Audrey Peterman : Advocate of our Mountains’ Majesties
At age 44, Audrey Peterman, and her husband Frank embarked on a two-month trek across country to witness the beautiful landscapes offered in the United States. With the realization that they had not seen the famous landmarks of their own country, they visited 14 parks including: the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, and Yellowstone. While visiting Yellowstone, Audrey became aware there was actually a National Parks “System.” Audrey and Frank were struck by two things: the overwhelming beauty they witnessed; and they were among only a handful of African Americans visiting the Parks. Often they saw few U.S. citizens. Audrey said, “Looking back, I felt as if we were in the ‘National Parks for Foreigners’.” They decided then they would do something to change this.
Audrey, whose career was in Journalism, began writing about the beauty she witnessed in the parks: the pristine mountains, the rainforests in Washington State; and the 2,000 year old, giant Sequoia Trees in California. She also began speaking. She and Frank knew they must bring the beauty of the parks to the African-American culture. This wasn’t so easy. First, they were confronted by a culturally adopted truism that African Americans “don’t belong in the woods.” The woods were for white men (there were latent fears of violence occurring in the woods based on lynching). Then, most whites also didn’t feel blacks belonged in parks; and lastly most African Americans didn’t know the U.S. had a park system.
Audrey and Frank documented historical accounts of how the National Park System had been influenced by blacks including park rangers, park superintendents, and donors of the parks’ land. Audrey stated, “The creation of our country was a collaborative one by people of different colors, and these stories are preserved in the National Park System.”
These stories were brought to the people and Audrey and Frank were now National Park advocates and environmentalists. Thebeauty she saw in the parks captured her heart and her soul, and she vowed to not only share this beauty through stories but to also protect it. After years of researching and writing, she and Frank compiled their work into the book, “Legacy on the Land.”
Scientist Sandra Steingraber stated, “We must protect what we love.” Audrey declared, “We don’t know, what we don’t know, and we won’t protect what we don’t know about.” U.S. citizens won’t protect our parks if we are not educated on their beauty, their purpose, and their history. She wants citizens to know the vital roles the parks play in our country and encourages more Americans to visit these natural wonders. With such statistics as Yellowstone Park containing over half of the world’s geysers and being 10 times the size of New York City the National Parks are clearly nature’s theme parks.
Audrey’s mission also focused on the importance of children growing up in nature. She said, “We take nature so much for granted, we neglect the benefits it provides for us – the sense of wholeness, the sense of freedom, of being connected to something greater than ourselves.” She also advocates exposing children to nature for its health benefits.
I was inspired by Audrey’s passion, commitment and love for nature; and her consideration of its gifts. Dynamic with her words, she has spent the past 16 years, speaking, writing, and serving on environmental related boards. Her focus of accepting diversity among people parallels the diversity the parks themselves possess.
Audrey, who came to the United States in her 20’s from Jamaica with a dollar to her name, said standing atop one of mountains in Acadia National Park she had a profound experience that, “No man is charge of the earth and its people” – being female and African American this was very freeing for her: no human has dominion – the mountains’ majesty reiterates this. For more information, please visit www.legacyontheland.com.