Sitting atop Little Round Top and watching the sun gently slide behind Appalachia, the boulder beneath me warming my body, a serenity passing over the landscape before me, I take refuge in the healing power of nature. If nature can make a place of war so calming, I bow to its magnificence.
Me: Have you heard that the Park Service is trying to make the battlefield look like it did during the battle?
Ghost of Gettysburg: Hmm.
Me: They say that by cutting down the trees it will help visitors and scholars alike understand better what occurred here.
Ghost of Gettysburg: Interesting.
Me: They are planting trees in other places as well.
Ghost of Gettysburg: (Silence)
Me: I sometimes think that it’s a stupid notion to think that in 2006 we can restore a place to look like 1863. I mean, what about the roads, the double-decker buses with headphone-wearing tourists, the modern farming machinery used to harvest crops that certainly look much different in the field than they did 150 years ago, the vehicles parked at the homes on the battlefield, the small satellite dish hidden in the corner behind the white fence at the home on the T intersection along monument row, and all the cars driving around…
Ghost of Gettysburg: Did you say they will understand what happened here by cutting down trees and planting other trees?
Me: Something like that.
Ghost of Gettysburg: Hmm.
Me: Hey, there are lots of books written about you and your friends. People are fascinated about the idea of seeing a real ghost from the battle. They have ghost tours in town. Wanna go? You would give people there money’s worth!
Ghost of Gettysburg: Did you say they are trying to understand what happened here?
Me: Well, I can’t say if the ghost tours are a part of that or not. I think that is more a tourist trap, consumerist, materializing of history kind of thing going on there. I guess it may be fun though. Who doesn’t like to get spooked? Or, maybe it speaks to our desire to know where we go when we die.
(And with that, Ghost of Gettysburg was gone.)
Does nature have a power that we do not see? That we do not want to know for fear that maybe we will realize our place in life is perhaps smaller than we currently believe?
Were the trees that were cut nature’s way of healing humanity’s dark side? Is history’s utility best served when war and violence are declared hallowed? Where are the national peace parks in our country? Those places where we honor the Americans who chose peace over war? Why are many of the must-see sites in our nation’s capital an honoring to our warring past?
When will peace prevail? Is there an answer in the wind blowing through the trees? Are we listening?
(written 2 April 2006)