ago. When I finished the program (which ran about 45 minutes) I had not only the entire original group of people, but quite a few add ons as well, about 85 people altogether. One man approached me in tears and thanked me for giving the speech myself the way I did, saying that had I played the recording he would have drifted and not paid attention, but having me actually give the speech held his attention completely and gave it a much deeper meaning and significance. Once again, I was deeply touched by the impact that I can have in what I do here on the mall!

Another great highlight in recent days was a visit to Thomas Jefferson's estate of Monticello. I thought I had a great appreciation of Jefferson before, but after seeing his home and all the fascinating architectural stylings and various inventions contained within I had a completely new love for the man and what he represents! One of my favorites is the clock in the front hall which is weighted with cannon balls hanging down on lines on both sides of the room. It has to be wound at the beginning of each week and then the balls slowly descend throughout the week. He marked the wall where each new day would begin at midnight. The only problem was that there wasn't quite enough wall and the balls would hit the floor before reaching the end of the week. So he cut a hole in the floor and the balls go right on through where they terminate with Saturday's mark in the basement.

Monticello is on a hill in an absolutely lovely setting and this was an excellent time to visit because everything is green and the tulips in his garden added great and colorful variety to the landscape. I could definitely be very happy living there! I am thinking of seeing if I can move in there and commute in to DC! 

Resting in His peace,