The National Parks: America’s Best Idea – A Review

If you’re looking for something to watch over the upcoming vacation, consider “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.”  I recently finished this six-part documentary by Ken Burns and thoroughly enjoyed it.  I’ve considered myself an environmentalist since I was very young, but it recently occurred to me that I really didn’t know much about the history of the movement.  Of course I knew bits – the significance of Theodor Roosevelt, Ansel Adems, and Rachel Carlson, and also a little about its roots in the Romantic and Transcendentalist movement, but beyond that?  I’m ashamed to say that, before this documentary, I didn’t know who John Muir was.  The next time someone asks me which dead person I would most like to meet, I have a solid answer.

“The National Parks: America’s Best Idea” is a must watch for those from and interested in the USA.  To understand the present you need to look into the past, and the history of our conservation movement could give you some insights into today’s arguments over the EPA, States’ Rights, and energy reform.  What is more American than our “purple mountains majesty” and “amber waves of grain?”   The national parks are supposed to belong to “the people” and are meant to be pristine escapes into the wild (more or less).  They’ve been described as “America’s playground.”  The National Parks are also supposed to help preserve our native wildlife.  Some contain the final remnants of beings who once roamed much of America. The parks exist because of government intervention.  Before this documentary, I didn’t know about places like Hetch Hetchy Valley – a pristine environment that was destroyed all so San Francisco could get a dam.   After the reality of what happened – of what had been lost – became known, there was so much outrage that National Parks are now supposed to be protected from operations like that.  The film also provides more insight into civil rights, immigration, and the advances of science. I was particularly interested in the treatment of large predators – once killed without a thought to save the wild herds, then later understood to be essential parts of the “circle of life.”

Anyone following an Earth-centered path will gain much through watching the documentary.  Ken Burns’ style is to provide historical facts and recount the tales of the influential, but also to weave in stories of the everyday men and women who were touched by the parks in some ways.  He balances the factual with the emotional, allowing quite a bit of spiritual exploration.  I’m sure many Pagans would be interested in John Muir – someone who I now include on my ancestral altar.  Although Christian, he believed that God could best be experienced in the wild rather than a church.  He seemed, at times, animistic as he wrote of listening to rocks and trees.  He was key to modern environmentalism.

This program truly touched me.  My heart welled with emotion several times either because I could so relate to the spiritual sensations others were describing to have felt in nature, or because I was so moved by the imagery.  At times, my heart ached for the atrocities we’ve committed against nature and our fellow human beings.  While the film rightfully instils national pride, Ken Burns is honest about our history.

I finished “The National Parks” wanting to visit every single one before I die.  Who knows if my idealistic dream will become reality, but I would like to try.  On the Druidic path, I’m naturally inspired by and drawn to European cultures, but we have some of the most varied and amazing natural features in the world right here!  Remembering that makes me feel better about my inability to afford a trip across the Atlantic each year. We have such beautiful, natural temples here – groves of giant redwoods, the Grand Canyon, Acadia, the Everglades, Yosemite, Denali…  My heart and soul yearn to see them with my own eyes.

Enjoy “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea” on Netflix through Instant Queue.

2 thoughts on “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea – A Review

  1. I only watched the first part of this series, but the rest of the series has been on my netflix queu – thanks for reminding me to watch it! There’s also a companion coffee table book to this series that I own – remind me to get it out next time you come over.

    And yes, I would have loved to have met John Muir too – talk about a kindred spirit!

  2. You might want to read ‘A Walk in the Woods’ by Bill Bryson. It’s about hiking on the Appalachian Trail, the National Park Service, American culture, nature, and the environment. It’s funny and I laughed through most of it, but it’s also sad and harsh. He talks a lot about how the trail was formed, why it goes where it does, and how people react to it.

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