Tuesday, December 16, 2008

My Christmas Miracle

I'm pretty sure I almost died two nights ago.

No, seriously. I had my first car accident...and it was a good one.

I'm happy to say that I've never had a brush with death before. I've been uncomfortable, unhappy, and down right in pain, but nothing this close to being in real trouble.

Long story short, I hit some ice on Highway 101 and my car and I went careening across the road, hit a ditch, rolled once, and came to a rest on the driver's side in some trees about 20 feet off the side of the road.

When I hit the ice I remember thinking, "This may end badly."

God bless my Toyota 4Runner that gave it's life for me.

Once I stopped moving, I assessed myself using my now defunct EMT skills.

Neck moves? Check.
Legs move? Check.
Bleeding copiously? Nope.

After realizing that I was miraculously unscathed, I assessed the dog and realized that he, too, was miraculously unscathed - if not a little confused.

Then I sat there and took a little time to collect myself, all the while thinking of those cars in all the action flicks that immediately burst into spontaneous flame as soon as they get in an accident.

Luckily, that didn't happen.

I found the down jacket - as it was a balmy 25 degrees outside - and realized I was laying on my down sleeping bag in its stuff sack. The bag had been thrown in front of me when we rolled and, in addition to cushioning me from the cold, wet ground that was trying to come in at me through the missing driver's side window, it had effectively blocked any broken glass that might otherwise have found its way to my face.

Again, lucky.

Eventually, I leashed the dog and the two of us crawled out of the now non-existent sun roof.

The car was a mess.

The front end was destroyed. The top and the passenger side were crushed in and all the windows were gone.

I think that's when I started shaking.

As I said, I've never been in a car accident before myself. Working on the ambulance, though, I've pulled a lot of other people out of cars that looked like mine. They weren't usually feeling very well.

So in the long run, the fact that I now have to replace my favorite car in the universe that I was THIS CLOSE to having paid off, doesn't really matter.

What matters is the fact that two nice men who were on their way to the hospital took the time to stop and see if I was ok. They called 911 and then called my family when they got to town since there was no cell reception where I crashed. Their brother was in the truck with a broken arm and they stopped anyway.

What matters is the fact that my family came to get me, hugged me, and then made me laugh. They damned my luck and are helping me find a new car even though they have plenty of other things they could be doing with their time.

What matters is that I didn't get hurt and I can now spend my time finding things to play the Pollyanna glad game about. It's amazing how this experience has changed my view of things.

In the long run, it actually does come down to the fact that realizing what you can lose really can make you appreciate your life and what you have.

It's a hard way to be reminded, but I'm going to try to stay positive.

Maybe I'll get a new 4Runner for Christmas.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Real Life

"You must have the best job in the world!"

I hear it all the time. And, yes, I do.

But that doesn't mean that it doesn't have its down side.

Last week, my best friend, Holly, visited me. I've known her almost 10 years now. We met as seasonal interpreters in the Tetons - a time that almost seems like summer camp when I look back on it. It was a time when a group of us giddily bonded over cheap beer and the shared experience of doing stressful but rewarding work in one of the country's most beautiful places. You make friends fast in a place like that, and there were a lot of us that worked and played together every day.

When we first got to the Tetons, one of our supervisors warned us to not get too invested in people.

"They'll just leave eventually," she told us.

We scoffed at her. Called her callous and jaded.

But she was right.

Slowly, after one or two or three seasons, my friends stopped coming back. They'd move on to "real" life - a full time job with benefits or a significant other or a place where you could get groceries without having to drive for an hour.

Even Holly left...in search of a different adventure...and eventually a different park.

But I stayed. And I made new friends...who also eventually left. Some came back every once in a while to work another season or just to visit. But I became the one who was "still there". For nine years I watched people come and go.

Until I got tired of being the one left behind.

The Service supports the idea of moving on to move up, and eventually I found a new job. A new place. New responsibilities. A bigger paycheck. All held hope and the promise of something different. Something better. A "real" career. A "real" life.

But you need "real" people to have a "real" life, and in the Park Service, even though the place may change, some things remain the same. The summer camp still happens here in my new park. The seasonals still drink cheap beer and bond over the crazy things visitors say.

