A Strange Spring

Message From The Director

It has been a strange spring indeed.  With so much of our normal routines uprooted: working remotely, schooling at home and so much more, I hope everyone was able to find some positive things emerging as well.  For my family, that positive has been connecting more often.   As we worried about each other in the beginning, my brother created a family group chat that quickly grew into a weekly Zoom meeting.  With so many unknowns, it is important (now more than ever) to catch up and share in each other’s lives. A huge part of our concern was our mom, who at eighty-five years old, lives alone. Her house, bought as a lake getaway in the 80’s, has been her full-time residence for over 25 years now.  It is a beautiful setting to be quarantined in for sure, but we all worry about her being alone for an undetermined amount of time.  Simultaneously, we watched as our college-age kids found their spring and summer plans drastically changed. Then without hesitation, and to our relief, one of the grandkids, Percy, volunteered to stay with mom.  Through all of this, it has been a delight to get random videos and pictures of them cooking meals and sharing life together for the past few months.

One morning our group chat woke to a series of sunrise photos sent from Percy.  In the description of the photos was this gem: “Reminds me of Uncle Paul, the one who taught me to appreciate the sunrise”.  That simple message shared to the group, filled me with more joy than my nephew could have ever imagined!  As a park ranger, the best compliment that I could ever get is that I helped someone see and appreciate nature.  For someone to stand in awe at a sunrise and appreciate all it brings, from the beginning of a new day to the opening of new bloom, is truly amazing.  From the bird songs to the caterpillar crunching on leaves, we long for the opportunity to help people enjoy the sounds of nature. There is so much around us to enjoy and knowing I helped inspire that, even if it’s just a little bit in Percy, made my day! It also reminded me during this hectic time, why I love my job so much.

Since we have announced the opening of parks, I have hit the road to make sure we are doing all we can to keep our staff and visitors safe. My visits for the most part have been quick. By the end of the month, I will have visited 28 of our 47 parks, it has been a whirlwind.  It has also reinforced why I wanted to be a Park Ranger in the first place. During my visits I have watched the sun go down on Lake Murray, sat quietly in awe as an otter swam by on Lake Keowee, watched in amazement as the sun rose over the marsh at Edisto, walked alone on beautiful trails, watched visitors catch fish on a pier and stared at a dark night sky.  It has been refreshing for my soul, mind and body to be back in the parks. As I’ve served in the park service happily for a quarter of a century, being back reminded me of why there were so many people eager to get back into parks.

During the last few months there have been some incredibly interesting studies and stories about the way our environment is responding without people interfering.  Stories of animals behaving differently, water and air quality improving, and protected flora and fauna flourishing without daily interruption.  It seems in many cases, our natural environment is better without us and has taken full advantage of its vacation from us.  Simultaneously to these stories, we have read some about us. Stories of increased mental health issues, protests at parks and generally anti-social behavior in people.  It seems that we as a species, do not thrive under the same conditions that our natural world is seeming to do so well in.  While it is only part of the solution, our deep connection to the environment and need for the outdoors has never been clearer. Thankfully getting back into the parks has helped restore some of that balance for me. It helps me be more focused, more empathetic and more appreciative, as I am sure it does the same for many of you.  

My friend Peach frequently reminds many of us that we are nearing the light at the end of the tunnel. She encourages us to come back stronger and better and I know that our parks are stronger and better because of this. I also know that in order for me to be stronger and better, I need our parks and all they provide. I need the trails to walk, rivers and streams to flow while I clear my thoughts, birds to chatter as I listen and watch, blooms to admire, trees to inspire and the wide-open space to remind me of my place.  With my sense of place restored, I hope I can emerge from this a better person. One reminded of what is really important and hopefully share that appreciation with those I come across.  I look forward to seeing all of you in a park soon.