Whatever Park I’m In

My 7 year old son Robbie and I have been tent camping in U.S. National parks and monuments since June 21st of 2016. We did not set out to do this. Our “goal” was to camp in the Tetons, but I was also aware over the past year of great changes underfoot in our country, in our humanity and abroad. Because of this, I was open to where we maybe led.

As the month in the Tetons came to a close, we decided to go west to Whistler, Victoria and Washington state. We did the junior ranger programs as we traveled. I discovered that Robbie learned so much, and felt so happy and good to be with me that the very education I had talked about over the last 3 years, the ideas and dreams of a nature based education, was exactly where we were. So after several conversations over Labor Day with his dad, a homeschool advisor and my dear “homeschooling mom” friend Heather, we put together our homeschool curriculum using the National Park Junior Ranger program as a key component and went for it.

Almost every junior ranger program we have participated in has a section instructing the future junior ranger to “find a quiet spot” and listen to their senses in the environment. In some parks, this was challenging, especially on the beaten path. But even in Yosemite and other crowded areas, listening can still be done.

One of the more interesting off shoots of this pause and listen was the question, “what’s your favorite park?”
The picture above: Robbie is giving a talk about his experience in the parks to the kids at a homeschool group in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Photo credit: Rebecca Cohen, http://www.thehomeschoolclassroomsantafe.com

As Robbie accumulated badges, more and more people sought him out to talk. No matter where we were, no matter where we are, that question is always there. The first time couple of times I heard the question, my immediate thought was, “how do you categorize beauty?” For a long time, Robbie did not say a word.   Emotions would flicker across his face, and sometimes he would just stare at the people asking. But then one day, while standing in view of Mt. Rainier, having been to Mt. Rushmore, Badlands, Wind Cave, Yellowstone, the Tetons, and the  Northern Cascades, I heard him respond to an elderly couple and the ranger, “whatever park I am in”.

There was a hushed pause. Tears came to my eyes. The ranger smiled and shook his head, “yes, I getcha Robbie, thanks for saying that.” The other couple laughed and started chattering. The ranger came by after his talk and spent more time talking and hiking with us.

This became Robbie’s standard answer. For 2 months after, reactions to his response varied from ignoring him to a startled pause and quiet. Several times people said, “those are good words to live by”.

Now 5 months into the journey, working with being a healer and a mom, several thoughts have come together, as I work to put together the next steps in our quest.

As adults, a great deal of suffering lies in wanting to choose the moment and the conditions WE WANT to pay attention to, not how they really are.  We build up one story and preference after another until those stories become an “I” or “me” and then suffer from the schism and disconnect that has occurred. Most adults move from one form of Disneyland to another not recognizing that the heart is not out there but inside. Sometimes it takes a great catalyst or breakdown to pay attention, to heal and hear.

Extremes are happening everywhere in the world right now, especially in this amazing country of the United States. At least according to physics, the Eastern and Indigenous spiritual traditions, humanity and the 3 dimensional world live by equal and opposite reaction. For every heartbreak there is a heart healed. Yet as a creative multidimensional life force, we have the power to serve as the bridge between polarities, to get to know our own stories and agendas to see how we may be coloring the truth, each “park” has its reason, its own voice, its own way.

Robbie has started to tell stories of each park, he talks about the aspects he likes at each. He has become great at bonding and making friends wherever we are, of understanding how to make the dynamics of connection work within the culture we are in at the moment. As a parent, it can be a struggle holding what is our own family culture and our own value system within the context of other family structures without being exclusive. Just as a cell wall needs its bilipid layer, each being needs its container, whole and separate yet whole and connected.

With all the polarity happening in life, from profound heartfelt prayers of love and light to the violence and darkness on the other, the “here and now” have been beckoning for a pause.

What we need is the deep quiet, the pause, to adjust to what is here. One action that comes from preference and story will beget another reaction that will continue a cycle of suffering, karma.

We seek the place inside, to find what helps us to be still, to cultivate quiet and the heart. For me and Robbie, we have found it to be in nature. Although quiet can be cultivated everywhere, not just with a mountain and tree, nature connects us to the larger presence that connects all of humanity: air, water,  earth. All of this is essential for survival and to thrive. Here, we have found our hearts. From this center, our hearts, the ONE heart, we act.

We will continue our trip for awhile, at least through December. May our learning continue, may our country’s learning continue, in wholeness and harmony, in “whatever park we are in”.