Now, though, I'm not part of the summer camp anymore. I'm running the summer camp. And every camp counselor knows that you don't get invested in the campers. You teach them and guide them and act like a proud mama when they do something well. But you don't get attached. They do, after all, leave.

I see now why my first supervisor said what she did. It's hard to watch people you love leave. Even if you know leaving is what's best for them. Whether you've known them for 3 months or 3 years, if you really love them, a little piece of you goes with them. And there's only so many of those pieces you can afford to give out before you start feeling a little empty inside.

Most of the good friends I still have in my life are left over from those summer camp days. We're all in different places now. Different parks. The people who left for "real" life are hard to keep track of...they're too busy doing real life things, I guess..... but those of us who cling to the park life try our hardest to keep in touch. We visit when we can. We call. We send little packages to each other. We love and support each other. But we know it will never be quite the same. We probably won't ever be in the same place again. For us, summer camp is over.

So I have to laugh sometimes when people say, "You are so lucky to have this job!"

Yes, I am. I really am.

But sometimes, especially around the holidays when what I would like most is to have all my friends together in one place, I wonder what it would be like to have a "real" life.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Hmmm....What Do I Want?

I consider myself a fairly organized person. I'm a planner. I try to think ahead. But there are just some things that I am not good at.

Leaving the house in the morning is one. It usually takes me at least 4 tries to get out of the house with everything I need for the day. Lunch, keys, coffee, jacket....whatever. I can never get it all the first time.

I am also really bad when it comes to places that have a lot of things for me to choose from. Libraries are notoriously bad. CD and movies stores are bad, too. They all baffle me. I know that there are books and songs and movies that I really want, but the minute I step inside one of those places, I can't for the life of me remember what I want. Oh, I try to make lists, but those, too, seem to disappear. And if I'm lucky enough to have one of my lists at the right time, it usually ends up being useless because I'm not in the mood for whatever is on the list at that time.

It's amazing I have food in my house as I usually have the same problem at the grocery store.

So, with this obvious deficiency, I have no idea why I thought online dating would be a good idea.

Online dating, in theory, sounds like a plausible way to solve the problem of finding someone to spend time with. There are, however, some serious flaws.

First, if there are no available members of the opposite sex in your community to begin with, going online will not magically make them appear. Going online will only tell you exactly how far away they are from you and how unobtainable they are unless you own your own leer jet.

Second, if you do not own your own computer, you are screwed. There is nothing more humiliating than sitting in the back room at the local library with 12 pre-teens talking about Joe and Susie hooking up while trying to think of some witty username like "I'm4uinForks" designed to make people way too far away (see the previous flaw) give your profile even a cursory glance.

And don't even get me started on the profile....

When you decide to become a member of an online dating society the first thing you are asked to do is describe yourself and state why people should "pick you".

Now, if I knew unequivocably what would make people "pick me", I wouldn't be on the stupid online dating site in the first place.

Then comes the part when my mental deficiency starts to play it's part. After describing yourself, you are asked to describe what kind of person you are looking for.

Hmmm.....I can't figure out what kind of burrito I'm looking for in the frozen food aisle and I'm supposed to be able to state eloquently and provocatively what kind of man I'm looking for?!?


With this dilemma I think the most I can hope for is someone who can read and isn't a felon.

But I've learned a few things from this fiasco.

I've learned that just because you can write something on a list doesn't mean you can find it...or that you'll want it even if you do find it.

And I've learned that wandering the aisles isn't really that bad a way to find something. After all, it's the stand-outs that catch your eye while you're wandering. You may find something you didn't know you were even looking for.

So, happily, my membership with findafellowfreakshow.com expires at the end of the month and I'll soon turn my energies to bigger and better things.

Maybe I'll finally find that library book I was looking for....

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Airports Are People, Too

I've decided that airports are funny places.

