America's Best Idea

September 15, 2016

    In recent years, academia has confirmed what many people have intuitively known for generations, namely, that nature is not only good for our health but also good for our souls. For example, a recent study at Stanford University which included brain scans concluded that daily walks in nature had a scientifically measurable impact on mental health and well-being.  Likewise, studies at the University of Michigan found nature to be an important "non-pharmacological approach to serious conditions like depression."  Numerous other academic studies have reached similar conclusions, giving scientifically confirmed credence to the timeless writings by nature enthusiasts such as Ansel Adams, John Muir and the many others whose life work contributed so much to the establishment of what Wallace Stegner called  "the best idea we ever had" - Our National Parks.

     Our National Park system not only symbolizes America's beacon of freedom but also provides the place for each American to rediscover in nature the things of the heart and spirit.  Like art, appreciation of nature makes us human; it is in our DNA as scientific research now so overwhelmingly concludes.  It is no wonder, therefore, that no activity of the federal government spawns such public loyalty and emotional support as our National Parks.  These lands of immeasurable beauty were set aside under the truly patriotic and fundamentally American ideal that one generation's desires should never put at risk America's legacy to future generations; America's best idea would ensure that preservation would prevail against exploitation and that one generation's quest for profits would not destroy the sacred land which, if destroyed, would, as Ansel Adams wrote, "shrivel the spirit of the people." 

     This year America celebrates the 100 year anniversary of our National Park System.  It is not only a good a time to reflect and give thanks for the efforts of the great Americans who have brought us this far but also a good time to explore additional ways to ensure that the patriotic efforts of the people that worked so hard to protect the National Parks do not go to waste.  Today, everyone is familiar with the depletion of fish and wildlife and the shrinking forests as well as the man made changes to our climate that threaten everyone; however, perhaps not everyone remembers the dust bowls and other tragedies that devastated the lives of so many Americans when the land was abused.  An anniversary is a perfect time to look back and double down on efforts to protect our National Parks.  

     Photographers and artists have played key roles in these efforts.  In the 1860's, the work of artist Thomas Moran and photographer William Jackson helped persuade Congress and President Ulysses Grant to establish Yellowstone as the first national park in 1872.  Likewise, the work of John Muir and Ansel Adams documented and captured the grandeur of America's nature leading to increased conservations and preservation efforts for lands in our National Park System.  Today, advanced digital photography techniques can bring into every home the Milky Way from the top of Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park to the waterfalls deep inside the Olympic National Park and beyond, serving as additional conduits to highlight the American values of land preservation.  As a nature and wildlife photographer, I feel privileged to participate in this endeavor and work hard to make images which elevate nature from mere scenery to a more profound place within us; a place in which nature resonates and inspires our very core; a place in which the intangible values of our existence reside. 

   Top Row:   Olympic National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park;   Second Row:   Olympic National Park, Washington State Orcas' Island Park, Yellowstone National Park;   Third Row:    Olympic National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Grand Tetons National Park;   Bottom Row:   Grand Tetons National Park; Olympic National Park; Everglades National Park, Acadia National Park.  © Brian Rivera Uncapher   

Top Row: Olympic National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park; Second Row: Olympic National Park, Washington State Orcas' Island Park, Yellowstone National Park; Third Row:  Olympic National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Grand Tetons National Park; Bottom Row: Grand Tetons National Park; Olympic National Park; Everglades National Park, Acadia National Park.  © Brian Rivera Uncapher