Nevada City, California
On the closing afternoon of Wild and Scenic, well over a hundred people sat in the Foundry’s Stone Hall to watch My Father Who Are in Nature. Many of us knew the man who inspired the film, the filmmaker’s father, John Olmsted, the genius behind Jughandle State Reserve, Independence Trail, and the South Yuba State Parks. For a couple decades John lived among us, inspiring us, aggravating us with his singular vision, showing what simple, sheer, extreme will can accomplish in this world.
My Father Who Art in Nature stars John Olmsted, but ultimately it is not about him, but about Alden and their relationship. This seems to frustrate some viewers, who are expecting a straight-forward biography of our 20th century John Muir. Perhaps Alden or someone else will make that film some day. My Father Who Art in Nature is about other things: forgiveness and reconnection, healing, patience, and courage.
Alden spent little time with his father while growing up. The trails, parks, the basement museum, and ultimately the Necklace consumed John, and without that intensity we may not now enjoy and protect his legacy. Father and son connected as adults though, slowly at first. Finally, last year, when John was given six months to live, Alden left his Hollywood filmaker’s life to care for his father. The film focuses on those six months and their experience as father and son. As someone who knew John and helped further his work, I felt incredibly honored to share those last intimate moments of his life through film. I am grateful that in his last days he experienced a profound understanding of himself and the consequences of his choices.
When I first met Alden I confessed, “I didn’t know John had a son.” He said then that he’d heard that before, but I dont’ think he’ll hear it much more. Since John’s passing Alden has chosen to continue his father’s work, founding the Olmsted Park Fund. Alden figured that if each Californian gave a buck to save the parks, we’d be there. Hundreds of plastic buckets have since been distributed to businesses around California. Between the buckets and the internet outreach, young Olmsted has raised $27,000 to fund the parks. Several parks–including Henry W. Coe, Santa Cruz Mission, and Antelope Valley Indian Museum–have already been spared from closure for another year. After the film, Olmsted announced that he’s currently working with Malakoff Diggins State Park to pay its power bills–the single biggest expense in that remote outpost.
The story told in My Father Who Art In Nature reminds us of the powers of honesty, compassion, and forgiveness. The story Alden is beginning to live shows us that when we give ourselves over to such things, our life takes powerful, rich, and often unpredictable turns.