It seems there is a blog post I wrote but never published, in fact I never even wrote it. This thought, this idea of what it was like to visit D.C. for the first time back in April 2015 never fully came to fruition. I remember thinking about it. I know I laughed a little at how this “drained swap” was sinking and thought on the topic of man’s need to control nature that is generally to our detriment. I remember walking the monuments of the of the mall reading great quotes from fallible, human men that have been entombed unnecessarily on invisible (and visible) pedestals. I remembered meandering from one free museum to the next absorbing as much as my brain could handle and remarking on how freely we show of our enterprise and our folly to any in the world who wants to see. I remember standing in the dimmed and solemn room that houses the star-spangled banner. As I stood there I did feel a sense of pride for a young America full of grit.
Outside in nearby Baltimore the streets had just erupted in multiple decades of suppressed anger and anguish due to the police killing of a 25 year old black man named Freddie Gray. Eventually U.S. Marshals would walk the streets to keep “order” of a disordered, classist, racist society. Meanwhile at the Supreme Court men in tutus and women with butch haircuts stomped and shouted on the steps while internally we all held our breath and prayed, and prayed, and prayed on this first day of hearings on same sex marriage (Obergefell vs. Hodges). Down the Mall reporters stood at the Vietnam Memorial and interviewed Veterans whose brothers’ names were etched into the black reflective wall, a memorial designed by a 21 year old Asian-American who hadn’t seen war but represented it’s loss perfectly with this black ‘V’ gouged into the earth. As you walked down into it’s embrace the sounds of D.C. slipped away leaving nothing but our own voices bouncing back at us and so we got quiet and reflected on this 40 year anniversary of the fall of Saigon, the atrocities of war, the mysteries of what we had been fighting for so far away when we’re still fighting wars here at home, for what it means to be free.
I never thought that two years later, for Earth Day, we’d be standing near a stage next to the Washington Monument listening to Maya Lin (designer of the Vietnam Memorial) espouse the benefits and need for open and honest science research and education in America. I didn’t know that we’d hear from a transgender scientist about collaboration or a black man from New York City talk about inner city scholarships for science programs or a Native American woman talk of the early science of generations of observations for the first Americans. We heard from a farmer, many musicians, doctors, teachers, benefactors of scientific research, all there to defend science. Frankly, I didn’t think we would need to. And I certainly didn’t want to when it was 50 degrees and raining. We waffled back and forth between cold, wet and uncomfortable to amazed, inspired and joyful. As the stage event ended and the march had yet to begin the musicians, led by the beautiful Jon Batiste, struck up a raucous beat to lift us past our soggy pity party to a real dance party in the streets. However, shortly after that the crowd stopped the slow lurch forward, the rain picked up again. Signs dropped, umbrellas were raised and suddenly I was having an internal yet massive panic attack from being pinned in the middle. But then I turned and saw a sign that said “Park Rangers for President” and I remembered why we were there in the first place.
I’m finishing up these thoughts two months after the event having hit the ground running here at our summer stint in Sequoia National Park. I’ve been having a hard time trying to keep up on what I need to accomplish this summer and feeling more and more removed from this movement. That is until I realized I’m not removed, I’m living the march alongside my NPS family, not out of any sort of rebellion but it’s just what we do that makes our work meaningful for us and the visitors alike. Here we are working on talks that highlight the cute and precocious Pika that could be in real danger due to warming temperatures. We are walking in meadows that have been meticulously restored looking for mosses that help represent the growth and natural succession of the meadows. We are working with partners to study the effects of the elongated and extra hot drought on the Sequoia trees and we have partnered with Native tribal members to apply their indigenous scientific knowledge to do prescribed burns their way for the health of the oak trees. Everyday we’re out there having conversations about drought, fire, restorations and conservation with our visitors who are happy to be here and to learn a little about the beautiful place they came to visit.
There are many social physics at play in these times but, I can only hope that these scientific efforts that are in motion stay in motion. Marches won’t fix the mess we’re in but it’s nice to know that we are not alone in our fear and frustration and that even a cold rainy day won’t keep away a 100,000 angry scientists.