2006: Issue 19
Life in the Vast Lands
Theodore Roosevelt experienced it and now I have too, only to a much smaller degree – the Badlands of North Dakota: inspiring in their beauty, awing in their vastness and contrasts, fascinating with their geologic formations, and brimming with wildlife. A herd of bison blocks our van’s passage; a snowy owl flies beside our car; prairie dogs scurry about their towns; elk stand regally on the top of the butte; wild horses graze; mule deer sense our presence but choose not to run away – these are the scenes of my first morning in the Badlands, officially known as Theodore Roosevelt National Park. I encourage you to put it on your list of places to go.
An opportunity to lead a leadership team training took me there, and I only hope that the twelve participants got as much from the experience as I did. I’d like to begin with what I have learned about Theodore Roosevelt. A couple of months ago, I simply knew he was one of our former Presidents. I know more now, yet probably not near enough given what I have discovered leads me to view him as a servant leader.
Raised in New York City, Mr. Roosevelt was full all intents and purposes a city boy, until tragedy struck – his wife, having just given birth to their daughter Alice, and his mother died on the same day. Escaping from familiar surroundings to grieve, he moved to his ranch in the Badlands where he lived for the next two years, hunting big game, driving cattle, and sitting in his rocking chair, recovering from his day’s work to get ready for the next, and contemplating life. One would be hard pressed to find a greater contrast in life style than that of NYC and the Dakota territory. It took courage to live after his tragic loss; it took even greater courage to move to unfamiliar territory and make it his home.
Mr. Roosevelt was a prolific reader and writer, often intermingling sketches into his letters. He believed that it was important to understand the history “of the world of the past” in order to adequately appreciate the world of today. And he looked to the future, far beyond his own generation, taking responsibility for doing what he could as common man and President to create a better life for those who follow. I dare say he ever saw something as impossible, and if he didn’t know how, he sought out those who did to teach him and to lead the way. He knew success, and he knew failure, and he seemed to understand the connection of the two.
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