It's September 30th, 2013 and I'm sitting on the couch watching the news with my family. There's a clock in the top right of the screen counting down to midnight like it's December 31st, 1999 all over again. The news cut to a live feed of the Capitol building like there were going to be fireworks, or an explosion, or something crazy....but nothing happened. Everything seemed normal.
I woke up the next morning like I do every morning, with high hopes of exercising before work only to hit my snooze button three too many times before lazily rolling out of bed, grabbing a quick shower and heading to work. I'm usually listening to Paul & Young Ron in the morning, although I'm not sure why since all they talk about recently is Breaking Bad and I've only watched an episode or two...maybe it's the illusion that I'm having an actual conversation with people, or maybe it's just the illusion of having actual people around me during my commute rather than being alone. But I digress, since there was the commotion on the news last night, I decided to google what FM channel NPR was (at a red light, of course). I don't view myself as the typical "NPR kind of guy," but I needed to get some actual news in my life. It was official, it was the first day of open enrollment for Obamacare. This was a historic day, but I didn't realize how historic until the next line. "Almost the entire government is shutdown," the radio said, "all National Parks, Museums, and other departments are completely shutdown." I was surprised, but I wasn't aghast. I just kinda shrugged it off, took in as much information as I could before I got to work, and went about my usual day. I sat in my cubicle, listened to my co-worker's silly banter while I did my work, ate my bagged lunch, and then I went home. I listened to more NPR on the way back.
There aren't too many things the government can do to really affect my attitude or feelings on a personal level, but after I got home and reflected on what had actually been going on with my family, I became truly and deeply saddened.
When I first began writing this blog, I was headed West to start my first job. I took an incredible road trip across our wonderful country with my best friend, and my love for the United States of America began to blossom. One of our first stops was St. Louis and the Gateway Arch. I didn't know anything about the Gateway Arch before then, but it turned out to be the most meaningful day of the entire road trip for me. As a Park Ranger explained, historically the Gateway Arch symbolized the westward expansion of the United States, and as I listened and looked West from the top of that arch, I had a feeling hope and excitement. I felt like a pioneer. My journey was just beginning and I couldn't wait to get started.
My job at Bryce Canyon National Park in southern Utah began not one week later. I had one of the most memorable times of my life. I met some of the most incredible people and I learned something from each and every one of them. My supervisor, a long tenured archaeologist at the park was a tough person, but she taught me how to have a strong work ethic and showed me how hard archaeology actually was. The other department leaders and staff were wonderful. I was surprised as to how smart, welcoming, and genuinely caring they all were. They all loved their jobs so much, and they loved Bryce Canyon with all of their hearts. It showed in everything they did. They welcomed loud, obnoxious, ignorant people from around the world into their doors like it was their home...with open arms and smiling faces. No matter what those guests were like when they first came through those park gates, the staff would stop at nothing to make sure that those guests would leave as different people with new perspective and appreciation for this special place they called home...and it worked. I saw kids' eyes float from their iPhones to the night sky with wonder and amazement. I watched people's spirits lift and come pouring through their eyes and smiles as they watched a sunrise over the canyon. Every time I watched someone's life change, mine did too.
I can't tell you how proud I am to say that I wore green and grey. I love our National Park Service with all of my heart, and as I watched closed signs be put up and rangers hang their hats today, my heart shattered into a million pieces. I tried to imagine our country without a National Park Service, without these amazing places or people to interpret them, and I began to cry. It's a country that I cannot, and will not imagine. These parks, from the Gateway Arch to Bryce Canyon and everything in between are absolutely essential to the United States of America. They are our past, present, and future. If you've never been to one of our National Parks before today, consider this shutdown your wake up call. I beg you, don't take these places for granted. Take time to see and appreciate the real United States of America...you won't regret it.