Friday, November 6, 2009

Unconditional Love and Beyond...

The last week or so of work before you go on vacation is always hard.

I knew I was in for it one snowy day when a nice man on the telephone said to me, "I'm watching the webcam. Is there supposed to be someone out walking around on Old Faithful?"

The obvious answer was, of course, "No".

Out I went.

Now, many happy law-abiding citizens come to the park and, when told they need to get back on the boardwalks to avoid being scalded to death by the boiling water waiting mere centimeters below a very thin crust of earth, say, "It's ok, I'm just taking a picture."

In this case, the rule breaker, upon being told that he could not, in fact, just walk up onto Old Faithful, replied by saying, "It's ok, I'm filming a documentary on unconditional love."

That was a new one to me.

So, at least, if he was going to break laws and get a ticket, he was doing it for a good cause.

The following last few days of work, punctuated with cold temperatures, snow and ice, and road closures, continued to challenge my perceptions of what was normal.

It made hitting the road even more rewarding.

So bright and early Monday morning, Bridger and I hit the road. (Harley, being more fond of the top of the dryer than she is of the car, opted to stay home.)

Seven hours of driving brought us to our first Motel 6 of the trip in Salt Lake City. The front desk clerk, after looking at her available rooms, apologized that she only had a room with two beds.

"It's ok," I said. "The dog doesn't like to share."

The clerk gave me that look that said she did not get paid enough as a Motel 6 clerk to put up with my humor.

I was not kidding. Bridger takes up a whole double bed. He has, without my noticing, grown into a very large dog. Bigger, in fact, than his big buddy Uly who, if you don't know Uly, is a ginormous dog. Parents, apparently, never notice their children growing up. I now understand this.

Anyway, Bridger was happy with his bed. I was happy to watch Dancing with the Stars. And we went to bed happy....until several hours later when I leaped out of bed after finding a bug crawling on my neck. Crisis averted...not a cockroach....just a box elder bug. Apparently there had just been a huge hatch. Super.

The following day, after 5 hours of driving, I found myself pulling through the gate to Zion National Park.

I have been to Zion many times. I have shared it with many people. I have, however, never seen it as beautiful as it was this time - the sky was a brilliant lapis blue, the leaves were sunflower yellow, the walls gleamed with their redrock splendour, and the dog panted in the 85 degree heat. My flip flops came back out to liberate my toes, and Bridger and I went for a walk on the Pa'Rus trail.

The Pa'Rus trail follows the Virgin River from the Zion National Park visitor center up to the turn off for Zion Canyon. It's a lovely walk. The views were amazing. The river looked inviting.

The dog, with his newly grown winter coat suitable for surviving the below zero temperatures of Yellowstone that we had weathered just three days earlier, was pitifully hot.

I tried to hold the leash while he waded into the water, but it soon became evident that this was not going to work unless I, too, really wanted to go into the river.

I would do just about anything for my dog. He, after all, adds so much to my life without me even asking. He loves me. He makes me laugh. He doesn't think I'm crazy when I wake up in the middle of the night flailing around because there is a bug on my neck.

So I broke the rules.

Off came the leash. Into the water went the dog.

Happy dog, happy me.

I was all ready with my excuse if a law enforcement ranger had come by and caught us though.

"It's ok, it's all in the name of unconditional love."

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Life of a Geyser

Is a geyser alive or not alive?

If you are between the ages of 5 and 9 and want to become a Young Scientist in Yellowstone National Park, you have to be able to answer this question.

You have to list 5 things that make you alive, and then be able to say whether or not geysers share these characteristics.

Many kids decide that, yes, geysers ARE alive.

Reconciling this conclusion with reality can sometimes require a little creative rangering.

However, the children usually end up hitting on some very astute observations in the end....observations that often find themselves working themselves into my thoughts on early mornings in the geyser basin when I am called upon to do "geyser prediction".

Now, you may think this sounds glamorous. After all, how many people can say that they get paid to predict geysers?

It is, in reality, very stressful. Do you have any idea how many people get upset when Old Faithful goes off at the "wrong" time???

All the pressure is worth it, though, to be able to be in the Upper Geyser Basin in the morning. There are usually no people around. The air is crisp, and the natural sounds of steam and water mingle with the calls of the Canada Geese or the occasional snort of a bison.

It is at these times that I agree with the children. These thermal features....made of rock and heat and indeed seem to be alive.

They breathe. They grow. They reproduce. They speak.

And, from what we know and observe, we try to predict them.

It's funny to me....this prediction. We want so much to know what is going to happen. To know when things are going to happen. It's not enough that this incredible, magical wonderland exists in the first place and that we are lucky enough to get to experience it - we have to know how we can fit it into our schedule. We can't just let it happen.

And I'm just as guilty as anyone.

