A behind-the-scenes look at an extraordinary couple who volunteers full-time at Yosemite National Park.
Last September, I hitched up my Airstream and took off for Yosemite National Park—a three-day drive from my home in Boulder, Colorado. Later that week, a filmmaker named Tucker Walsh would fly out from the East Coast to meet me, and we would spend 10 days producing a short film about traffic problems in the park.
Until we got there, and realized we’d missed the gridlock.
“It’s a huge problem,” visitors and staff told us, “but you really should have been here on a weekend in July.”
So what’s a filmmaker to do, when the original story falls through? After a challenging day of trying to capture rush-hour footage that just didn’t exist, we were driving back to our campsite, when I remembered our neighbors: Henk and Georgia Parson, retirees turned Yosemite volunteers. Six months earlier, I’d traveled to national park units in Southern Arizona, where volunteers like them—often husband-and-wife teams—seemed to outnumber park staff three to one. Ever since, I thought it’d be interesting to profile one of these couples.
“The Other Side of the Clouds,” one of two films that Marquis directed last fall.
When we pulled in, Henk and Georgia were standing outside waving to us, as if on cue. I eagerly introduced them to Tucker, and their stories started flowing faster than we could set up a camera: They’d met as high-school students in India, where their parents worked at the time. They went on to live their own separate lives, but stayed close friends, until one day, Henk sent a bouquet of flowers with a marriage proposal to Georgia in Paris, France, where she worked for the State Department. Soon after, they started a family, and continued to travel the world before finding their way to Yosemite National Park.
When we asked if we could make a film about their work here, they were thrilled to help. “We came to play, not to work,” Henk says in the video—but as we observed their lives, we realized they were actually working a ton. And the jobs weren’t always glamorous, either. So what was it, exactly, that convinced them to settle down in Yosemite after leading such vagabond lives? And what inspired them to wake up every morning and head to an office, when other retirees were vacationing in America’s most stunning landscapes just three miles away? As we listened to their story, Tucker and I began to understand the answers—a message that’s sure to resonate not just with park lovers, but all Americans.
About the author
Amy Leinbach Marquis
Amy Leinbach Marquis is former associate editor at National Parks magazine.