Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Ongoing Journey

The last week and a half since I moved have certainly not been lacking in activity, both at work and otherwise. I have finally settled into the new house pretty well and am feeling much more comfortable here. I succeeded in getting the posters and pictures up on the bedroom wall yesterday, a sure sign that I am making it my own. :) In addition to my NPS posters I have added a large 3 x 5 foot yellow flag proclaiming "Don't Tread on me," not as a political statement of affiliation with our modern day tea party, but rather with the original one, and of the revolution that accompanied it. When I speak of the revolution I do not mean the American war of Independence, but rather the revolution in the hearts and minds of the people, which was the true revolution. 

It was that very topic that provided the inspiration for the bike tour that I designed and co-led two Sundays ago. I told the story of the birth of this nation through the eyes of the men who put their own lives on the line to breathe life into a new nation. Inspired by recent readings and my visit to Independence Hall, I took the idea for a tour on July 10 which did not end up happening and expanded it into something even more significant. A few examples of the many quotations that I used over the duration of the tour are as follows...

"But what do we mean by the American Revolution? Do we mean the American War? The revolution was effected before the war commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people."          -John Adams

"Objects of the most stupendous magnitude, measures in which the lives and liberties of millions, born and unborn are most essentially interested, are now before us. We are in the very midst of revolution, the most complete, unexpected, and remarkable of any in the history of the world." 
        -John Adams in a letter to William Cushing written June 9, 1776, two days after independence is
         formally proposed in congress by Richard Henry Lee
"I am so satisfied with the cause in which I have engaged, that my only regret is, that I have not more lives than one to offer in its service." 
       -21 year old Nathan Hale's final words before he is hanged for treason as a spy by the British in
         New York in September, 1776

"Citizens by birth or choice, of a common country, that country has a right to concentrate your affections. The name American, which belongs to you, in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of Patriotism, more than any appellation derived from local discriminations." 
       -George Washington

The other ranger who accompanied me is one who I have written of before, a ranger who in my opinion is one of the best interpreters that I have ever seen. We worked very well together and wove a compelling story that held our audience for the duration. I continue to be completely amazed that I am being paid to tell people such stories!

Last Wednesday I finally succeeded in meeting with Robert Sutton, Chief Historian of the National Park Service, who also happens to be an alumnus of Point Loma. It was quite interesting to speak with him and the meeting would have been completely worth it for that alone, but it also turns out that the current deputy superintendent on the National Mall served in the same capacity at Manassas when Sutton was the superintendent there several years ago. He told me that when that permanent cert comes out to let him know and he will make some phone calls. 

On Thursday I had one of the best days of work that I have ever experienced. It can hardly be called work! The day began with a three hour walk down the mall with the chief arborist at the park as he explained the differences between different types of Elm trees on the mall, the effects of Dutch Elm disease, and a whole variety of other useful information about the trees that I otherwise would not have known. Following that tour I was able to leave the park to go with the aforementioned ranger on a special tour of sites related to the British approach toward Washington in late August, 1814. As mentioned in previous emails I had been asked to lead a bike tour about the burning of Washington with said ranger this past Sunday. 

So I spent the entire afternoon walking and fields of Bladensburg, seeing the spot where Joshua Barney made a gallant stand and held off the British advance until he himself was grievously wounded and his men enveloped. I learned more in that afternoon than in the two weeks I had spent researching and reading prior to it! It was well I did for I was expected to be able to lead a tour on the subject a few days later! We spoke of more than just the British attack on Washington though. Included in our conversation was discussion of being a battlefield guide at Gettysburg. This ranger worked as a seasonal at Gettysburg for six years before coming to the mall because he kept getting passed over for a permanent position at Gettysburg. I learned a great deal of the politics at Gettysburg and of how hard it is to get a position there. He also spoke about wanting to go up there and be a Battlefield Guide when he retires, something that has long been a dream of mine. It is amazing how similar he and I are. He is really what I aspire to be as a Park Ranger. And it was with him that I led both the aforementioned revolutionary bike tour and the tour on the burning of Washington this last Sunday. 

That tour went very well overall. I really didn't know what to expect, had no idea what he was going to want me to talk about, and didn't know exactly what we were going to cover. In many ways it was a "choose your own adventure" tour. But it came together pretty well. We had 13 people that made the journey with us, and a journey it was. It ended up being a 4 hour and 40 minute tour, and it easily could have gone on a good while longer than that! The whole experience was a great one for me, but the high point would have to be me getting to wrap everything up and tie it all together with an account of the Battle of New Orleans, the Treaty of Ghent (which ended the war), and the British attack on Fort McHenry. 

It is amazing how the other things I do connect to these programs. In these two bike tours I was able to bring in significant information from books I have recently read on John Adams and James Monroe as well as information gleaned from my visits to Fort McHenry, Philadelphia, Valley Forge, Yorktown, and Bladensburg. Sometimes I have to remind myself that I am receiving a paycheck for doing this!

Yesterday I visited Manassas again, having a greater appreciation for the significance of that battle having lived in Washington DC. It isn't far from where I now live so I am going to have to return and spend a day walking the field to truly understand how events played out. Once again this visit did more than simply provide me with an interesting way to spend an afternoon. I am doing a special program on the battle of Antietam in a few weeks and to understand that battle, one first has to understand what happened at Second Manassas. 

Unfortunately, I was drawn too far into the lure of history and delayed too long at the battlefield, which meant that I arrived minutes or even seconds after that last of the free t-shirts were distributed at the Nats/Cubs game last night. We saw them handing out the very last of the shirts. :( Falling prey to the call of history is an ever present danger in my life!

Last Friday I began what I thought would just be a normal day at the Washington Monument, and so it proved to be for a while, but two events set it apart from the average day. The first was the arrival of the "day with a ranger group." (If you remember, a few months ago I wrote about going on this all day walking tour which culminates in a visit to the monument. The ranger who leads this tour is the other guy at the park who I have especially great respect for. When the elevator doors opened and I saw he and his group there I changed what I was going to say in the elevator to try and compliment what I knew he would have already told the group. When we reached the top he turned to me and simply said, "You need to get one of those 5-7-9's. You really need to get one of those 5-7-9's." High praise from one of the rangers I most respect in the park, and said as a result of a 70 second elevator talk! 

The second abnormal event was the arrival of a good friend just as I was being relieved by nightshift, which allowed me to take her up to the top of the monument and also to give her a tour of the commemorative stones whilst walking down the stairs. I am definitely not supposed to be giving walking tours of the Washington Monument, but it was just too good of an opportunity and I was off the clock, so I did it anyway. 

Now I am about to leave for a quick day trip to Shenandoah to appreciate its beauty and wonder once more before the summer fades away. The journey of life continues on, with new blessings around every corner if we have the eyes to see them. 

Living ever in pursuit of the wonder of our Lord and His creation...

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