I have a hard time just letting life happen. I have to know when and why and what and how is this going to fit into my grand plan of how I think things should be for me?

And if things don't work out the way that I've worked things out in my's not good enough. It's not right.

But that's not the way it should be.

No matter how much we think we know and how many variables we think we have under control, the geysers still do exactly what they want. They take whatever they are given and go all the way.....until they run out of steam.

The most we can do is take what they give us, and be happy that we were there for the experience.

After all, a geyser, like life, is at it's best when it explodes right in front of you - and you never saw it coming.

And being able to live in the moment, I think, is what makes you truly alive.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Long Hike Home

It has taken me three long months to get back to where I belong.

The three months that I've been back in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem have been filled with work and stress and studying and more work, and I have devoted one, count it, ONE full day to getting my butt away from the pavement and into the backcountry.

Pathetic, really.

It is for this reason that, even with an impending presidential visit to prepare myself for, I forced myself to leave civilization behind and carried myself up into the Teton backcountry. And because I could not leave all sources of stress behind, I chose to take my dog, Bridger, with me.

Bridger has been living the existence of a leash dog.

Bridger has never been into the Teton backcountry.

Bridger has never been into ANY backcountry.

And Bridger has certainly never carried a pack, slept in a tent, or encountered any wildlife more exotic than the chipmunks that get him all riled up when we walk around the housing area.

Hell, he barks at statues because he can't figure out what they are.

So it was with anticipation, and slight trepidation, that I proceeded to pack my belongings for the one night trip up Teton Canyon into Alaska Basin.

Bridger eyed me warily when the new red doggy backpack came out. He's generally game for anything, though, so he didn't really flinch when the harness went on and the backpack was attached.

It didn't even really seem to slow him down.

It did, however, alter his width so that instead of harmlessly streaking by my friend Jeanne and I on the trail, he took us out at the knees.


But once we figured out how to dodge him, he added an entertaining element to the trip.

My fears about him running away were allayed as he kept pretty close to us the whole time. He must have figured out that running away meant that he was stuck with that stupid red backpack.

But as we climbed higher up the canyon, my spirits rose. The scent of the lupine was intoxicating and the colors of the paintbrush, columbine, monkeyflower, and countless other flowers were breathtaking.

It brought back memories of the many other trips along the Teton Crest Trail that I've done over the years with many other friends.

When we reached camp, the dog sacked out......

and I took in the familiar scenery of Alaska Basin.

The backcountry is a refreshing place. You end up spending a lot of time just staring at things and trying to figure out how you fit into the bigger picture.

It's a place I've spent a lot of time, but, after being away for what feels like so long, it never felt so much like home.

It took me a year and a half to get back here.

After I got back, it took me another three months of trying to fit in and get things right before I could even think about where I really am.
Now, though, I know for sure that I have gotten one thing, at least, right.

I have come back to the right place.

Here, with good friends, my dog, and the mountains I love -

Here, with my head back in a good place and my soul repaired -

I'm back where I belong.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Still Counting....

When you learn CPR, you never expect to have to use it. When you finally do, it scares the shit out of you.

I've taken a CPR class every year for the last 8 years....most recently 4 weeks ago. And every time, it's the same. The class doesn't really pay attention, everyone struggles to remember the ever changing ratio of chest compressions to rescue breaths, and everyone laughs when the resusci-annie doll doesn't respond to "Buddy, Buddy, are you ok??" In the end, we all walk away carrying our card that says we know what to do.

Justin and I did not laugh when the man we found did not respond.

I'm not sure what went through Justin's head when I ran off to tell someone to call 911, but when I got back, all I could think was, "This can't possibly be happening."

And then I heard myself saying, "I'm starting CPR."

He was young, something terrible had happened, and his eyes were dead. And I wanted to not look at him. I wanted to crawl into a little ball and rock back and forth and say, "I can't do this."

But I kept counting. One and two and three and four and five......

Somebody kept saying that he was dead.

But I kept counting. One and two and three and four and five.....

Justin counted, too, when it was his turn. And we looked at each other as if to say again, "Is this really happening?"

And then the cavalry arrived. The heroes in green and grey armed with oxygen and needles and people that, mercifully, wanted to tell us what to do. I have never been so relieved.

And I did what they told me. I counted slower and squeezed air into the bag valve mask.

One, two, three, squeeze.

My EMT training kept cycling through my head. Open the airway. Re-position the head. Keep the seal good. Watch for the breaths going in.

His head was between my knees to keep the position right. My hands were clamped to his face.

I couldn't bear to look at his his eyes. So I stared at his chest. And I kept counting.

One, two, three, squeeze.

Finally someone moved me aside....and I fluttered around, trying to be useful, and failed utterly to feel anything but helpless.

Even the beep of the monitor as his heart started beating again didn't ease the constriction that had slowly taken a hold over my insides.

