Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Ken Burns made me cry

I'm a big Ken Burns documentary fan. He has nice music and calming voices, and also because I like watching TV that makes me feel all smart and virtuous (America's Next Top Model, while definitely on my DVR, does not do that). But usually somewhere in the course of the documentaries there is something that is either so beautiful or so touching that I get all kinds of weepy.

So I was expecting that when I finally got around to the National Parks series I would tear up a few times, especially because I have a huge emotional soft spot in my heart for the National Parks. Why? Because my entire childhood was spent doing these massive 6-week summer camping vacations around the country with my family visiting the parks.

Although I've been told I occasionally whined at the time, and do recall that once I offered to use my allowance to pay for a Holiday Inn (apparently I was not always in love with our tent), these trips are now cherished memories of my childhood.

The parks, and the memories of these trips, are even more important to me because my Dad, who was the real camper in the family, and the one who taught me and my sister to be outdoorsy and respect the natural world, died suddenly when I was a teenager. So basically, I have a lot of emotional baggage just waiting to be unpacked by this new documentary.

The series is six 2-hour episodes. In the first 5 minutes of the very first episode, a very nice historian (William Cronon) says this:

"One of the things I think we witness when we go to the parks is the immensity and the intimacy of time.

On the one hand, we experience the immensity of time which is the creation itself. It is the universe unfolding before us.

And yet it is also time shared with the people we visit these places with. And so it's the experience we remember when our parents took us for the first time. And then we, as parents, passing them on to our children -- a kind of intimate transmission from generation to generation to generation of the love of place, of the love of nation, that the National Parks are meant to stand for."

And that is pretty much when I started to cry uncontrollably. Because right there, in that one passage, was why I would like a child -- to pass on the things I love, to share stories of my family, to teach a love of beauty and respect for nature and to create memories for a child of their summer vacations with their family.

Maybe this isn't the right reason to have a child, but it's my reason right now. What I have learned from both my parents shaped me into the adult I am today, and I think it is a wonderful inheritance that I would like to pass on to a child. My child.

And so I cried during that part, and I got choked up when I rewound it so that I could write it down. I admit that I am kind of afraid to watch episodes 2-6 because I know that something else will strike me again, and I'll get all weepy. But Episode 1 was really good, so I'm going to try to keep it together.

I'll let you know how the rest of it goes.


  1. I am a big sap, and cry at NPR so I am not judging you one bit.
    That sentiment extends to so much, doesn't it? The idea of passing along experiences- the fragile continuity.

    I have heard great things about the series, and hope you find joy in it was well as tender sadness.


  2. My tears welled up just reading the passage...I totally get what you mean, and I hope you get exactly that - and one day, when you're counting the stars with your kids, you'll look back on this blog and it will seem further away than the farthest star...

  3. The passage is beautiful. I totally understand why it touched you so deeply.(My father once said that one of the great reasons to have children is so that you can show them all the neat stuff the world has to offer.)

    I hope that one day soon (very soon) you will be able to do just that and all the emotional turmoil that you are going through now will be just a distant memory.

  4. Thank you so much for sharing this touching moment with us. Your is a totally valid reason for wanting to have a child. You have so much to give him/her.