On this 2013 Independence Day I began reflecting back to a chapter I had read in Duncan Emrich's Folklore of the American Land about a mountain main named Jim Bridger.
This was a man who in his long career was one of the first to see the geysers of Yellowstone, and the Great Salt Lake. He came back from his various expeditions with tales of wonders - the Obsidian Cliffs and the Mammoth Hot Springs (with its bubbling mud, and water so hot you could cook in it).
While he never learned to read and write he could speak several languages, and could map with such detail that his maps were highly valued. He offered vivid and accurate descriptions of what he saw, but soon discovered that the wonders he saw were too wonderful for people to believe him.
Colonel R. T. Van Horn, editor of the Kansas City Journal, had, in 1856, a chance to scoop everyone with a story about Bridger's Yellowstone experiences. However, supposed acquaintances of Bridger's told Horn that he'd be laughed out of town if he printed any of Bridger's "lies."
Many years later Horn did apologize to Jim Bridger.
Because of the prevailing disbelief Jim Bridger decided if people wouldn't believe him then he would create stories that were even taller. His tall tales are still remembered today, but even in his greatest whoppers he embedded some truth.
All of this led me to ask a question - where in our country does Wonder exist today?
In Jim Bridger's day the land offered many awesome sights. Some staggering. Others mysterious. All demanding that the nation's sense of wonder be stretched. Now, we can see the most distant places in the world on our computers - often in real time; most of the world's grand beauty lays at our fingertips. And I have to wonder how that effects visitors to those lands - is the impact less because they have already viewed the place online?
Movies and computer-generated images can not only bring places and times to a large screen, and offer a nearer semblance to "being there." The technology also offers a way to offer other-worldly images too. Wilderness, space, history, and fantasy are all there for a visual feast.
Granted, if we are appreciative of Nature, we can focus on the smaller wonders of nature. The daily beauty that is offered, and I am not belittling it. Daily wonder is a precious emotion.
Yet I still have to ask, where is there any great, awe inspiring Wonder left to be found? Is there still hidden, to be found, true stories of nature so new, and so beyond belief, that they seem fiction?
I am a Springfield, IL based storyteller with a fascination for how folklore travels, and for history.