My Stephen Mather

Stephen Tyng Mather- He laid the foundation of the National Park Service, defining and establishing the policies under which its areas shall be developed and conserved unimpaired for future generations. There will never come an end to the good that he has done. -Inscription of the Mather Plaques placed in several national parks throughout the US

Not surprisingly, my obsession with the outdoors started very early in my life. I was 6 weeks old when I went on my first camping trip. I have to thank both of my parents for instilling in me at this tender age that the outdoors is something to be cared for, encouraged, enjoyed and respected. They are my Stephen Mather, the man who spearheaded a publicity campaign to promote the creation of a federal agency to oversee National Parks. Mather eventually became the first director of the new agency, the National Park Service under the United States Department of the Interior. Mick and Sally Pope, or Mom and Dad as I call them, made every attempt to show me the wonders of nature and all it has to offer in many different ways. Hiking, biking, canoeing, camping, fishing, naturalist programs, and national park as well as state park visits were par for the course in our vacation planning up until my college years.

My dad was the Director of Parks and Recreation in Elmhurst, Illinois for more than 20 years while my mom was a teacher. Having her summers free meant that we would literally ‘head for the hills’ when June rolled around and spent weeks getting wet, dirty, exploring and learning. Our outdoor adventures were certainly not all fairy tale outings. On one occasion we found ourselves on a river in a metal canoe during an unexpected lightning storm. I had to be fished out of the river once because I got too close, too early in my swimming training. And more than once the entire mosquito population in the area decided to converge on us at one time. All of these events just added to the charm that the outdoors had to offer me as a child. What really sticks out were the night time campfires, star gazing, early morning hues and the often well earned meal of chili and Rice-a-Roni after a long day of activity.

Fortunately, Rich and I have had the opportunity to instill the same love of the outdoors in our own children, Jason (21) and Sarah (18). Likewise, Sarah camped at 6 weeks old and Jason at 6 months (lousy November birthday!). Our first trip together was to Mammoth Cave, Kentucky in 1995. After a 7 mile drive into the park, we left our van at the trailhead and hiked 3 miles into the wilderness. Unfortunately, mother nature had other plans as we were driven out after 3 days due to Hurricane Erin. The vision of Sarah (just over 3) humping her water logged backpack up a 3 mile trail in the pouring rain, ankle deep in water and singing the ‘Barney song’ will forever live in my heart as an early success of raising a nature-loving wee one.

We have also taken the opportunity to travel internationally with them for several reasons. Culture, understanding, experience, scope, tolerance, education and fun were our main objectives and now that they are beginning their own lives as adults, they can continue to travel in the U.S. and abroad with a grateful eye. We have been able to take them to Poland, Ireland, Mexico and Japan during their teen years and have hiked in all of these wonderful countries. Summiting Mt. Fuji with them is one of the many highlights of my life as a parent. If my parents are my Stephen Mather, I hope someday, that we are Jason and Sarah’s.

Learning to love and understand our natural surroundings teaches so many aspects of life that it is hard to put into words how important it is. Knowledge, compassion, acceptance, serenity and responsibility are just but a few qualities it can instill. Not everyone is up for the sometimes extreme conditions of experiencing nature, but know that even a small amount of knowledge and experience can go a long way. Make that effort to see and appreciate it for what it is, our home. For those of you who have been bitten by the outdoor bug, you can identify. For those of you who haven’t, what are you doing this weekend?

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