Justin and I helped wheel him out to the ambulance. And then we stared at each other.

We tried to remember what had happened for the statments we had to fill out. We talked to the rangers. We helped pick up the disaster area where the catastrophe and subsequent miracle had taken place. We looked at our shaking hands. Eventually, we just sat and held on to each other.

Neither one of us were prepared for what we had walked into. Neither one of us can forget what happened. Both of us continue to see his face....his eyes.

In the past few days I've thought a lot about this young man that has affected my life so dramatically by dying and then coming back to life. I don't know him. I've never spoken to him. And yet I want to go to the hospital where he is and sit by his side and will him to be see him open his eyes.

And maybe this is more for me than for him.

Not because I want to say I had anything to do with it, but because I need to know that awful, horrible, random acts don't kill young healthy people.

I need to know that, despite evidence to the contrary, life is not short and unpredictable.

I want him to be ok. But deep down I know he won't be. And that's the worst part of it all.

We did what we were trained to do, Justin and I. We paid attention. We yelled "Hey are you ok?" We remembered the ratio of chest compressions to rescue breaths. We counted.

No one is laughing, though.

And, though everything is finished, we still don't know what to do.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

To Bluff or Not to Bluff.....

Lately, I've been playing poker.

It's an interesting game to me.

I, who takes pride in telling the truth and playing as few games with people as is humanly possible, really enjoy bluffing.

I love the idea that pretending you're winning can actually allow you to win.

I feel like a poker hand sometimes. Like nothing I have really adds up anything. I think we all do at one time or another. But we pretend....we no one can tell. And sometimes, if we're good, we fool them all, and we win. Other times, we fold. Or we lose it all.

I could go on to quote a number of different ways that cards are a metaphor for life....but I think you get the picture.

One of the big differences between life and cards is this - if you bluff long enough in life, sometimes you forget you're bluffing.

Take working on a visitor center desk, for example.

Working in a visitor center can be exhausting. The people ebb and flow with the motion of a perpetual tide. The questions are neverending.

Some people can not handle working in a visitor center.

I, on the other hand, relish it. It is my bluff. My act. It makes me be a different person. A better person. No matter what is going on in my life, no matter what kind of mood I'm in, when I go out on the visitor center desk, I am at my best. Because I have to be.

A visitor to a national park does not care if I'm having a bad day. They won't even ask. If I don't give them my very best, they will judge not me, but my peers and my park.

"You're going there? Well, the rangers there weren't very friendly. We're not going back there."

So I don't have the luxury of being in a bad mood. Every contact I make with a visitor influences what they think about rangers, national parks, and maybe even the environment and conservation as a whole.

That's a lot of responsibility.

So I bluff.

And after spending even just a few minutes out on the desk, pretending to be cheerful and helpful......I become just that. And I return from my desk duty with a smile on my face, refreshed.

Not many people can say that their job makes them a better person - that their job makes them less selfish, gives them better perspective, or makes them smile more. I think mine does.

By pretending to have a winning hand, I win.

And that's no bluff.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


Luckily, I have not known many people who have died.

I think, maybe, only five.

At least only five who have really left a mark.

David Moseley was my first real choir teacher - a gift from heaven for an awkward 7th grader. He was talented and he was good and he made sure we all knew we had something really special to offer. And he taught me how to sing. And be a leader. He did handsprings for us in the grass outside of the music building. And he died of AIDS. Years later, my girlfriends and I went to the cemetery where he is buried and laid the printed words to Flying Free, "our song", in the urn in front of his gravestone. We wanted to leave part of ourselves with him just as he had left part of himself with us. I don't know how long the paper stayed in the urn before it was taken out, or just flew away, but it made us feel better that it was there. If only for a little while.

Colin O'Connell shot himself over Thanksgiving break my sophomore year in college. I loved him because I had no idea how his brain worked. He was so smart. And I had never met anyone like him before. I still have paragraphs of prose printed on a dot matrix printer that he wrote on my computer freshman year when we were supposed to be studying. Poetry. Prose. Music. Philosophy. That was Colin. And I remember him standing on the steps to the Andrews dormitory that November as I was getting into my car to go home. "You're staying here?" "Yeah." "I'll see you in a few days?" "Yeah." It broke my heart that he lied to me.

Trevor Eggleston had big feet and a bad haircut. He played A LOT of computer games and loud music and really loved the movie Braveheart. He even had a sword. He was a menace on the soccer field. We would compare bruises after games. And he was a sweet, sweet kid. I spent a lot of time with him. And he had a big crush on me that I humored....but ignored. When they found him and the shotgun the day after Valentine's Day, I blamed myself. "If only I had....." I could never, and still can't, finish that sentence. It doesn't make sense.

