Thursday, March 21, 2013

A Visit From Family = A Tour of History and National Parks!

For the past four years I have spent much of my life and energy investing in helping people to better understand and appreciate the resources preserved by the National Park Service. I began by giving tours of (what was then) the fourth longest gave in the world and campfire programs about the mission and purpose of the Park Service. I then transitioned into interpreting the memorials and history of our nation's capitol in Washington, DC. I spent eight months living in the Blue Ridge Mountains and helping visitors better appreciate the resources contained therein. For the last year I have worked on a variety of projects all centered on widening opportunities for understanding and finding meaning in the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.

I have led a myriad of tours, given a wide variety of programs, answered a slew of questions, written articles, designed magazines and banners, and posted hundreds of pictures on NPS facebook pages.  I have greatly enjoyed each of these opportunities to help visitors understand the importance and value of our national parks and I have connected with a lot of people through these capacities in the last four years. Yet, of all of the thousands of people I have interacted with in our national parks, my absolute favorite audiences have indisputably been my family.

I have been blessed with the opportunity to interpret each of the parks I have worked at for at least one member of my family. At the beginning of march my Dad and stepmother came to visit and I had the chance to share stories about several different parks I know and have worked at in Washington, DC and Virginia.

The first was Ford's Theater, where Alison and I met each other for the first time on April 19, 2010. We went to Ford's to see a production of "Our Town," but also got to enjoy the theater and education center before the show started.

The next day began at Manassas with a quick tour of the key points of the first battle and an explanation of where I work and what I do on a daily basis.

We continued on to Shenandoah National Park. Unfortunately a recent snowstorm had closed Skyline Drive and only the center section was accessible, which limited our options. We still found our way to some beautiful overlooks and got a sense of the beauty of the park though. 

Old Rags and Old Rag

It was especially fun to visit the park on February 15, because it was on that very day that I proposed to Alison on the Rose River Loop Trail two years earlier.

When we got to the visitor center it was closed (as was to be expected since it had not yet opened for the season) but Alison found an easy way to change the status for us!

None Shall Pass!!

We didn't have much time for hiking, but we were able to enjoy at least a little of what the park has to offer.

Hiking in Shenandoah National Park

Continuing the Civil War thread, the next day we went up to Gettysburg and I shared an abridged version of what transpired there. This was signifcant for me since it was my study of Gettysburg that helped to first spark an interest in the Civil War, and I am currently working on projects related to the sesquicentennial at the park this summer.

Standing next to the marker of the 20th Maine, where one of my heroes became the "Lion of Little Round Top"
The sun sets over the battlefield
Our final adventure was a trip to George Washington's home on President's Day. It was not only an appropriate day to visit, but also free!

We had no problem finding random things to entertain us like cows and a spot to sit in a tree!

Or costumed interpreters to pose with in pictures!

Not to mention the necessary!

My Dad and Alison had already sat down on Washington's porch for this picture, but before I could, this kid came running out of nowhere and took my spot!

This was our second try at looking... presidential??
It was a fun visit filled with lots of good winter exploration! For more pictures check out This Album
on facebook.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Commemorating a Year of the Civil War

This last year has brought many changes and adjustments in my life, most significantly being the first I lived as a married man!

As a result of being married I was able to get legitimate health insurance (through Alison's job) for the first time since I graduated from college. I have consequently had a physical exam (for the first time since I was 13), dental appointments, an eye exam, had the inside of my nose cauterized to stop it from bleeding, and, most recently, had a dermatologist exam and subsequent surgery to remove potential cancerous tissue.

It has also provided me with some wonderful opportunities to be, not only present at special NPS events, but also an integral part of telling the story they represent.

Exactly one year ago I arrived at Manassas National Battlefield to start my new National Park Service position as a member of the Civil War Sesquicentennial interpretive media team. 

It is through this position that I have been blessed with these opportunities. Most of the events I worked at have been part of the sesquicentennial commemoration of the Civil War, but I also did work for and at several other special events and had the chance to meet and work with staff at parks around the region.

My first big commemorative event was at Richmond at the end of June and early July.

A few weeks later I photographed the 151st anniversary of First Manassas.

In many ways this served as a trial run for the 150th anniversary of Second Manassas at the end of August.

 Following Second Manassas, we had little respite before heading out to Harpers Ferry and Antietam.

While there were many special moments at these events, the most memorable and moving experience I have been a part of at any Civil War battlefield took place in the Cornfield at Antietam.

On November 19 and December 1 I photographed the 149th anniversary of the delivery of the Gettysburg Address and the Antietam Illumination.

A week later I headed out to the sesquicentennial of the Battle of Fredericksburg.

After Christmas I was thrown right into preparation for the 57th Presidential Inauguration in Washington, DC.

