A gospel for me


The mail doesn’t seem to bring me very much, anymore. There are bills to pay, and an occasional card from a relative, but the idea of opening up my mailbox and finding something interesting seems to belong to another time now. But today was different.

An envelope in my mailbox resembled the “plain brown wrapper” that is sometimes used to hide suggestive materials. The idea of getting something like that in the mail seemed funny to me, so I decided to open up the envelope and see what was inside.

It turned out to be a 2014 calendar from the National Park Foundation. The Ken Burns series on National Parks has been running on PBS this week, and that makes this week a perfect time to send out mailers relating to the National Parks. Having been to many of them over the years, I love that there are so many scattered around the country.

The envelope included a calendar for 2014, along with a fundraising letter for the benefit of the parks. The calendar is very nice, and it’s a reminder of how lovely places like Glacier National Park and the Everglades really are.

For each month, as most calendars do, there is a picture above the fold, and the calendar part of the month below it. At the bottom of the calendar part for each month, there is also a nature-related quote from a well-known writer or public figure. And the saying for August caught my attention, as it read “I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.” The quote was attributed to John Burroughs, and I wanted to find out more about him, as his words so succinctly described why nature is so important.

It turns out that the quote came from the “Gospel of Nature,” which he prepared in response to a request from a minister. I found the writing online, and read it with rapt attention this afternoon. Here was somebody who really got it, I thought. It was clear that Burroughs cherished nature, and was able to explain why. By the end of it, I understood that Burroughs was a man to admire. I also learned that his work was published a century ago by Houghton Mifflin, a forerunner of the company that I work for today.

When Burroughs passed away–a few years after preparing his gospel–he left a large volume of writings behind. I hope to read more of them in the days and weeks ahead. But it took a calendar inside a brown envelope to bring some small snippet of his words to me, a century after they were first authored and shared with the minister’s congregation.

The act of preparing these words, and then having them published, means that I–and anyone else who happens upon this calendar–will be able to appreciate Burroughs’ thoughts. And while that may not have the beauty of an Everglades sunset, it’s something to marvel at, in its own way.


What you can measure, and what you can’t

My youngest daughter is in fourth grade. As she moves away from the primary grades, her teachers are encouraging her and her classmates to move from concrete, quantifiable thinking into more abstract, qualified terms. As we get older, it’s important to realize that concepts like happiness can’t be measured, but in many ways those are the things we need to have in our lives.

So when Willard M. Romney (I’ve decided I’m not going to use the cuddly little moniker for him anymore) gets on television and tells the world he will eliminate all funding for PBS, it’s just one more reason–and there are many of them already–why I could never vote for him to be president. It’s a simple case of quantities and qualities, and my own life experience.

Back in the early 1970s, before I even started kindergarten, children’s television didn’t really exist. But PBS, and the Children’s Television Workshop, received federal dollars and used them to create programs like Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. I watched these shows, and learned things that made me who I am today. I learned letters and numbers, yes, but I also learned about things like sharing, cooperation, and the power of imagination.

As a child, we’re more open to all of these things than we’ll ever be again. My parents hopefully provided some of these things in the home, but they couldn’t make me laugh like Kermit the Frog or Count von Count could. So a large part of who I am today is due to these shows.

The costs of producing these shows can be quantified by the level of funding that PBS received and distributed. But the good that this programming did can’t possibly be known. Is society $50,000,000 better off today than it would be if I were in jail for stealing a car or killing someone over a gambling debt? I don’t know. I’ve never done those things, and I never would either, because I started off school knowing things and using that to build my confidence to want to learn more. There’s no dollar figure that can be assigned to that, for me or for anybody else in a similar situation. But whatever money PBS received, it’s all come back to society in ways we can never really comprehend.

So when candidate Romney proposes lowering the boom on Big Bird and his cohorts, he’s writing off the benefits that these shows have undoubtedly brought over the past 40 years. All to save a few dollars. For him, it’s simply a question of quantity over quality. And for me, it’s Exhibit A for why he is unworthy to hold the highest office in this land.