Lassoing the Sun

I recently finished reading Mark Woods’s memoir, Lassoing the Sun: A Year in America’s National Parks. It was recommended to me by my wife, Marci. Even though she didn’t finish the book herself, she thought that it might be up my alley. And it was. The book captures the travels of a middle-aged man who receives a grant to research and report on the state of the National Park System in the United States of America. He travels to some of the most iconic National Parks, like Yosemite and Yellowstone, but he also visits the Gateway National Recreation Area in Brooklyn, New York and the Dry Tortugas National Park in the Caribbean Sea. It’s a very interesting portrayal of the National Park System.

"Lassoing the Sun," by Mark Woods

The most unexpected thing about the book may have also been the most meaningful. In addition to giving a lot of excellent information about America’s National Parks, the book also ends up being a personal memoir, about grief. Woods doesn’t attempt to divorce his personal life from his professional writing endeavor; rather, he weaves the two together. And it works because his family history and the National Parks are intricately interwoven. He talks about the way that his parents (especially his mother) prioritized family vacations to the Redwoods and the Grand Canyon. He talks about the way that his mother chose to retire to southern Arizona, frequently volunteering at Saguaro National Park. And then, he also talks about the death of his mother.

It just so happens that the author’s mother receives a terminal cancer diagnosis and dies — all within the year that Woods traveled to see so many different places within the National Park System of the United States. Woods starts the year in Acadia National Park (one of the easternmost parts of the National Park System), and he ends the year in Haleakalā National Park (one of the westernmost). In between, however, he must grapple with the shock of an unexpected diagnosis, the process of his mother’s condition deteriorating and dying, her actual death, and the beginnings of his grief in the wake of her death — all while simultaneously covering the material for which he was given the grant that started the whole project.

He talks about natural beauty, and climate change, and noise pollution, and urban renewal, and overcrowding. But to me, it all felt like a frame — or a series of scenes — that serve as context for the way that a family changes and endures through generations. He tries (with some success) to make this serve as a metaphor for the National Park System. But really, it’s a book about family and grief. Maybe that’s just me reading into things because of my own experiences with my aging parents. But I think it’s baked into the narrative, too. I’m glad I got to read this book. It may not have been the emotional escape that I envisioned when I started in on it. But it was worthwhile and healthy for my soul.

This entry was posted in Aging Parents, Health, Hiking, Middle Age, Nostalgia, Reading, Recommendations, Recommended Reading, Recreation, The United States of America, Travel. Bookmark the permalink.

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