Friends Old, New, and Soon to Be,
In As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner wrote, “How often have I lain beneath rain on a strange roof, thinking of home.” For me, home has always been tied to family land and moments spent upon it: hauling catfish from a tiny pond with the great-grandfather from whom I get my name; stepping quietly through sun-chased shadows cast by trees under which my mother and her siblings played, hoping to see the big whitetail buck who ran the farm; baiting purple-shelled fiddler crabs to tempt sheepshead feeding upon the barnacle-encrusted pilings of my great-aunt’s dock. Most of that is gone or going now. For me that loss begs the question, what is home when the land is gone and the moments upon it exist only in my ever-faulty memory?
I believe I’ve found part of the answer to my question in America’s unique public lands system. As citizens of this nation, each of us owns more than 400 national parks, 560 national wildlife refuges, and 250 million other public acres. Within the states, additional land is preserved to the use of all citizens. Within an hour of my home, there are 210,000 public acres upon which I can hunt duck, deer, turkey, or bear. I need only drive fifteen minutes to a public boat ramp to look for tailing red drum.
My family commenced a month-long exploration of the nation’s public lands the day after celebrating its independence. In Georgia, my home state, I looked at the Oconee National Forest with new eyes. My daughter put her feet in the Gulf of Mexico for the first time at Gulf Islands National Seashore on Santa Rosa Island, Florida. Visiting Louisiana, we learned there are more than two million public acres for hunters and anglers. And in Texas, we spent time in the Big Thicket National Preserve, a public asset created by a private effort to preserve part of a forest system that once stretched across the South from Virginia to Texas.
I write this from Alamagordo, New Mexico, at the edge of the Lincoln National Forest. A cool breeze blowing from the south plays across my face as I think of all the strange rooves under which I’ve lain and thought of home. Before us lays White Sands and Gila Cliffs. In Colorado, we will visit the Great Sand Dunes National Park before turning northward to Rocky Mountain National Park. Wyoming and Montana hold for us the crown jewels of Yellowstone, Grand Teton, and Glacier National Parks. Our return to North Carolina will take us through Mount Rushmore, Michigan’s Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Ohio’s Cuyahoga National Park, and New River Gorge in West Virginia.
I asked at the outset, what is home when the land is gone and the moments upon it exist only in my ever-faulty memory? But the truth is the land isn’t gone. Thanks to foresight and vigilant preservation efforts, it’s right here, for all of us. And the memories? I am making more every day, with the people who matter most.
I am an American and I am home. I hope to see you there.
Russell Worth Parker
Editor at Large, Tom Beckbe