"The animals of the world exist for their own reasons.
They were not made for humans any more than
black people were made for white,
or women created for men."
-Alice Walker

America's national park system is immense. A labyrinth of over 335 properties comprised of national monuments (129), national historic parks (57), national historic sites (85), national parks (64, including Gettysburg National Military Park), it's the gold standard of park systems. Established in 1872 by an act of Congress, Yellowstone National Park remains the crown jewel of the National Park Service. Since then, many parks have been added, some since removed, and others redesignated. In 1932, the Glacier/Waterton Lakes International Peace Park was created, a first of its kind. Straddling the US/Canada border, the park is a combination of two national parks, Glacier (US) and Waterton Lakes (Canada), and holds the unique distinction of designation as a UNESCO Biosphere Preserve (1976), as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site (1995) and most recently as an International Dark Sky Park (2017). If Yellowstone is the National Park Service's crown jewel, the designation of Glacier/Waterton Lakes as an International Peace Park is its crowning achievement in cross-border relations.

Heart of a Nation: Writers and Photographers Inspired by the American Landscape
edited by Charles Kogod and Barbara A. Payne
National Geographic, 2000
ISBN: 0-7922-7938-7
240 pp

In her essay on Utah's Birthing Rock in Heart of a Nation: Writers and Photographers Inspired by the American Landscape, Terry Tempest Williams asks, "The heart of a nation. Where is it? What is it?" Based on the essays chosen for inclusion in Heart, the heart of this nation is in its national parks.

A collection of seventeen essays mostly focused on parks, Heart celebrates the diversity of the North American landscape through words and photos. Each contributor writes about a place they know and love.

Barry Lopez kicks things off with a piece called Looking Homeward. It's a reflective essay on the differences between Belize and the temperate rain forest of his home. He compares the wildlife - bald eagles versus frigate birds - and though they've each got their place, his melancholic observation lends a decided dissatisfaction to the latter. He notes that even resting feels different abroad than at home.

Essayist Edward Hoagland also reflects on home. His piece, Two Faces of Vermont, is a comparative essay in which he reflects on his rural home in upstate Vermont, and, in turn, his suburban home in Bennington (southern Vermont), population 16,500. For most, that's a small town; to him, it's a city, comparatively. He worries about the effect urban sprawl will have - and is having - on the wildlife populations of his state, something Alaskan Richard Nelson writing in Island of the Rain Bear, does not. An advocate for forest conservation, Nelson sees the health of the overall environment as hinging on the health of the forests. Of Alaska, he writes, ". . . much of the environment remains as it was before Europeans set foot in North America, and where not a single native plant or animal species has yet disappeared." The operative word here is "yet," and yet, he seems unconcerned, celebrating commercial fishing fleets and tourists with the same enthusiasm he has for the Tongass National Forest that sustains him. To a lower forty-eight city boy who's witnessed the destruction brought on by urban sprawl, his lack of concern is at once worrisome, and hopeful. (Worrisome for the obvious reasons; hopeful because he comes across as a guy that knows the pulse of his environment.)

Heart of a Nation is not just a book of words. Eight writer/photographers also grace its pages, not only with their words but with stunning photography as well. Christopher Burkett lends his lens to capture Kentucky's Bernheim Forest, a 12,000 acre arboreteum designed by landscape architect Federick Law Olmstead of Central Park fame. Brian Miller covers Louisiana's wetlands, reflecting on the recalcitrant nature of the Sabine National Wildlife Refuge through words and pictures. Jim Brandenburg offers a sublime pictorial of the North Woods of Minnesota, while Raymond Gehman does the same for Yellowstone, spending one entire "unforgettable year" in the park. California's Sierra Nevadas are vividly captured by Phil Schermeister in The Range of Light, an assignment he found as personally rewarding as he did professionally; the Channel Islands are covered by George H. H. Huey (as accomplished a writer as he is a photographer); and further up the Pacific coast, Northwest native Pat O'Hara covers Olympic National Park's lush rain forests, soaring peaks and stunning coastal rifts through ever-changing seasons.

      ". . . much of the environment remains as it was before Europeans set foot in North America, and where not a single native plant or animal species has yet disappeared."

The final entry in Heart is by award-winning photographer Art Wolfe. He returns us to Southeast Alaska, capturing in words and pictures its natural wonders as none of his contemporaries can. Though he lives in Seattle, he's at home wherever photography takes him, and it shows. While the question of what's at the heart of a nation may be an open-ended one, it's clear the writers and photographers of Heart have already found an answer. The heart of their nation is whatever they bring their nature writing and photography talents to, and we are all the more blessed for it.

Ruins of the Southwest
Sierra Press
ISBN: 0-939365-23-5
$4.95, 14 pp

Ruins of the Southwest is a Sierra Press Wish You Were Here Postcard Book containing sixteen captivating full-color images of the American Southwest. Each page is a perforated postcard that focuses on a different ruin, with a description of the site, its builders, and location. Of the sixteen sites, seven are in Arizona; four each are in Colorado and New Mexico; and one is in Utah. Mostly located on protected lands as national monuments, four are within national park boundaries, and three belong to national historic parks. As a region, the Southwest has the greatest concentration of federally protected areas in the US.

Now You See Them . . .
Not a lot is known about the people who built the pueblos and kivas of the Southwest. The earliest dwellers are believed to have been the Anasazi, from whom Arizona's Hopi Indians and our modern day Puebloans likely descended from. Having arrived in the Southwest prior to 1500 BC, these early arrivals were nomadic hunter-gatherers. Then, around 1500 BC, following the adoption of Mesoamerican agricultural techniques, they settled down and started building. The result are the ruins we see today, although the majority of them were built 1500 years later, on top of older sites. The largest, Pueblo Bonito, located in Chaco Culture National Historic Park, is massive, containing over 600 rooms.

Perhaps the most interesting of the ruins lies inside Grand Canyon National Park. Here, a city clings to the upper reaches of the canyon's cliffs, 5600 feet above the floor. As there were also communities established on arable deltas below, it's believed that its occupants alternated seasonally between cliff dwellings and the canyon bottom, thus extending their growing season.

. . . Now You Don't
As much of a mystery as to where the original settlers came from, is where they went. By the fourteenth century, the last of their communities were abandoned. It's theorized they were forced to relocate due to famine, internal strife, shortage of resources, or a combination of all three. Other First Peoples who shared the region with the Anasazi during this time (in what's come to be known as the Southwest's Formative Period) were the Mogollon, Hohokam, Fremont, Sinagua, Salado and Cohonina. Sadly, all have largely been forgotten.

Other covered subjects by the Wish You Were Here Postcard Books include: Bryce Canyon; Colorado Plateau; Glen Canyon; Grand Canyon; Grand Teton; Monument Valley; Rock Art; Sequoia-Kings Canyon; Yosemite; Zion; and the crown jewel of America's national park system, Yellowstone.

posted 04/15/22