What It Means to Be American
A National Conversation

Explore : nature

Encounters

The Religious Roots of America’s Love for Camping

How a Minister's Accidental Bestseller Launched the Country's First Outdoor Craze

The Rush" lampooned in an 1870 issue of Harper's Magazine.  Image courtesy of Terence Young.

By Terence Young
October 12, 2017

Summer 1868 passed as an unremarkable season at Saranac Lake in New York’s Adirondack Mountains. The weather was fine, the scenery delightful, and the usual array of 200 to 300 recreational hunters and anglers passed through the small settlement on their way into the wild lands beyond. The summers of 1869 and 1870, however, were an altogether different story. The weather was more or less the same, and the scenery continued to entrance, but instead of a handful of sportsmen …

Read More >

Places

The 1938 Hurricane That Revived New England’s Fall Colors

An Epic Natural Disaster Restored the Forest of an Earlier America

A southern New Hampshire pine forest was entirely blown down in the hurricane of 1938. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service.

By Stephen Long
September 21, 2017

This morning, while driving in central Vermont, listening to the latest news about hurricanes in Florida and Texas, I caught up with my first leaf peeper of the season. Poking along at about 20 mph in his rental car, the tourist was peering at our hills of orange and crimson and gold leaves while simultaneously looking for a place to pull over to snap a photo.

Fall foliage and hurricane season go hand in hand in New England. But what …

Read More >

Places

To Understand America’s Small Towns, Ask About Their Swimming Holes

Whether at the Base of a Majestic Waterfall or the Site of an Old Quarry, These DIY Pools Are a Refreshing Way to Connect With Simple Pleasures of the Past

Hajdasz on swimming holes LEAD

By Dave Hajdasz
July 14, 2016

Consider the swimming hole. It lacks the majesty of an ocean or the pedigree of a lake—forget about boating or surfing. A swimming hole is by its very nature utilitarian. It’s a hole. Filled with water. To swim in. Unlike its grander cousins, a swimming hole doesn’t exist on its own and doesn’t fulfill swimming hole-ness until someone actually gets in there and swims.

Swimming holes were born of necessity at a time when fabricated pools didn’t exist in most of …

Read More >

Ideas

Do Beautiful Parks Strengthen Democracy?

To Frederick Law Olmsted, Designer of Many of America’s Most Iconic Landscapes, Common Spaces Are Key to Getting Beyond Our Own Narrow Individualism

Nelson on Olmsted ART WIMTBA

By Garrett Dash Nelson
December 17, 2015

In 1846, shortly after his 24th birthday, Frederick Law Olmsted wrote to a friend, full of dismay about the prospect of finding a purpose in life. “I want to make myself useful to the world—to make happy—to help to advance the condition of Society and hasten the preparation for the Millennium—as well as other things too numerous to mention,” he fretted. “Now, how shall I prepare myself to exercise the greatest and best influence in the situation of life I …

Read More >

Ideas

Paying Homage to a Great American Poet

While Henry David Thoreau Preached Simplicity, Lorine Niedecker Simply Lived It

MAIN_picture of river near Niedecker's home_bySiobhanPhillips

By Siobhan Phillips
October 20, 2015

On a sunny Saturday in August, I stood at a one-room cabin near the outskirts of Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, thinking about the great American poet Lorine Niedecker. She lived from 1903 to 1970, including many years in this tiny home, which stands on the bank of Rock River as it leads to Lake Koshkonong. She wrote some of the most beautiful American poems of the last century in and about this part of the world. I’ve read and taught …

Read More >

Places

Paddling the Wailoa River in a Homemade Canoe

A Boy’s Life on Hawaii’s Big Island in the 1950s

Paul Kodani, canoe, Lyman Museum, Big Island, Hawaii

By Paul Kodani
November 11, 2014

A boy’s life on Hawaii’s Big Island in the 1950s revolved around water. My elementary school in Hilo was right by Bakers Beach, a spring-fed pond called Ice Pond, and the Wailoa River. Every day after school, we used to go swimming or diving to catch fish. I practiced holding my breath in the bathtub.

Read More >