In Cambridge, I reunited with a friend from another place, Ruth Goldstein – who is now teaching at Harvard. In recent years, she’s spent the better part of her time in South America and she’s here to share her findings through wonderful classes about mythology and women and plants and gold. We talked of these things but we also talked of maps and cartography and the way they define space and landscapes. Later, she sent me these words, written in 1924 by Aldo Leopold in an essay entitled “The River of the Mother of God,” which apparently sat in a drawer, a victim of a Yale Review rejection. Aldo wrote:
…wilderness is the one thing we can not build to order. When our ciphers result in slums, we can tear down enough of them to re-establish parks and playgrounds. When they choke traffic, we can tear down enough of them to build highways and subways. But when our ciphers have choked out the last vestige of the Unknown Places, we cannot build new ones.
(Setting aside the hint of razing slums…) this brings us to a moment of appreciation for those who, a century ago, helped establish the National Park Service. I know, I know, these aren’t exactly the Unknown Places they once were, but they are something, and something important. When the Service was founded it held 17 national parks and 21 national monuments in its trust. This year, on the centennial of the Service, there are now more than 400 sites, on more than 84 million acres, protected places of wild beauty and historic significance. Last week, President Obama added one more to the list as he created the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in Maine.
So as I moved back to the city, these public spaces were on my mind. Our first Knight Science Journalism fellowship workshop was an audio class with multimedia journalist and past Knight fellow Ibby Caputo. I’ve been recording in the field for years, but am still woefully not at ease with production. Usually, I record, I transcribe, I write. Here our goal was two minutes of auditory wonder. Three intense days later, Ibby had indeed whipped us into shape, and we each had a Vox Pop – man on the street – piece to prove it. Here’s mine, complete with rookie mistakes of hot tape and pops, after I went out and about on the MIT campus to hear people’s memories and thoughts on the National Park Service, in the week of its centennial.
And now to end with something more polished, “MODERN MAJOR PARK RANGER,” a sing-along collaboration made in partnership with hitRECord, the National Park Service, and the National Park Foundation. Enjoy. Then, go #FindYourPark!