When you think about it, airports are the tangible representation of a sci-fi future. No, really, hear me out on this. Almost every sci-fi movie or book these days has a description of some kind of air transportation - rocket powered hover craft or zippy little personal jets - all convening in some sort of transport hub. Airports are not too different from these futuristic space ports - in fact it still boggles my mind a little that hundreds and hundreds of large metal canisters fly through the air, avoiding each other, with the greatest of ease. Mos Eisley, here we come.

The best thing about airports, though, is the people watching. There are some amazing cultural norms that are developing in airports.

For example, when you are at an airport, even though you are surrounded by hundreds of people, it is imperative that you use your time to stay connected to some other person in your life who is not currently there with you. So, even though the nice lady sitting next to you in the waiting area will not move her large pile of things from the last availble seat, or even acknowledge you, she will include you in her conversation with whatshername about the gout in her left big toe and the ginger scrub she just bought that may or may not make her feet smell like ginger. She includes you, and the other 75 people sitting near her, in her conversation by talking three times louder than she needs to because, apparently, whatshername on the other end of her cell phone is currently walking through a construction zone. All this personal information from someone who won't even make eye contact with you.

If you feel like doing a social experiment, try purposefully making eye contact with people as you walk through the airport. It' s fun and weirds people out.

Another rule: if you fly on a day when your local professional football team is playing, you are required, regardless of your gender, to wear an over-large replica jersey proclaiming the name of some very large man that plays football that you are not even though you will soon be in a different place with people who don't care in a very short time. And you must not, under any circumstances, make eye contact with anyone else wearing the same jersey as you - no matter how much they may look like Lofa Tatupu.

There are a few statistical rules, too, that you've probably noticed. If you dare to even let the thought enter your mind that, "Gosh, I hope I'm not sitting next to that person", you will, as a rule, end up sitting next to that person. This rule kicks into overdrive for children, sick people, and the lady with the gout who smells overwhemingly of ginger. So practice being positive, you'll benefit in the long run.

Occasionally people do break the rules, though.

Most recently, my favorite example of this rule breaking happened in Dulles airport while waiting for the magic people transporter to come back from its latest trip to the main terminal. These huge, raised bus-like hum-vee things pull up to the flight terminal and people shuffle and prod their way into them through doors on the ends. It was in this pre-prodding phase that the man next to me leaned over and said:

"I feel like a cow."

"I'm sorry?" I said with a impressively placid look on my face.

"I feel like a cow," he repeated. "You know, being herded into the corral."

"Ah," I said. "I see."

We made eye contact and both smiled. It was the most pleasant part of my 9 hour long day of air travel.

So next time you're at the airport, take a look around and enjoy the people watching....maybe even buck the social norm and try talking to someone.

There's some funny stuff going on.

Friday, November 21, 2008

You're a What?

Inevitably, when I tell people I am a park ranger, they ask me, "So do you carry a gun?"

Then, when I tell them I am an interpreter, I get a pause, a blink of the eyes, and the response, "Really? What language do you speak?"

I don't usually tell people I'm an interpreter anymore. If I feel the need to be official I say that I'm an Interpretive Ranger. This usually confuses people enough that they don't ask the follow up question.

"Interpretive? Does that mean interpreter? Does that mean dancing? Huh. Maybe I shouldn't ask."

I usually continue on to explain that I do educational programs for the park and work in the visitor center. This seems to clear most things up for most people, but, to my sensibilities, this does not in any way convey what I do. And I would bet that even some of my closest friends and family members still have very little idea of what I do or why I do it.

Interpretation has changed quite a bit over the years. It has gone through several different stages, the least interesting of which was the stage where an interpreter would simply tell you the common and scientific name of the flower you were looking at and maybe throw in some natural history about the plant as a bonus. It was this stage that led many to believe that interpretation is easy and anyone can do it. Anyone can memorize flower names, right?

And sure, that information has it's place. You have to start somewhere.

But if you look up interpretation in the dictionary, you will find something like this:

Interpretation: the rendering of a dramatic part, music, etc., so as to bring out the meaning, or to indicate one's particular conception of it.

Just insert nature, natural history, or something of that ilk where it says, "etc.", and this is where the fun, and the hard, part of my job starts.

Interpretation is about meanings. And, ultimately, it is finding meaning in something that will give it value. The trick is figuring out how to bring those meanings out. After all, something like the ocean could mean one hundred different things to one hundred different people.

