Summer Vacations Were Meant For Public Lands

I have been told that I am very observant, but that isn’t true. I usually don’t notice people’s new haircuts. I rarely pick up on small changes, like new pictures in room. I gloss over details so much that doubt I could describe a family member in detail for a police sketch artist. I forget names easily and tend to space out on meaningful dates. Yet, when it comes to the outdoors, all of this changes. I know names of creeks and waterfalls. I can describe the seat stacks along the Olympic Coast perfectly. I can see the first sign of fall from a mile away. In wilderness I become the Sherlock Holmes of Public Lands, noticing the most minute detail. 

Was the intro just a way for me to brag about being so attentive to nature? Not at all. My brain needed to be back on track, refocusing it from the train wreck currently airing on C-SPAN, which elicits the exact opposite emotions as those found in nature. Right now, my mind is a jumbled mess, distracted and nowhere near as sharp as I’d like it. Yesterday, however, was much different. Yesterday I was in a wilderness area, trail running to snowy mountains and chilly lakes. My mind was sharp, witnessing autumn scenes that made my soul rejoice. I breathed air above 10,000ft and traipsed through freshly fallen snow. I was locked in, I watched giant grubs on the forest floor and listened to tumbling cascades falling down off granite blocks. I saw the colors of leaves changing every few hundred feet of elevation. I noticed where rocks had fallen and where trees changed the course of the creek. I smiled most of the day. I am never happier than when I am in nature and have always been this way, thanks to my parents. 

Hiking up to Upper Royal Basin in Olympic National Park

As a kid, I was fortunate enough to be the child of two teachers who had “summers off” every year. From the age of six until I graduated high school, my parents took me to National Parks and public lands, giving me both a playground and a classroom out in the wilds. We took road trips around the country, explored the parks in our backyard of Washington State, and returned to favorite parks year after year. While I gained an education at school, the real learning and life lessons came on these trips, forever forging my relationship with the great outdoors. It is safe to say that as a kid, I was obsessed with going outside and experiencing the splendor of public lands. 

On these trips, I would be given state maps and would follow along with the route we were taking, looking up any information on the towns and communities that were printed in the atlas or state map that we had. On the map, I’d also see all the parks we were passing, all the forest service roads and campgrounds and longed to explore each one. I was obsessed with learning the native flora and fauna. Because of this, instead of toys, I preferred getting books as presents for my birthday, as it also fell in the summer. The book’s topics always were on exploration, naturalism and information about our destination. I’d memorize facts and figures about our public lands at a young age, spouting them off every chance I could to anyone that would listen. 

The ears that always perked up, whether they had general interest or forced because of relationship, were my parents. They fostered my love of nature and adventure. They encouraged me to learn all I could about things that interested me, and for the majority of my life, that has been nature. My parents were my outdoor inspiration, introducing me to a wilderness canvas that I would paint with adventures and awe-inspiring scenes for decades. They opened a door beyond city life and work stress and taught me how to relax in wilderness and to embrace the moment. They took me time and time again into nature without so much a thanks, but I am not sure it was needed. They know they changed my life by letting me fall in love with nature, and seeing my work now brings them joy. 

For my family vacations every summer are still some of my best memories. They are full of moments that shaped me to my core and ones that I feel extremely lucky to have. While we weren’t well off, my parents scrimped and saved as much as they could in hopes to give my sister and I a trip to a National Park. Throughout my childhood, we took road trips to Yellowstone, backpacked in Olympic, explored Glacier and the Tetons and wandered the Great Smoky Mountains. I visited 40+ states as a result of our vacations and caught sunsets at the Grand Canyon, the heat of the day in Death Valley, and stared in wonderment at the pueblo dwellings of the desert south west.  

The power of erosion on display at the Grand Canyon

Without these family vacations, I have no clue where I would be. I certainly wouldn’t have created the #NatureWritingChallenge. I wouldn’t have worked around National Parks and definitely wouldn’t have decided to stop everything I was doing to write about public lands for a living. I for sure would never have published guidebooks to help others have the adventures I have.

The trips each summer we took each had their own impact, and while some stand out as better than others, every single one helped make me a better person. I still get overwhelmed by the stresses of life and the feeling of hopelessness in society. I continue to struggle in being productive and positive each day. On those days when I feel like hope is lost and I am all alone in the world, I recall the gift my parents gave to me and head out to the nearest swath of public lands. There, I recall the lessons I was taught at a young age and live in the moment, enjoying my time in nature, no matter how long or short it will be. 

This article was written in one hour for #NatureWritingChallenge


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By Doug and Mathias on the Olympic Peninsula, Washington State

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