Several books have come out in the last few years about the National Park Service celebrating their centennial. I reviewed one about a year ago that I thought was an excellent history of the National Parks. I have one on my reading list about a couple who visit all 59 of the National Parks (“Dear Bob and Sue“). And I just finished reading one called “Lassoing the Sun: A Year in America’s National Parks” by Mark Woods.
Mark Woods is a journalist who received a grant to write about the National Parks. The intention was to publish a book that would be out in time for the NPS Centennial. Instead of trying to hit as many national parks as possible, he decided to pick one national park a month and spend a couple of weeks in the one park. He tent camped and hiked. He talked to park personnel and other campers about what they saw in the future of their particular park and the national parks in general.
“Lassoing the Sun” didn’t turn out as the book Mark had intended. He planned to recreate several childhood family vacations. In addition he hoped to connect his daughter to the National Parks as he connected at the same age. But, shortly after he began the book project, his mother was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer and given just months to live.
Mark’s mother dies halfway through his year in the National Parks and the book takes a different shape. Instead of writing as a journalist detailing other’s opinions about the parks, Mark writes about sharing his experiences in the parks with his mother. Experiences he had a child but also the experience of missing her terribly during his time in the parks. He writes about the process of grief and how – in writing this book with his mother in mind – he comes to grips with the loss.
“Lassoing the Sun” becomes a book about family and the parks. He writes about the legacies we inherit and the ones we leave behind. Mark writes about family vacations, the memories they create, and the bonds formed by time in a tent under the stars. As he writes about his love for and loss of his mother, Mark writes an ode to the healing qualities of nature. He bonds with his daughter in new ways as they share the experience of loss and life outdoors.
I found “Lassoing the Sun” extremely moving. I know I have limited time left with my parents and that makes every moment with them more precious. I also know about the healing nature of the National Parks. We leave civilization behind to connect with ourselves more fully. And in the silence and beauty that we can find in our national parks, our spirits – our souls – find healing. It is a gift we must preserve for the generations to come.