Psalm 121, also called a Song for Ascents, begins with an apt question: I lift up my eyes to the mountains – where does my help come from? Put it another way: if standing at the foot of a mountain doesn’t impart some humility, doesn’t cause you to take a deep breath, regret your stubbornness and pledge to be more open to change, then what the heck does?
But first, in the parking lot, I watch a fit young woman with her toddler boy. (You can tell they’re mommy-son by the relaxed way he grabs for her hand.) Nearby sits an elaborate child carrier with padded aluminum frame – the Osprey Poco model, $200. With diapers, wipes, water, snacks, sippy cups, stuffed friends, first aid kit, toddler and child carrier, she’ll probably have 35 squirming pounds on her back. This mom must really be tired of dragging junior to the playground. She must really miss going up.
I head due west for a half mile on the Parker Trail – who’s this Parker fellow? The next day I do a little Googling and regret it. Turns out the Parker Trail was cut in 1911 by a Harvard zoologist, George Howard Parker, renowned for “discoveries about the sensory reactions of fishes and the lower invertebrates” – so says The Harvard Crimson. But it’s not his work with earthworms that bugs me; it’s his belief in the coldhearted discipline of eugenics, demonstrated in his article “The Eugenics Movement as a Public Service” in the journal Science (1915). Soberly, Dr. Parker warns against the “defective classes” whose “very growth threatens our civilization with future submergence, if not annihilation.” The solution? Sterilize handicapped people, including the blind and the deaf, in order to improve human “breeding stock.”
Two falls ago, right here, I watched deaf students happily unload from a bus and take this trail named for the man who wanted them neutered.
The definition of “defective classes,” of course, is easily expandable. The Nazis realized this and built their ideology of human destruction in part from the ideals of eugenics. Worth noting on this High Holiday. G. H. Parker lived until 1955 and I wonder if he repented his views after the grisly abominations of the Holocaust, if just in his heart. Probably not – he was an esteemed Harvard professor, after all. Not the humble type. Perhaps we should do penance for him – and for ourselves, for continuing to devalue outsider, suffering groups – by at least renaming this trail. The Freedom Trail is taken. Anyone have a good idea?