Without getting too deeply ensconced in the intricacies of interpretive theory, I'll just say that doing interpretation in America's National Parks is the job of a lifetime. Why? Because the Parks are worth fighting for. They are amazing and beautiful and inspiring and, as much as people love them, they are not something people have on their list of Top Ten Most Important Causes. They are a luxury...an indulgence. Something to enjoy on their vacation, but once they get home there are much more important things to worry about.

Granted, in the grand scheme of things, there are more important things than national parks.

But not many.

National Parks are a symbol. They are pure. Beauty, time, peace, power, change, life, death, renewal, love, wildness. Stuff that transcends wars and greed and economy. It's all here. And when we're gone, if we stay the course, it will still be here. And just in case that's not important to you, it's being preserved so the next generation and the generation after that can have the chance to find it and appreciate it. Because the parks aren't about us. They're about our history and our potential.

And that, in a nutshell, is my job. To provide people with the opportunity to make a connection with these places and what they mean. And to help them see how these places make us who we are. If they don't mean anything to anyone, they won't be saved. And they'll be lost forever. And we would lose a piece of ourselves that we could never get back.

So is interpretation just doing education programs or working in a visitor center? Is this easy stuff that anyone can do?

Maybe. All I know is that I am doing one of the most noble jobs I can think of for an organization that, even with all its flaws, has a most selfless mission.

And sometimes, when I get bogged down with paperwork, or I'm sitting on the desk for the 6th straight hour, I forget for a little while why I'm doing what I'm doing.

But it always comes back to me. In a way, I, and through me the people I now train and supervise, am responsible for the future of the national parks. It's a daunting task.

And even though I don't use the actual term as much as I should, I'm proud to be a National Park Interpreter.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Tourist for a Day

I think I'm a bad ranger.

How can I possibly sit here on my high horse and tell people to get out of their cars and experience the outdoors when I, myself, have yet to visit many of the beautiful places in my own literal backyard of Olympic National Park?

In an attempt to remedy this travesty, I took one sunny weekend day and went out and had a tourist day. I took the right turn off of Highway 101 and proceeded up the Sol Duc Valley in search of fall colors and jumping salmon.

The colors up here this year are impressive. I don't remember them being this vibrant and varied last year. Granted, I don't remember much of my arrival in the northwest last year except the randomly placed jack-o-lanterns that slowly fell in on themselves along the Mora Road.

But this year even the clear cuts are pretty.

Sol Duc is especially nice.

I wandered along, driving slowly and listening to The Band at full volume (the perfect fall driving music). I pulled off at interpretive wayside exhibits and scenic vistas. I even occasionally committed the cardinal sin of stopping directly in the middle of the road to take a picture of something so I wouldn't have to get out of the car.

Honestly, it was quite freeing to live by tourist rules instead of ranger rules.

And then, just when I thought my transformation into a tourist could go no further, I stopped at Salmon Cascades to look for jumping Coho.

I walked the short path to the Cascades, looked over the edge, and, after only being there for three short seconds, proclaimed to no one in particular, "I don't see any salmon!"

If I was the kind of person who smacked themselves in the forehead, I would have done it then.

Chagrined, I sat at the overlook for a while after that and watched the sunlight play through the trees and reflect off the rippling water. The leaves blew in the wind. I watched an American Dipper jump in and out of the rapids looking for lunch, and I basked in the aura of the ancient trees that towered above me.

And I listened to three more groups of tourists walk up to the overlook and say, "I don't see any salmon."

I had to shake my head sadly when I finally climbed back into my car.

On the way back down the valley, I honked and gesticulated at some people stopped in the middle of the road taking pictures of leaves.

Silly tourists.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Scars and Tattoos

We all have scars.

My favorite scar is the big 2 inch caterpillar I have on my knee from when I broke my leg during a soccer game and had to have bionic parts put into me. Unfortunately, I didn't make the ch-ch-ch-ch-ch sound when I ran.

