15-year-old Joseph Goldstein recently returned from spending a few days in Washington, D.C. meeting with legislators [Right: with Representative Betty McCollum] and land management agency leaders to urge support for permanently protecting the Boundary Waters Wilderness. Joseph’s passion and dedication for protecting the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness has continued to grow since we first shared his story in March 2015.
A little over two years ago, Joseph Goldstein was diagnosed with High Risk Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL), a cancer of the blood and bone marrow. Since then he has made it his mission to help protect the Boundary Waters.
Joseph first visited DC and met with elected officials in March 2015 during a break in his chemotherapy. During that visit, Joseph met Jack Steward and Colton Smith, educators and hosts of the show Rock the Park, an educational program about America’s National Parks (see a preview of their Voyageurs National Park episode). Following that visit, Joseph developed a friendship with “Those Park Guys” and they even joined him on a winter resupply mission to visit and help Dave and Amy Freeman during their Year in the Wilderness.
This past week while in the nation’s capitol, Joseph had the opportunity to give a speech at the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) annual Salute to the Parks gala, which honored Jack and Colton with the Robin W. Winks Award for enhancing public understanding of the National Park System. Joseph’s speech is below.
I’m so happy to be here tonight to help honor Jack and Colton for their amazing and inspiring show, Rock The Park. Each week they introduce us to another one of America’s incredible National Parks, and to the beauty and power of wild places – and they do it with so much love and enthusiasm that every park becomes a new addition to “The List.” Just for the record, I’m going to have to live an extended life – my list is becoming very long ...
I first met Jack and Colton at this same event, two years ago when I was 13, during the first season of their show. They were (and still are) heroes in my eyes – the coolest guys doing the very coolest job I could possibly imagine. I was a big fan, and meeting them was one of the highlights of my first visit to D.C.
About six months prior to that I was diagnosed with what is officially known as “High Risk Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.” It’s the kind of diagnosis that makes your big, tough dad cry and your mom look you straight in the eye and tell you that you WILL survive this, and that she loves you but that she will not for one minute put up with you feeling sorry for yourself. My mama knows how to straighten you up…
We talk a lot in my family about drawing light out of the darkness; that although you don’t always have a choice in what happens TO you – and believe me, no one would choose hair loss and puking – you always, ALWAYS, have a choice in how you react to what happens. So, when the Make a Wish foundation approached me, it didn’t take long for me to realize that I had an opportunity to do something that would be bigger than me.
Eleven years ago my parents took my second brother, and me to the Boundary Waters for the first time. For me, it was like coming home. I fell in love and, as I was recently reminded, I was sobbing when I was told it was time to leave. Since then, the Boundary Waters has become “my place;” that space in the world where I want to be whenever I can. My memories of the BWCA helped me get through that AWFUL first year of chemo. And every chance I’ve had -- through almost three years of treatment -- I’ve returned there for strength and healing. It is the most perfect place imaginable, and today it is under direct threat from a toxic copper mine that has been proposed directly on its border.
My parents say it's the hubris of youth to believe that life is binary (obviously, they also like to use words I have to Google). But I think that the greatest thing about youth is that you GET to be as hubris-y as you want. You get to say things like “either you're a defender or you’re a destroyer.” There is no room for gray on this issue: We are called to be guardians of sacred places, and now, more than EVER, we have to plant our feet, stand our ground, and defend.
Sometimes life only gives you one chance. I think this is ours. This is our one chance to defend our beautiful national parks and wildernesses that give so much to so many of us. There are a multitude of reasons why people choose to pick up a paddle – or throw on a pack - and head into the wilderness. Sometimes we don’t even know beforehand exactly why we do. But universally we all come out changed, and changed for the better.
So, that’s MY wish: To permanently protect the BWCA. The BWCA is “my place,” but I’m willing to bet that each and every one of you here tonight has “your place,” too. I bet you’ve felt it – that peace that can only be found in the utter stillness of a starlit night in the woods. Or the desert. Or at the top of a mountain you’ve spent the day summiting. We all have that place.
These are the places that Jack and Colton take us to every week. Their work is inspiring and important, and I know that every kid who watches and learns from them is adding another, and another, and another park to their bucket list – because I am, too. Their adventures make me want to do more, see more, learn more, BE more, and defend more. They have inspired me, and I know they are helping recruit the next generation of defenders– my three little brothers, included. As Ed Abbey once famously said, “The idea of wilderness needs no defense, it only needs defenders.”
When I met Jack and Colton two years ago, they were bigger than life -- stars to me. But over the last two years as I’ve watched and learned from them, and they joined me for a winter adventure into the BWCA by dogsled, I have come to understand that they are true Wilderness Warriors, and I am very proud to call them my friends.
Congratulations, Jack and Colton! To quote Abbey again, “May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, (and) dangerous, leading to the most amazing view.
Support Joseph in his wish to protect the Boundary Waters. Submit your comment today and speak up for the critical things that need to be studied during this environmental review.