Monday, June 21, 2010

The Time has Come, the Walrus Said, to Talk of Many Things

"The time has come," the Walrus said, "To talk of many things: Of shoes—and ships—and sealing-wax—Of cabbages—and kings—And why the sea is boiling hot—And whether pigs have wings."

These words provide a rather accurate summary of the sort of thought process that seems to exist for most visitors to the National Mall. There may be sense in there somewhere, but to all appearances it is entirely free of the confines of logic.

I was at the WWII Memorial today and encountered many visitors who seemed to be thinking of shoes and ships and sealing wax, whilst they frolic and play in the water, disrespecting both the memorial and the men who fought whilst completely and entirely ignoring the signs right in front of them that clearly inform them that wading in the pool is prohibited. 

As a result of an ATV accident in another park the director of the Park Service has mandated that no NPS employee can use any ATV or golf cart without some kind of special training, which does not actually exist yet, so there is a moratorium placed on all golf cart usage throughout the NPS system. That makes life interesting in a place like this, which is very dependent upon golf carts. Take for example me going out to lead a wall washing crew on Saturday morning, and needing to transport six buckets, 25 poles and brushes, two ridiculously long hoses, and spigots from our ranger station to the Vietnam Wall. Since it is no longer safe for me to use a golf cart I had to put it all in the back of a truck and drive said truck up onto the pathways going through the park, dodging visitors, and narrowly skirting the edge of the constitution gardens pool, in order to get to the wall. Clearly much safer! Though it is kind of fun to say that I have driven a truck through the middle of constitution gardens and the memorial park! 

July 4th is around the corner and I am going to be one of several rangers performing a 30 minute dramatic "vignette" illustrating the history of the stars and stripes. I will be portraying a Civil War soldier, telling the story of the assault on Battery Wagner by the 54th Mass USCT on July 18, 1863 in front of >50,000 people gathered in celebration of our independence. No pressure! 

The research I have done on the history of the flag turned out to be quite useful last Monday, as it was Flag Day. I joined several other rangers in historical interpretation at the Washington Monument, illustrating a similar history of the flag. We had no direction at all so two of my compatriots and I developed a whole interpretive program on the fly which we proceeded to give to unsuspecting visitors for the remainder of the day. I knew that 34 star flag I bought at Fredericksburg would come in handy! 

In further celebration of early American history I traveled down to Jamestown this last Wednesday, the birthplace of many aspects of America including representative government, taxes, and mistreating the native people for capitol and financial gain. It turns out Pocahontas was 10 years old when the Brits first showed up in 1607, most likely did not save John Smith's life at all, and frequently entertained the British colonists by turning cartwheels around the center of James Fort with a notable lack of any clothing whatsoever. Who knew?

I also visited Yorktown, where Washington and Lafayette successfully trapped Lord Cornwallis with the aid of the French navy and captured his entire army in the greatest American victory of the revolution. There is something about such places, ground upon which such significant events occurred, where people I have read about for years actually walked, and spoke, and looked upon hundreds of years ago: something that takes hold of one's sole. I am keenly reminded of the words of Joshua Chamberlain as he describes the field of Gettysburg...

         In great deeds something abides. On great fields something stays. Forms change and pass. Bodies disappear. But spirits linger, to consecrate ground as the vision place of souls. And reverent men and women from afar and generations that know us not and we know not of, heart drawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for them, shall come to this deathless field to ponder and to dream. And lo, the shadow of a mighty presence shall wrap them in its bosom, and the power of the vision pass into their souls.

Something of the vision passed into my souls on those fields. Something transcendent that rises far above the freedom from logic that sometimes surrounds me. It is good to be reminded of the value of why I am here, of why these places are so important and the meaning that lies beneath, above, and around them. That statement of Chamberlain's is one I memorized to include in my "better angels of our nature" program, and I liked it so much that it made it into my program about Petersburg that I did this last Saturday, and will likely make it into my Little Round Top program on July 2nd and 3rd. Something does indeed abide.

It is that something that I seek to bring out in such programs. It is the same something that I strive to find when leading people on bike tours of the area. I have helped to lead two such tours the last two Sundays, one about the people of DC and the second about the Union in crises and the prelude to the Civil War. It still boggles my mind sometimes that I am getting paid to ride my bike around or dress up as a Union officer and talk to people about why the Civil War is important! It looks like I am going to be helping to do another tour this coming Saturday as well.

Life is about to be insane for me once again. This is my Friday. I have tomorrow off, but then am working as a "road guard" for setup for the National Symphony Orchestra July 4th concert on Wednesday. I am doing the same thing the following Tuesday and Wednesday... and the Wednesday after that. Plus on July 2nd and 3rd, after giving my special Little Round Top program, I am going to be an "event monitor" from 5:00-11:00 pm and make sure everyone is where they are supposed to be during the dress rehearsals of said concert. All told about 45 hours of overtime. Add to that the fact that I will be working about 20 hours on the 4th of July itself and the fact that after tomorrow, my only day off before July 13th will be July 6th, and I am pretty sure I am not going to make it! So this is a good time to let myself by wrapped in the shadow of a mighty presence and let the power of the vision pass into my soul.

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