My husband and I spent part of last Tuesday afternoon splashing around Tenaya Creek in Yosemite National Park under the looming splendor of Half Dome.
Our only company was a young French family, the parents in swimsuits floating lazily with a naked toddler boy and a little girl stripped down to her underwear. It reminded me of nothing more than the idyllic summer camping trips I took as a child with my large family, although being American I guess we probably wore more clothes.
Throughout the park I saw families that reminded me, in attitude if not in size, of my own family in the 1960s and the 70s. And those families were almost all European. Everywhere we went, we heard Italian, French, German and languages I couldn’t identify, as well as British and Australian accents.
It’s merely an impression, and an anecdotal one, but it seemed to me that the Europeans were more at leisure than the Americans visiting the park. They seemed more relaxed, more patient and less driven to race from one lookout point to another.
And maybe that’s why they reminded me of the family trips of my youth. We took two consecutive weeks every summer, something that Americans rarely do today. Europeans, who typically get four or more weeks of vacation a year, simply have more time to relax.
We lose so much in that equation. Americans have less opportunity to see and enjoy their own country than foreign vistors do. It’s no wonder that we’ve starved the National Park Service for decades; we have no time to appreciate what it does.
We also have less time to spend time with and appreciate our own families, and that is sadder still.
Maybe when this whole economic crisis steadies up and we start to think about what we want as Americans we can shift our priorities more toward enjoying this beautiful nation and each other.