Saturday, August 5, 2017




Cory's cheeks smooshed against blue velour, mouth slightly ajar.  His gangly legs stretched from door to door, covering the entire back bench in our family Buick.  On the floor parallel, a little girl twisted comfortably over the hump dividing passenger from driver sides.  I was five, my brother eight and my parents, they were parent aged.


Dad packed our car to a wobble and he now steered the Brett clan westward.  The pre-dawn light seeped over the horizon at our backs, but I couldn't feel any of this...passed out in my little carpet nook. 

Our first big foray in the Buick swept us from our little suburban home near Minneapolis to the Badlands, South Dakota.  I became feverish when my brother even looking out my window.  Mom bribed quite hours with M&M's and small rations of Shasta soda.  We mingled amongst crowds of families on similar vacation circuits  




Year two we ventured the white sedan further from home to the Black Hills and Mt. Rushmore, melding our version of family tradition.  We assumed our assigned positions, racing westward across state borders.  Entertainment at Mt. Rushmore was a family spitting contest over the Monument railings.  No disrespect, just a quick lesson in physics.  

Our third year we visited Glacier National Park where I learned valuable socializing skills— bar hopping!  Apparently fond of our horseback guide, I followed him into a local pub and plopped down on a bar stool next to him (I was seven). 


Cory and my gangly legs began spurting out the bottom of our pants and curiosity gushing from our ears.  With each passing summer my parents also outgrew their comfort zones.  On the first vacation trip, my mother carried a flu stricken little girl on her back to the summit of Harney’s Peak, South Dakota.  Now the adolescent children carried their own overnight backpacks.  

Mother embraced tent life while dad calmly learned to operate heavy machinery, our new dictionary sized home video recorder.  We all exchanged the comforts of a hotel, swimming pool or television screens, for tactile wilderness entertainment.  We scrambled up and over Rocky Mountains boulders and held competitions who could stand in frigid alpine lakes the longest.  As the orange sun settled over expansive skylines, we discussed the wild animals we had seen and gazed at the expanse of stars.  Our cozy tent ballooned with laughter during take-turn ghost stories.  Waiting for sleep to come a sweeping cool breeze soothed my tired legs and curious mind. 





Armpit hair and crackling voices brought us through California, Oregon and Washington.   In Yosemite I proclaimed, "I am going to climb that one day," craning my neck up at El Capitan.  One of our last trips found us in the Cascades.  My brother dropped off, now in college.  With only one child to entertain, my dad and I mimicked seal calls, while I tried not to be a moody teenager.  




By the time I graduated High School, I had visited nearly every National Park or Monument west of the Mississippi (excluding Alaska and Hawaii).  Attending the University in Minnesota, I found missed the freedom of the West.  I didn’t enjoy learning from lectures, I missed learning from my own mistakes and experiences.  I pushed through four years quickly.  As others walked across the stage accepting their diploma, I was probably accepting a speeding tickets somewhere in Nebraska.     

My parents didn't have a ton of money, nor much free time.  Our family vacations unloaded their two weeks paid time off for the year.  In talking with them now, years later, my dad expressed sentiment towards one goal as a parent, “to play.”  The beauty of play for a child, but also to maintain that sense of wonderment as an adult.   


This spring in Zion National Park, a young boy on the shuttle bus into the park was enthusiastically describing his wilderness experience that day.  His eyes were wide, energy bursting outward from his lightly tanned skin.  Science has proven time and time again the positive effects wilderness and play has on our physical well-being but also our mental health.  Exercise in our early years helps with brain development, particularly the speed of which we can learn, decipher and retain new information.  The added bonus of instilling an appreciation for play and outdoor experiences in our younger generations is they will hopefully carry a voice for protecting public lands in the future, an entire bag of worms I won't delve into....  

Play and adulthood are not mutually exclusive.  Nor is play restrictive to the outdoors, although this is the version that nabbed me.  As I have aged and chosen a life with more play than the average adult, I feel inspired to encourage others to remember play.  I am lucky to have found a work path in the National Parks, though I didn't come here directly.  Now, I am part of a specialized team who provide technical search, rescue and medical assistance to those who have a had bad fortune during their wilderness experience.  Everyday I get to connect with visitors, sharing my passion.  Ultimately sharing outdoors time with children and adults, one-by-one infecting them —- giving them the tools to safely enjoy and spread the joy for playing outside.   

A little bit of play, a run, a book, or whatever it is that allows an escape, imagination, concocting ideas --- al of it makes us better humans.  I find I smile, I laugh more, I am more patient when I get my daily dose.    





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