By Wim Laven
We do not need a Patriotic Education Commission like Trump proposes; we need to fund programs like Camp Keep (Keen Environmental Education Program) and Youth in Yosemite. We help make patriotic Americans when we teach young people the importance of conserving and preserving our natural resources for the good of everyone—especially future generations.
Trump’s goals of white washing over the worst parts of our history only serve to continue ugly practices of selfish behavior and continued ignorance. Part of education is reviewing poor practices and repairs. It is called learning from mistakes.
When Donald Trump flubbed the pronunciation of Yosemite National Park, I felt sad for him. I thought it was unfair that he was being judged for what looked like little more than a bad job of sounding out the syllables: Yo-Semite. I grew up just down the hill from Yosemite—in the San Joaquin (pronounced “hwa-keen”) Valley—I have watched people struggle with mispronouncing words my whole life. Immigrant parents, like my mother, can find real challenges; English was her fourth or fifth language, I think we could cut everyone some slack and be better for it.
Mostly I felt sad for Donald Trump because I knew, in his mispronunciation, that he had never visited my favorite place on earth. I just returned from a trip, maybe my 50th, where my niece turned 12 in the park and I got to show three people around for the first time. Despite ongoing fires, the Mariposa Grove and some trails are closed, we all shared in the magic of our national treasure.
I wish someone would have taken Donald Trump to Yosemite when he turned 12, maybe as a school field trip. Perhaps he would have gotten life changing lessons on rights and responsibilities from the campsite and campfire rules.
The campsite rule: leave it better than you found it, can be challenging. I remember telling my father: “it’s not fair that we have to clean up someone else’s mess.” But he patiently explained to me that our beautiful campgrounds would not be beautiful if we did not take care of them. We spent lots of time in nature, and I learned my lessons about common good.
The campfire rule: never leave a fire unattended. Campfires are a responsibility, do not start one if you cannot take care of it, and do not assume that everything will be ok.
My friend’s mother, trying to cook hotdogs some 20 years ago, accidently started the 150,000-acre McNally fire. When sentenced she said: “The sequoias have been a major part of my life since I was 2 years old, and I would never intentionally destroy them. Some of the happiest memories I have are of camping in those mountains. Now those memories are clouded by horror, guilt and shame.”
The campfire rule has taught me that the consequences for our actions can be much greater than we realize. I wonder, if someone took Donald Trump to Yosemite when he was 12, might he have learned about these obligations while toasting marshmallows to make s’mores? Would he deny the life-saving benefits of wearing a mask during the global pandemic of COVID-19 if he had learned lessons about the common good? Would he have left the first few cases of the virus unattended?
When Donald Trump refuses to wear masks and when his administration refuses social distancing and other preventive measures, he is leaving the campfire unattended. Like a wildfire the coronavirus has spread, and the United States leads the world in both cases and mortalities (likely to hit 200,000 by the end of the week). Sadly, many people getting sick, suffering, and dying have gone to great lengths to protect themselves but have been impacted due to the refusal of others to take basic steps in protecting public health.
I do not know if anyone ever “roughed it” with a 12-year-old Donald, to spend a day in awe of the Upper and Lower Yosemite falls, or hiking the mist trail to Nevada and Vernal falls. In the presence of the sublime in nature, I could gaze into the water or the glowing coals of the campfire endlessly. Then fall asleep under the stars pondering questions about the meaning of life and feeling small in the vastness of life and joyous in the connection to it all.
It just does not seem like people who question and threaten public safety have ever picked up after someone else, just to leave it better than they found it.
An ancient Greek proverb says: “A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they know they shall never sit”
Instead, it seems, Trump believes a society becomes great when it lies about its past, present, and future. I truly worry about the danger of such thinking, we’ve already witnessed wildfires sparked by gender reveal parties, what’s next?