August 6, 2015

In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was One like a Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into His presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and His kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. Daniel 7: 13, 14

An update on what’s been happening since last I posted: I’ve signed a contract with Sonfire Media, a small Christian publisher, for Life Lessons from the National Parks to become a book!

2016 is the National Park Service’s centennial, and so our parks will be very much in the news next year. And my book will be part of it! It will be divided into four sections corresponding with the seasons, each one having ten devotions/inspirational readings about ten separate parks. In other words, 40 parks will be highlighted. Some of the material will come from already-posted blogs, but there also will be lots of new information, including a blurb at the end of every reading with tips for visiting the location.

Needless to say, I’m tremendously excited—and nervous! And busy. I will be doing a lot of publicity after the book comes out—I don’t have a firm date yet, but I’ll let you know—and will be doing radio interviews and book signings at parks and Christian bookstores.

And I just returned from a two-week break from working on the book. Joe and I crisscrossed the country by train from Chicago, and one of the places we visited out in California was Yosemite National Park. The first (and last) time we’d been there was 30 years ago, so it was fun to go again after so long.

On that 1985 trip, we hiked up the steep Vernal Fall Trail, past the footbridge all the way up to the fall overlook and Emerald Pool (this YouTube video is of the top of the fall and the pool, showing much more water in 2014 than there is this year, due to California’s drought). Hoo boy—that hike was hard back then, and was even tougher now that we’re three decades older! The last part consists of 600 steps, with a handrail for only the last leg and barely enough room for those going up and those heading back down to pass. We weren’t the only ones who had to stop several times along the trail to catch our breath.

As you can imagine, the ascent is difficult–and the descent is no picnic either. The first strains the calves, and the latter takes a toll on thigh muscles and made my legs feel like jelly!

But what is considered by many to be the most majestic spot has no elevation gain. There is something incredibly awesome about standing in Yosemite Valley, especially on the easy, short Cook’s Meadow Loop Trail, surrounded by soaring, rugged granite peaks.

By the way, did you read about the five million pound slab of rock that fell off Half Dome in July? Apparently it took a few days for anyone to notice. Certainly we didn’t see any difference—but then again, even a chunk like that is nothing compared to the rock formation’s massive size.

What Joe and I did note, though, was the many different languages among Yosemite’s visitors. The park was crowded—not surprising, because a little over four million people went to Yosemite in 2014, and summer is its busiest season. Statistics also show that 9% of the sightseers were from international destinations, with 9% each of that percentage coming from Germany, Korea, Taiwan and the United Kingdom. Joe and I definitely heard German spoken, as well as some other languages we guessed were from Scandinavian and Eastern European countries. We also saw a lot of kids and young adults too, a very good sign.

Twenty-nine percent of Yosemite’s visitors identify as Asian, Hispanic, American Indian and/or African American, and we did see many Asians and Hispanics (whether from this country or not, I couldn’t say). But as usual, we didn’t glimpse many blacks at all, although we were heartened to see a couple of black park volunteers at the Visitor Center.

This lack of diversity among ethnicities and cultures concerns the Park Service, as witnessed in this and other articles referenced on the site. The New York Times commented on the subject last month as well. Part of the Park Service’s response to the issue has been to launch a “Find Your Park” campaign to connect Americans to nearby parks that reflect their interests. And I love this new print ad campaign put out for the centennial.

Fortunately the Park Service’s 407 units reflect the variety of people who have lived in our melting pot of a country. I’ve written on many of these places, but there are still numerous spots I have yet to see, especially as it relates to Native Americans. I recently read this Q & A with Park Service employee Otis Halfmoon, whose father was instrumental in creating the Nez Perce National Historical Park. He refers to other Park Service sites that specifically tell American Indian history: the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site, Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument and Trail of Tears National Historic Trail. Halfmoon also alludes to Alcatraz, part of California’s Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which Joe and I toured just before Yosemite. There’s a small room in the former prison with a film and exhibits relating to the takeover of the island by a group of American Indians from November 1969 to June 1971. You can still spot graffiti from the occupation.

All of this makes me ponder anew what heaven will look like, aside from presence of God and Jesus, who will be infinitely more awesome than Yosemite Valley. But the Bible emphasizes it also will be the eternal home of a variety of skin colors and tongues. And while most of us don’t live in that kind of environment in our day to day lives, the least we can do is find out about different cultures we’re liable to meet there, and the park sites seem like good places to start.

Maybe our search will even bring about a little heaven on earth?

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