My parents avoided the crowds and tension of cities, so we rarely traveled to urban areas on family vacations, unless we did the Asian thing and stopped for a college tour. To their immigrant eyes, the wonders of America were not in cities but in the immense protected landscape of the country, unusual in a world where natural resources are regularly depleted, polluted or destroyed.
My parents found great joy in the preservation of natural lands here – 14 percent of the U.S. land mass is safeguarded to some degree, representing an impressive 10 percent of the protected lands in the world. They took us to local and state parks on occasional weekends, but big family vacations were dedicated to the nation’s finest natural wonders – America’s national parks.
So we loaded the station wagon with regularity, leaving suburbia to pay respects to the crown jewels of the land. We marveled at the dramatic waterfalls and cliffs of Yosemite, the geysers and wildlife of Yellowstone. We walked in awe among the colossal redwoods of Sequoia National Park, the largest standing since before Christ was born, and drove our car through the massive trunk of a living giant.
On one trip to the hot, marshy Everglades, I waded through a meadow and climbed on a picnic table to photograph an alligator in the water, accidentally stirring up a swarm of mosquitoes in the tall grass. We all sprinted to escape, slamming car doors shut and slapping madly to kill the buzzing, stinging attackers, laughing ruefully at the absurdity of it as my dad drove away.
In the Taoist tradition, ours was the church of nature. You’ve seen this philosophy in Chinese landscape paintings – mountains, waterfalls and countryside, often with a lone figure, miniature in the vastness. Spiritual communion by way of art.
In later years, my parents enjoyed traveling outside the country, but they would always finish their travel report by saying that what we have here is even better.
I spent my pre-parenthood adult life as a Manhattan urbanite, journeying outside the country at every opportunity. So it was with the warmth and pang of childhood nostalgia that I returned to my wonders-of-America roots a few months ago with my mom and my own kids. read on…