I also have good one in the middle of my left eyebrow from when my brother stood above me as I lay on the floor and dropped a coke can on my head. He swears it was an accident. I remember it differently. I blame him for my lack of well shaped Hiedi Klum-esque eyebrows.

The point is that we have physical scars that remind us of the mishaps and agony that have plagued us over the years - the falls, the bike crashes, the cuts and scrapes and scabs picked. Usually they have good stories associated with them. Sometimes they are funny, sometimes tragic, but, good or bad, those scars remind us.

Then there are the mental scars - most of the time more painful than the physical. A girl never forgets the first time she was called fat or any boy that breaks her heart. You never forget those embarrassing moments that make you want to crawl under your bed and never come out or the sad times that make you think there's just no way you can go on in so much pain. You never forget the event that makes you realize for the first time that life is not, after all, fair.

Things that leave scars are bad. They're painful and they hurt, and we're forced to remember them for the rest of our lives.

Why can't we be scarred by the good things that happen to us?

It doesn't happen that someone asks you about the mark on your arm and you say, "Oh that's from when my boss said I was invaluable to the operation and gave me a big raise!" or "That's from when I got an A+ on my final exam and decided I really could be a doctor!"

I have no physical marks on me to show how proud I am of myself that I just survived the hardest, most painful year of my life.

Why is it that we should be constantly reminded of the difficult and hurtful things in life and not have the same reminders of the strength or courage or happiness we've found?

To me, this is where tattoos come in.

Of course, some people get a tattoo just because they want a tattoo. Tweety bird rarely means more than "I couldn't find anything better to get on my bicep and this one was cheap."

However, most tattoos actually mean something. They commemorate something. Even the soon regretted name of your sweetie on your left buttock means something at the time.

My tattoos are good scars of things I want to be reminded of. They remind me that my family loves me unconditionally, that I'm strong, and that I'm beautiful.

Yes, you could say that I should know all those things anyway, but sometimes it's nice to be reminded.

Years from now (or days from now) a phoenix tattoo might remind me that even when I get buried by this mess of a world, I will emerge a better and stronger person.

Sometimes the important stuff is the hardest to remember.

Let the good stuff scar you, too, and find your own way to remember it as often as you can.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

There's No Place Like....Here?

What makes a place your home?

Is it the place where you were born? The place you grew up? Where your family is? Where you went to school?

Or is it the place where you feel comfortable? Where you feel you belong? The place where the landscape speaks to you and you feel at peace?

I'm faced with this dilemma every time someone asks me, "Where are you from?"

They typically are not satisfied with my glib answer of "Oh, everywhere".

I can fake an answer and say, "Texas", since that's the one place I spent most of my military upbringing, is where I went to college, and is where my parents still live. Also, most people inevitably, and oddly, have a cousin or a sister somewhere in the vicinity of Fort Worth, so it's an answer people can relate to and comment on.

"Well, you don't have a Texas accent!"
"No. I don't." Good observation.

For lack of a better answer, this one usually fills the void.

It always leaves me feeling a bit empty, though.

Is Texas where I'm from? Kind of. But I'm also from Nebraska, Virginia, a little town in Germany, and, most recently, Wyoming. It's a bit of a pain going into that story when people ask, and they usually end up looking regretful that they asked the question in the first place.

My preferred answer to the standard question is "Wyoming". It tends to confuse people, though. I didn't grow up there, and no one ever has a cousin or sister that lives near Green River.

They usually have heard of the Tetons, though.

"Oh, the Tetons are so beautiful!!! Why would you leave?!?"

It is at this point that I clench my teeth and try not to bite them.

More to the point, though, as I have now been "from" Wyoming and not "in" Wyoming for almost exactly a year, I've had time to ponder this need for people to have someplace to be "from". I've decided that when most people ask you where you're from, they don't really care what your answer is. They're just looking for something to talk to you about, for some way to relate to you. Because, really, what does where you're from really say about who you are? People are constantly breaking free of the confines and stereotypes set for them by their childhood and their upbringing, and many people find that their home is someplace totally different than the place where they are from.

So I ask again - what makes a place your home?

