On the road West through central New York, I was fascinated with the rolling hills and valleys, the fields with cows grazing peacefully, the land which Olmsted visited to be trained as a “scientific farmer,” which was his first immersion as a potential career. I reflected back on my years at Cornell, beginning with research at Oneida Lake, where Cornell had a field station and the Dean of the School of Conservation informed me that he had a special project which could result in a doctoral degree.
My mind was filled with questioning – ‘where was a place that I could use my education to help make a difference?’ It was clear that research was not the answer, but the call for being an advocate for conservation (environment was not even in the lexicon in the 1950’s) was very appealing. Professors advised me to go the Law School to be the most effective advocate. However, when Dr. Harold Case, the president of Boston University, talked to me after he spoke at Sage Chapel at Cornell, the conversation turned when he asked me where my future was. My response was to attend to Law School to be an advocate for Conservation. He looked at me for a short, strange moment and then replied, “I think you care too much about people. I suggest you consider going to Boston University in the Theology School.”
For a number of reasons, this had a strange appeal. When he told me to think about it and let him know, I was led out and looked over Lake Cayuga. Filled full of a vision of Boston I went back and said, “I will take you up on the invitation, Dr. Case.”
He responded, “Send me your transcripts, and I will go to bat for you.” My life took at different road.
The New York Turnpike was free of heavy traffic, and after four hours on the road, I was at the Niagara Falls Public Library where I wanted to meet Jennifer Potter, the Historian for the Library, who had invited me to present the Olmsted Play on Saturday, July 18th. Jennifer was a delight to speak with, as her love of history was clear. This is one of the reasons my immersion into history has blossomed during the past 10 years. History has so much to tell us about how we have reached the state we are in today.
Next destination, Niagara Falls. My mind traveled back to when I was 12, and our family camped at various state parks to reach this special destination for millions of people from around the world. Asking for directions at one point, since I was not on a direct route, seeking first to visit the library, someone told me, “Look for the big casino. It is lit up; you can’t miss it”
Yes. There it stood. A symbol of the “pursuit of happiness.”
Here we have the words of Olmsted in his report on Yosemite, ringing in our ears, “It is the duty of government to protect scenic views for all people as important as building military fortifications along our eastern seacoast.”
Herein is the dynamic, dramatic thrust of his report, written 150 years ago on August 9, 1865, Now we are headed to Yosemite to read those words with youth and present the Olmsted Play.
What a glorious hour, in light rain, overlooking the majestic Falls! Meeting people from around the world, engaging them in conversation, sharing the glorious greatness of this special place. From young children to elderly, from groups of young people from India, Ecuador, and China, all filled with wonder in their faces, all sharing the expression as stated by one, “It is unbelievable.”
Yes, Unbelievable but true. For long before humans walked this earth, the mighty Great Lakes have supplied The Falls with one of Nature’s most precious prizes.
If it had not been for Frederick Law Olmsted, who scholars claim provided the seed which led to the creation of National and State Parks, we might not have these glorious gifts to behold. The struggles go on to protect for future generations. I find myself inspired with a greater drive to find ways to make possible a future where he next generations are enriched by the beauty and power of Nature.