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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Grand Teton reading #2

I am hopelessly in love with our national parks. As Wallace Stegner has written,
National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.
In 2000 I decided, with my best friend, to vacation at a national park every year. Since then we have been to Sequoia, Yosemite, Glacier, Grand Teton, Yellowstone, Rocky Mountain, Olympic, Mt. Rainier, Denali, Acadia, and Banff in Canada. (I should add that we decided we would do this until at least one of us got married. Well... we're glad there are a lot of national parks!)

Though there are countless other parks, we are addicted to mountain peaks, so we're on lap two of the ones we've already visited. Back at Grand Teton, I am somehow enjoying it even more this time. The Teton Range, from any angle in the park, takes my breath away. Today we head out to the hike in Cascade Canyon, which starts with a boat ride across Jenny Lake, followed by short jaunts to Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point. Just writing those words makes me smile.

Given that Theodore Roosevelt was integral to the founding of the national parks, it seems appropriate to start reading the third and last biography of Roosevelt by Edmund Morris here at Grand Teton. As I started it in bed last night, I stayed up later than I wanted to because I couldn't put it down. Roosevelt was larger than life and an absolutely extraordinary character.

In my mind a good biography admires its subject deeply but is also willing to explore the shortcomings and weaknesses. Others I have enjoyed have been about Steinbeck, Fitzgerald, Lewis and Clark, Sir Ernest Shackleton, Martin Luther, St. Francis, John Wesley, Mother Teresa, several about C.S. Lewis, and the two previous editions on Roosevelt, to name a few. (My friends who prefer reading fiction are probably rolling their eyes at me at this point...)

I won't bore you with trivia from this one on Roosevelt, but will end this post with the epigraph that starts it off, only because I think it serves marvelously in describing the reason I like all biographies:
It has been observed in all ages that the advantages of nature or of fortune have contributed very little to the promotion of happiness; and that those whom the splendour of their rank or the extent of their capacity have placed upon the summits of human life, have not often given any just occasion to envy in those who look up to them from a lower station: whether it be that apparent superiority incites great designs, and great designs are naturally liable to fatal miscarriages; or that the general lot of mankind is misery, and the misfortunes of those whose eminence drew upon them an universal attention have been more carefully recorded, because they were more generally observed, and have in reality been only more conspicuous than those of others, not more frequent, or more severe. (Samuel Johnson, The Lives of the Poets)

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