Monday, September 28, 2009

Thanks Ken Burns and Douglas Brinkley.

As I spend my first nights of fall with the Ken Burns series “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea,” I read the last pages of my late summer companion, Douglas Brinkley’s “The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America.” Both works culminate for me a season of life during which I have become quite clear that portraying TR is the right thing for me to do.

When I was a little boy of seven or eight, I discovered that adventure was open to me not only along the wooded banks of Salt Creek but also in books, in stories of heroic lives and in the pages of the volumes of Encyclopedia Britannica that mom brought home from the Jewel Tea.

A love of books and history is a cornerstone of what I do. TR is quoted as saying, “The only thing I like more than books is children.” As a child and an adult, TR was a voracious reader. He wrote some thirty books, hundreds of articles and several histories, including “The Winning of the West” in four parts. After his political aspirations were thwarted in 1912, TR was elected the president of the American Historical Association.

Not only does portraying TR happily require me to read all sorts of history, it leads me to explorations of literature and scientific texts which TR would have raced through in a day’s reading. I can only say that this part of the job is great fun and Brinkley’s book has been one more brilliant work in a long list of book borne adventures.

Now, just as adventure for me as a small boy was to be found within forest and stream, my adventures as TR have taken me to the tops of Mt. Marcy and Katahdin and to the marshes of Mississippi and the mangroves of Florida. As a family, we have adventured from the snow capped mountains and the tropical forest of Washington’s Olympic National Park to the brim of the Grand Canyon and the Mariposa Grove of Giant Trees in Yosemite. I have seen more of this great, big, beautiful country in the three years since becoming TR than in the previous forty years of my well travelled life, and this time I’m taking time to hike and swim and camp and climb. After years of political and public policy work, mostly at a computer behind a desk, the vigorous life on the road has been an elixir.

On issues of conservation, citizenship, duty, preparedness, morality and more, Theodore Roosevelt, eventually Chief Scout Citizen, embodied the Scout Law and Scout Oath before the Boy Scouts even existed. As we celebrate the centennial of the Boy Scouts of America and countless other beneficent and service organizations, I think TR has much to offer modern America in the manner of pointing the right way.

Whether as a public servant or a policy advocate, I always wanted to live a life that made a difference. Bringing TR to life may be just one way that, in the words of the Scouts, I can leave my campground cleaner than I found it.

No comments: