Bird in Jamaica Bay
Jamaica Bay and the New York City skyline: Nature is not far away. Photo by Don Riepe, American Littoral Society.

I am thinking a lot about 9/11 lately.

The 10th Anniversary of 9/11 is a time for all of us, across the world, to think about the loss of innocent life, the bravery of so many, and the impact of that day and its aftermath on us all.

As we remember the fallen, the brave first responders and so many others, I find myself thinking about how nature played an important part in my life in the aftermath of 9/11 and every day since.

Nature and Solace

Isn’t it amazing that Anne Frank might have said it best?

The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature and God.

Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature.  I firmly believe that nature brings solace in all troubles.

Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl

My 9/11 Story

My 9/11 story starts the days after the tragic day, when I was living in Northern New Jersey. My wife and I volunteered at a sort of “all purpose filling station” for the first responders who were heading into Manhattan in the days following the attack. We organized tons of materials and supplies for what seemed like a never ending stream of volunteer firefighters, police and other brave souls. At the time, it seemed like everyone was just doing their job.

I often wonder how many of these volunteers have since died as a result the horrible conditions at ground zero. Like so many people who grew up and lived in the New York metro area, we all know people who lost their lives that day. My high school classmate, John Tipping, was a proud Midtown Station (48th & 8th) NYC firefighter, who–along with his entire fire station crew–died that day.  I will never forget their sacrifices.

Children fishing
Fishing at the National Conservation Training Center. Photo by Carl Zitsman, USFWS.

9/11 and Nature Connection

For me, the antidote is nature.  I think the below quote says it best:

“While for most of my life I have taken this country and all of its beauty for granted,” wrote one New York resident, “after 9/11 the intense love for all that I know, the bridge I travel over, the water I swim in, this wonderful park, became more beautiful and sacred to me… I love this country, and I love this park… I will never take it for granted anymore.”

The quote was collected by the National Park Service of visitors to Jamaica Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Sandy Hook and other locations in the New York City area.

This article goes on to highlight Shenandoah National Park in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, just a few hours from where the third plane crashed into the Pentagon. Despite a call to shut down all Northeast National Parks after the attacks, Shenandoah National Park decided to stay open. Tracy Thetford, lead forestry technician at Shenandoah, recalls:

“Later on in the day, I called down to our employees that are working in the entrance station to find out if there’s been an influx of people into the park,” she said. “And there were groups of people who actually were leaving Washington, DC, and coming – and just drove out of the city. And they came to Shenandoah and decided to come into the park and just either drive or walk. But they were telling our folks at the entrance stations that, yeah, they just needed to get away.”

By the following weekend, Shenandoah had many additional visitors, most of whom “wanted to get away from the TV,” Thetford said. “People just wanted to get out of the city, get to nature, get away from the TV.”

My family at Burton Island in Northern Lake Champlain. You take a ferry to access the island.

Get Outside

I am excited that I now get to work for an organization that is dedicated to the noble enterprise of connecting people with nature. From camping out with my family and many other New Yorkers at the first NWF Great American Backyard Campout in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park this year to recently returning from a five day family and friend camping trip at Burton Island State Park (highly recommended), I am a lucky man and I hope to encourage others to find their place with nature.

Luckily for all of us, we still have Jamaica Bay in New York City to look at ducks and egrets with the New York City skyscrapers in the background, or in the Catskills, the Adirondacks and any local park. The sound of kids laughing, the knocking of a woodpecker and the sound of the wind–makes me always an internal optimist that we can make this world a better place. We must and “Never Forget.”