Published originally in the Puyallup Herald: 11/16/11 2:39 pm
Certain places have importance in our lives and families. I’m sure that, given enough time, I could list dozens of places the mention of whose names could make me smile, or maybe even tear up. But I’ll try to keep the list under control.
I’ll start with Sunrise in Mount Rainier National Park. From the late 1960s through most of the 1970s, and a few times since, my family would make the long trek from the suburbs of Seattle to the highest point accessible by car in the park.
In large part, this was driven by my grandmother, a Norwegian immigrant. We tried to time these trips to coincide with the peak of wildflower season, because it reminded grandma of her childhood in Norway. My mom also loved Sunrise for its flowers.
It is no coincidence that the second place on my short list is also a national park. Dad was very drawn to them but tended to avoid the highly popular ones like Yellowstone or Yosemite.
Big Bend National Park in west Texas is one of the least-visited national parks, most likely due to its remote location. Named for the “big bend” of the Rio Grande River along the border with Mexico, it is mostly desert. It also features the Chisos Mountains, the only range located entirely within the boundaries of one national park.
We visited Big Bend a number of times when the Army posted dad in Texas. He really loved it there. Laurie and I returned about seven years ago and found it remarkably unchanged after 40 years.
A place that evokes mixed feelings is also in Texas. For about a year, we lived in Galveston, literally across the street from the Gulf of Mexico. My dad had been appointed the district engineer for the Corps of Engineers. I was just 4 years old at the time, but I remember thinking it was pretty neat to have a beach so close at hand.
In September 1961, our family was part of what was then the largest peacetime evacuation in our nation’s history. More than half a million people left low-lying coastal areas to flee inland from Hurricane Carla, now described as the most severe hurricane to make landfall in the United States. My sister’s school, Ursuline Academy, was destroyed by a tornado spawned in the storm.
Also destroyed in Galveston was dad’s chance of promotion to general due to a principled stand he took against a proposed Corps of Engineers project. A decade later, the project was the subject of a lawsuit brought under the National Environmental Protection Act. A reporter from the Houston Post was very interested in dad’s perspective.
I think of these places, and many others, often. At times, I wish I could rewind my life and relive the experiences I so treasure. But I’d have to take the bad with the good, and that I can do without.