Romantically and idealistically, Wyoming is my home. It is the place my heart longs to be. I actually feel something deep in my chest when I think about being there. It is the place that I have a connection to - the smell of the sagebrush after a rainstorm, the deep cornflower blue of the sky, the wide open space, the stark silhouette of the Tetons rising above the sparkling yellow of the aspens in the fall, the joyful surprise of seeing a pronghorn or a moose or a bison standing just off the side of the road, the familiarity of driving into Jackson and knowing exactly where and how to get exactly what I'm looking for at any given moment, the peace I feel when I'm there.

But as wonderful as it was, I'm not there anymore. It's not where I live. But it continues to be the place to which I compare all others. It is the place I feel that is the foundation of who I am right now as a person. Now it's where I'm from. And even though the average person I meet will not have anything to say about me being from Wyoming except, "Oh", I will continue to be "from" there when people ask.

But "home" is now here in Olympic National Park. Home is where I'm making my way and finding new things to define who I am. Home is where my dog greets me with a wagging tail and where my cat cuddles up with me at the end of a long day. Home is where I know I can find a pizza cutter without looking in six different drawers and a cold beer in the fridge. Home is where I am, because it has to be. You have to have a sanctuary to call your own, no matter where you are.

And who knows, maybe when I move on to my next park I'll have a different answer when people ask me, "Where are you from?"

Monday, September 29, 2008

In Memoriam....

"She said she usually cried at least once each day not because she was sad, but because the world was so beautiful & life was so short." - Brian Andreas

This quote is in honor of Kristine Fairbanks, a Forest Service Officer here on the Olympic Peninsula killed in the line of duty.

I have nothing but overwhemling awe and pride for the men and women who put their life at stake every time they go out to do the job they love.

For my friends who do this to protect our national parks and forests - please take care and thank you for what you do.


Remembering fallen officer Kristine Fairbanks
Brandon Wagner, 4, waves a flag from his lawn chair as a procession of law enforcement vehicles drives down Highway 101 in Port Angeles Monday in honor of slain United States Forest Service officer Kristine Fairbanks. Kristine Fairbanks was shot and killed during a traffic investigation on Sept. 20, 2006, in Olympic National Forest south of Sequim, Wash., hours before the alleged gunman was himself killed in a shootout with Clallam County sheriff's deputies.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Don't you want one of your own?

I've never really had any kind of urge to have children. People have asked me about it. Especially now that I'm getting to "that age" where apparently you need to find some way any way to have a child right now this minute or just forget about it.

After my brother had his newest child and I got to hold the little bundle of joy, several people asked me, "Don't you just want one of your own now?" This was when I pointedly handed the child over and said, "Ummm.....I have one. Thanks."

This is when they would look at me like I was a little bit crazy.

You see, I do have one. Not a child, so to speak, but a dependent none the less. Actually, I have two. The cat is pretty self-sufficient, though.

The dog, on the other hand, might as well be 2-legged, pink, and screaming for all the baby he is.

He recently got his little nose into trouble. Literally. Not sure what he got into, but it made him itch his nose so much that now it's a big, red, bloody mess and he has to wear a clear plastic head collar that makes him look like a satellite dish.

He's handling it ok. He's putting up with me shoving antibiotics and steroids coated in peanut butter down his throat. He's putting up with running into everything because he's much wider than he remembers being. He's putting up with me drugging him into stillness with Benadryl so he'll stop itching his nose on every visitor's pant leg that walks in the door and flinging bloody snot all over the place.

Pleasant, huh?

I don't think I'd be allowed to drug a child into stillness.

But I do it for the dog. I do it because I'm his mom and I have to take care of him. There are those I know who say, "He's a dog. In the wild he'd get over it or he'd die." But he is not in the wild. He is not a hardened mongrel that stalks his prey and must fight every day to stay alive.

Sometimes he snaps at moths, but that's about it.

And it gives me a bit of a purpose to take care of him. When I get home from work and all I've been doing all day is staring at the computer or dealing with paperwork or trying to figure out how to be the best boss possible (hah!), it gives me some weird satisfaction to have the dog come rub his bloody nose on me and look at me with that look that only dogs have that says, "love me love me love me love me and make my nose feel better".

