National Parks, Episode 3 and 4. Brief Musings.

To repeat myself, I’m continuing to enjoy this film very much.

I’m struck by a couple things this evening as I mull over tonight and
last night’s episodes.

First relates to the Great Smokies. I was truly taken aback to learn
of the outpouring of small dollar, out of not-in-the-least deep pocket
donations from local citizens in support of the land purchases that
would be
requisite for realizing the park. This was unfolding in a poor rural
area. Civic responsibility and local pride saw folks who had so little
dig deep in support of setting up a permanently established public

The second stems from the quote from Robert Sterling Yard, observing
that within the confines of the park boundaries, and arising from the
sharing of experiencing the setting, that “all are Americans” who
visit and enjoy the parks. The establishment of these reserves
provided the physical space within which social class would, at least
a little, fade.

The affordability and increased ubiquity of the automobile put access
to these sites within the reach of the average folk.

It wasn’t lost on me that the environs of Acadia National Park, in my
native state of Maine, had been the exclusive province of the
hyper-wealthy old money types.

The parks, within a few short decades of their genesis, gave space and
cause for something that felt and looked worthy of the notion of

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national parks, episode 2

Second night into the series, and I am feeling a mix of wonder and
gratitude. It is just so very, very good.

Two thoughts:

One: OK, where the hell did they find this park ranger? This Shelton
Johnson fellow? Wow, is he ever a sympathetic character. He speaks so
lyrically, based both on what appears to be encyclopedic knowledge and
unbridled passion, about the parks. Of why and how they came to be,
what they continue to mean, who they reveal we who seek them out to

Two: It’s significant to be reminded that “environmentalism” at its
very roots is borne out of a tension between preservation and
conservation. Critics of environmentalism have been keen to cast us as
a monolithic lot. Environmentalism has never been anything of the
sort. The tension between preservation for its own sake (forged in a
very singular moral kiln) and conservation (having and eating the
cake, if you will) has been part and parcel of environmentalism since
before the word “environmentalism” had even been coined. I appreciated
that reminder.

So far, really, a very lovely piece of work. The visuals are about as
good as I’ve ever known television to cough up, and the content so far
has been fluid and compelling.

Parting thought: the damming of the Hetch Hetchy basically killed John
Muir. I already knew that, but have to say that the presentation of
how the last few years of Muir’s life unfolded was informative, and
deeply moving.

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National Parks, Episode 1. A Few Thoughts.

I’m a fan of Ken Burns, and I’m an environmentalist. My expectations
and hopes for his newest project had both been running high. My gut
check take: first installment suggests neither were misplaced.

Opening, introductory sequence–ran about a half hour–was beautifully
shot and edited; the tonal content of the narration matched.

What I love about Burns’ approach to documentary film making is that
he treats subject not so much as subject, but as prism. As metaphor. I
remember hearing from a few fellow fans of jazz music that they were
disappointed by what they saw (in “Jazz”) as glaring omissions of important
artists in the development of the art form.

It’s not an invalid point, but it is one that totally misses the point of how and why Ken Burns
does what he does. Jazz, baseball, the National Parks, these are
mirrors. These are topics of discussion and exploration, and of
reflection, as opening them up and seeing what makes them tick speaks
about who we are.

What has me excited to watch this one unfold over the course of the
week is his having introduced some very heavy, very timely themes
head-on right out of the gate.

We’ve tonight heard about the tension between private interests and
those advocating for the public good that characterized to very
genesis of our national parks. We were reminded that America’s natural
heritage is perhaps the most salient attribute that helped distinguish
us from more established, more polished European nations to whom we
still felt inferior in the mid 19th Century. And that in Europe, by
the way, the most alluring landscapes were most likely to be in the
hands of the aristocracy.

And the framing of these preserves in explicit terms of public good,
of wealth in common, of ensuring public ownership and access as
inherently good and just, well, it has me thinking in light of the
times we’re in that Mr. Burns is being deliberately provocative. And
if that *is* what he’s up to, I bow humbly in his direction.

I couldn’t help but interpret several moments of content from the
narration, as well as from some of the interviews, that the statements
he’s making in this film are deliberately and thoughtfully crafted to
be received, and to be heard, now.

I’m sure the movie will hold up well over time, and I’m well aware
that this was many years in the works, but something just tells me
that there’s been some fine-tuning of content and tone for this to be
seen now.

Plus, I appreciated being reminded that John Muir spent several years
living / writing in Oakland.

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