It has certainly been a memorable year of working for the Park Service!

It has also been a tremendous blessing for me to have this position. If I was in a normal seasonal position with the Park Service, there is a good chance I would lose my job due to the sequestration. As it is, I know that I will be able to keep this position until at least April, 2015. It doesn't provide us with enough money to live on, but it is a huge blessing to know that I will still be employed, even with the current climate in Washington politics.

Plus I greatly enjoy being a part of each of these special events. :)

Now, we are already in the midst of preparation for three major events in 2013: Chancellorsville--May 1-5, Vicksburg--May 20-29, and Gettysburg--July 1-5

We will likely end up going to Chickamauga in September as well.

A few weeks ago this position officially became the longest job I have had with the Park Service (passing the National Mall). It has been a good year. Here's hoping this next one is equally as eventful and interesting!

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Junction of Joy and Sorrow Made Manifest

It's never easy to say goodbye. There are few, if any, times in life in which we are truly prepared to see someone we love and care for for the last time. Yet, there are certainly situations in which it is much easier to bid a final farewell than in others. Simply having the opportunity to say goodbye is often not the case when life takes an unexpected and sudden turn.

Death is never easy, never dignified, never without some measure of pain. It is always messy, always accompanied by a sense of loss, and always significant. I do not know how those who do not know the love and tender mercy of God confront the reality of death. I have often wondered what it would be like to face death without the knowledge of the higher plane of our spiritual existence and God's plan for his creation. It is difficult, if not impossible, for me to imagine viewing death only as an ending, and not also as a beginning. This is one of the realities of our lives in which I most keenly see a difference between those who have accepted, recognized, and embraced God's redeeming love, and those who have not.  

As humans, we are wired by God to never wish to see someone we love and care for leave us. This is true whether we recognize the reality of God's presence and will in the world or not. There is something innately wired in each of us to want to hold on to those whom we love. This desire is present even though we know that our loved one is going to a better place and that their story has not truly ended. It still hurts, even when the person who we have lost has lived a full life. It still hurts, even when their body has been shutting down on them for years. It still hurts even knowing that in death they are released from the terrible pain which has plagued them for so long. The simple truth is that death hurts.

Jo and Dave Gipe
On February 3, 2013, one day shy of her 86th birthday, my Grandmother, Sarah JoAnne (Adams) Gipe, went to be with Jesus. Her passing could hardly have been scripted any more poignantly. In her final days each of her four children was able to spend time by her side and, not only say goodbye, but celebrate her life with her one last time. Those final days were days filled with pain and sorrow, but they were also days filled with smiles and laughter. Her last days were days of celebration, characterized by singing and remembrance. When her final moment came, she breathed her last breaths in the arms of her children, singing about resting in the arms of Jesus. She left this earth as she had lived in it, a woman dedicated above all to two great pursuits: her love and commitment to her family, and her devotion to Jesus.

If ever death was a reflection of release from pain into the arms of our savior, it was in the passing of Jo Gipe. It was a powerful picture of the redeeming love of Christ made manifest in our lives. Yet it still hurt to see her go. I wasn't there when it happened. In fact, I was on the other side of the country watching the super bowl with friends. But when I found out, only minutes after her spirit left this earth, the pain hit me as strongly as if I had witnessed it myself.

Nothing that I have experienced in life so strongly illustrates the dual realities of our life so strongly as death. I don't know what it is like to die, but I imagine it is a bittersweet experience. On the one hand there is great delight and excitement to leave the cares of this world and be free in Heaven. On the other, in order to do so, those whom we love most must be left behind. I do know what it is like to be one of those left behind. As my brother in law observed the evening before the memorial service: it truly is strange to simultaneously feel great joy that one whom we loved is free of pain while also experiencing such deep pain ourselves as those who she left behind. 

Despite the short notice and complications of last minute cross country travel, Alison and I were blessed by being able to make it to Arizona for the internment and memorial service. It was a weekend of tears, but it was also a weekend of joy and celebration, not only of my grandmother's life, but of life in general.

Kristen and Corey had just purchased their new house so we had the unexpected opportunity to see their new home and stay with them for the weekend. The morning of the funeral we awoke to fresh snow, which added a unique element to the day.

We also had the chance to spend time with family that we do not often get to see since we live in Virginia.   

Despite the fact that all the cousins are now between 20-30 we still had our own kids table, where we were joined by my cousin's three actual children. Throughout the weekend they served as a representation of the next generation for all of us and frequently ended up in pictures.  

The contrast between life and death, old and young, loss and hope was particularly evident in the presence of baby Jack, who had come into this world only six weeks earlier.

It is never easy to say goodbye, but if it has to be done, this was the way to do it.