It gives me satisfaction to know that even on the days when I'm not sure I know what's going on with MY life or that I can take care of MYSELF, I can take care of the dog. And he will wag his tail. And he will love me. And I will feel like something makes sense in the universe.

I suppose children might inspire this same feeling in parents, too.

I don't think it would be quite the same, though.

Kids don't have tails to wag.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Reset Button

There are those days when you just need to hit your reset button. I know everyone has them - the ones where so much is building up and going wrong and needing fixing that you just need to say, "Whoa. Reset. Let's try that again."

My reset button changes all the time. I'm never sure where I'll find it. And sometimes things will build for days or weeks before it comes time for the reset button again. But, eventually, it turns up. And I can feel all the stress and trouble and pain and worry just kind of release - at least temporarily.

Today I was just walking on the beach - which I found often triggers it. But it was not a particularly nice day. It was kind of foggy. High tide. No sun or blue sky to speak of. I was walking with two of my rangers -both people that I enjoy immensely - and they invited me out "to see the pelagic barnacle log". Now who can turn that down? So I went. And this is what I saw.

It was beautiful - weird and squishy and alien - but beautiful. And I thought, "Wow. I'm glad I hang out with people that would think to show this to me."

Thanks to Ranger Pat and Ranger Steve.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Beer Butt Chicken Story

Cooking on the grill is fun. It involves fire. It usually involves meat. And it brings out the best...and the stupid....in people.

Enter...."the Beer Butt Chicken".

Some of you may have cooked "Beer Can Chicken" before. It involves putting a variety of spices into a half full beer can, shoving said beer can into the opening of a whole chicken, and then sitting the chicken, which looks like it might spring up and off the grill with a resounding "OW!" at any moment, on the grill for an hour or two to cook.

We did this.

We recommend not coating the chicken with barbeque sauce first as it tends to turn into a flaming inferno eventually.

Kudos to Dylan for not dropping the chicken.

Eventually, though, once the skin is removed, the chicken turns out pretty darn good. Very moist for being a crispy critter.

And, if you have a dog, the clean-up really isn't that bad.

All in all, another successful grilling adventure.
All fingers and eyebrows accounted for.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Sunsets and Sweet Potatoes

I go back and forth about whether or not I belong here.

Just yesterday on my way to work I drove by a sign that said, "Prison Escapee in the Area. Do not pick up hitchhikers."

"Hmmmm......."I said to myself. "I wonder if he'll make his way to the bus station."

My office, as many of you know, is in the bus station.


Ten hours later, I was invited down to Rialto Beach to watch the sunset. It was splendid.

The evening was completed, though, by the discovery of a dead sea lion. It was observed that the sea lion looked remarkably like a giant sweet potato - which Ian then pretended to eat.

Things balance out sometimes, I think.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

It's a boy, not a lizard...

Bill Cosby once said that when a newborn baby comes out it looks like a lizard and often needs to be put back in to "cook more". This is what I expected when I went to the hospital to meet my newest nephew. Fortunately, Luke Apollo Hoppe neither looks like a lizard nor needs to cook longer. He's a pretty cute little guy

Granted, I did see a few pictures that Athena, my 10 year old niece who attended the birth ("I got to play with the placenta! It was slippery!") took when he first came out. He did look a little purple and slimy, but we must cut him a little slack. None of us ever looks our best when we first wake up.

Friday, August 22, 2008

I Walked How Far For This????

The idea to hike to the Blue Glacier seemed like a good one. I thought it would be good for me to get out and do a backpacking trip by myself - clear my head- get some exercise - finally get to a really freaking big glacier. So two weeks ago I made the plan. I packed my bag. I borrowed a bivy sack so I wouldn't have to pack in a big tent. And I set off.

It's about 17 miles up the Hoh River Trail to get to the Blue Glacier. I was planning on doing the trip in 3 days - hiking in 10.5 miles to Lewis Meadows, hiking up to the glacier and back the next day, camping at Lewis Meadows again, and then hiking out.
The first thing I noticed as I set off was that the rainforest looks pretty similar no matter where you are in it.
The next thing I noticed was that I hike a lot faster by myself than I do with other people. I got to camp in about 3 hours - about 5 pm. And it started raining. Great. So I climbed into my bivy sack at 5pm (which is not set up for sitting -you have to lay down and not move very much) with my 0 degree down sleeping bag, opened up my book, took out my bag of gummy bears and a soggy sandwich (no stove to go light), and proceeded to lay there and read and sweat in the rain for the next 4 hours until it was dark enough to go to sleep. Fun.

The weather predictors had said the next day would be blue and beautiful, and, surprisingly enough, they were right. So I set off. I kept thinking that as I rose in elevation I would start getting views of this great mountain I was heading to. Ummmm......no. Just more rainforest. I did find a good reason why there are few permanent structures in the Olympic backcountry.

But it took me getting within about 2 miles of the end of the trail before I actually got a view. Good thing it was a nice view or I would have been a little miffed.
Glacier Meadows is the end point of the trail before you start picking your way up the moraine towards the Blue Glacier overlook. Now, a name like Glacier Meadows to me implies open alpine views. Again, umm........no. More trees. Some pretty flowers, but no real alpine views to speak of.

My hard work was rewarded, though, by the Blue Glacier. After trudging up the moraine and pausing for awhile to watch an outdoor adventure group made up of 50-something men and a few teenagers learn how to self-arrest on snow ("Watch out you don't stab yourself with the ice axe on your way down!") I came over a ridge to the scene below.

I think I almost wept. To see a glacier that big that close was amazing and overwhelming and humbling. And to drink in the cool almost alpine air after being in the rainforest for an excruciating 16 miles was just as good.

After tottering down to the glacier and kissing it (just to say I'd done it), I sat down to stare at its massiveness for awhile. I thought about walking back to Lewis Meadows. I thought about how hot and sticky I was. I thought about the second soggy sandwich I had for dinner and the fact that I had finished the only book I had brought last night. And I was out of gummy bears. It was then that I decided that I could not spend another night sweating in a bivy sack. I wanted a shower and a beer and my king size bed. So I hitched up my pack and walked out. Through mile after mile after mile after endless mile of green dripping ferns, nurselogs, and hemlocks. It was like the Heart of Darkness backwards. Stupid Rainforest.

25.5 miles for the day all in all. 11 hours. My personal best. Only 3 enormous blisters to show for it and I was home in time to watch the Olympics with a burger, a milkshake, and a happy dog. Glad I went, but glad to be home.

Some people feel like going backpacking by themselves gives them time to think and be by themselves and commune with nature. I definitely enjoyed the challenge and the reward of getting to see that amazing glacier. I even enjoyed the rainforest. But I live by myself in a national park. I spend lots of time thinking by myself and communing with nature. Maybe next time I'll just do a dayhike.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

No Tattoos...but Pigs!

I went to the big city of Seattle to find a good tattoo artist. Yes, it's about that time to add another piece of symbolic body art to my collection.

Alas, I found no tattoo shops. Perhaps I didn't look in the right places oweing to my pedestrian status. What I did find, however, was a great little brew pub and a plethora of pig statues. Beer and pigs. Two things that always make me smile.

I happen to have a great affection for inanimate pigs since my grandma Hoppe sent me Porkchop, the lifesized pink resin pig that now greets all visitors to Casa Hoppe.

And it struck me that, like Porkchop greets visitors to my humble abode, perhaps Seattle was serving up some sort of porcine offering of hospitality to me. After all, it's not every city where you can watch an Estelle Getty look-alike heave herself atop a bronze porker, wave her hand in the air and yell "Yee-haw".

I am no longer a city person. The hairs on the back of my neck stand a little straighter amid the cement postpiles and dirty streets of the urban arena. And yet, here were these pigs saying, "See, it's not so bad."

So although I didn't come back with the tattoo I wanted, as I drove along the banks of Lake Crescent, I realized I had come back with a few valuable things: an appreciation for Seattle, four stolen deckels from the brew pub to use on my coffee table, and a renewed appreciation for the remoteness, solitude, and quiet of my own home.

And Porkchop was there waiting to welcome me...