I was first on the scene of Lauren Burns' car accident. She was a student of mine. And a friend. I knew how to size up a scene. I knew to not commit to caring for one person before identifying all the patients and their conditions. But, for some reason, I never made it to the second car - to Lauren's car - that night. I stopped at the first. I didn't know it had been her in the other car until the next day. And I'm glad.

My grandma Vivian was 91 when she died 2 nights ago. She lived a long, full life. She was married to my grandfather for 70 years, had 2 sons, 2 grandchildren, and 5 great grandchildren. She was a great pinochle player. She would buy Fruit Loops especially for me when we visited, and she gave me a fake pig named Porkchop. She would send cards for every holiday. She was a wonderful Grandma.

Four of these people died way too young, and I am still hurt by the ways they died.

All five of them, though, were amazing people who touched my life in such profound ways that even now I can see their faces as I write about them. I can remember their smiles and habits and how they made me feel.

I remember them for how they lived not how they died.

And I remember what they taught me.

In some ways, this thirty-three year old is still a lot like that awkward 7th grader - wishing I knew what role I played in their lives.

But I know what role they played in mine.

And I'm thankful for every second.

There is a place I call my own
Where I can stand by the sea,
And look beyond the things I've known ,
And dream that I might be free.

Like the bird above the trees
Gliding gently on the breeze,
I wish that all my life I'd be
Without a care and flying free!

But life is not a distant sky
Without a cloud, without rain.
And I can never hope that I
Can travel on without pain

Time goes swiftly on its way,
All too soon we've lost today.
I cannot wait for skies of blue
Or dream so long that life is through.

So life's a song that I must sing,
A gift of love I must share .
And when I see the joy it brings,
My spirits soar through the air.

Like that bird up in the sky ,
Life has taught me how to fly.
For now I know what I can be
And now my heart is flying free.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The View From Here...

Coming down the hill driving home tonight, Yellowstone stretched out before me, it struck me that, for the first time in over a year, I could see where I was going.

The sagebrush stretched out before me, sunlight reflecting off scattered patches of diminishing snow. I could see for miles. There is so much space...

It also struck me then that really like being able to see where I'm going - in my environment, and in my life.

I think many people reach a point in their life when they think, "I should probably know where I'm going by now."

Several people have shared this thought with me recently.

We are all, by the way, single and in our mid-30s.

So the question comes out -

If you ARE single and in your 30s, with no family or significant other to be planning around, is it as important for you to have a solid committed plan of where you're going to go with your life?

Granted, having a solid life plan would probably reduce the amount of time I spend feeling like a flounder - flopping around desperately gasping for air at random intervals - but as I talk with my friends about the future, I also lend an ear to those who have expressed frustration at being pigeon-holed early in life - people who took on commitments at a young age and have house payments and college savings plans.

It makes me think that being a flounder isn't so bad.

I kind of like the fact that I can still change direction at any moment (flop flop). I have a tentative plan for my career, but it's relatively open. I don't own a house, I don't need to worry about dual career positions, I don't need to be looking for great school districts adjacent to wilderness areas, and I don't have to apologize to anyone for not having any of these things.

I think my compass will continue to point in the direction of the choice I think will make me the happiest - and that may or may not coincide with the best direction for my career at any given time.

And, as imporant as place is in my life, my direction will probably be influenced more by love than mountains (although having both would be nice...).

So even as I flop around a little, I try not to worry about it much. This life is catch and release.

I can see where I'm going, I just haven't decided which stream I want to take to get there.

Thursday, April 23, 2009


You can tell a lot about a person from their smile.

That's why it's amazing to me how many people don't like to go to the dentist.

I think it might be because most people don't know a darned thing about their own teeth. I certainly don't. After all, we can only see a few of them. And since taking care of them is pretty simple, we don't really need to know anything about them past what you learn in health class.

So when we follow the simple regime we are taught, we expect our teeth to hold up their end of the bargain.

Ultimately, no matter how much we brush and how much we lie about how much we floss, we usually end up upside down in a dentist's chair wearing funny glasses and looking way to closely at the pores of someone who is breaking all the rules and using sharp metal pointed things to scratch away at the precious teeth that we have worked so hard to protect.

And, on top of everything, when these dentist people are in our mouths "fixing" things, we can't see anything they're doing. They could be playing tic-tac-toe on our molars and we wouldn't have a clue.

It's no wonder people don't like dentists.

Luckily, the laughing gas makes up for much of this.

I personally don't really feel one way or the other about dentists.

I don't really know why anyone would want to spend all day looking into mouths. The breath thing would probably get to me. Then again, I wouldn't want to spend all day looking at feet or skin or ears any other of the number of specific body parts that specialists spend their time looking at.

But, hey, I'm glad somebody wants to look at that stuff.

I just care about being able to smile.

Which is all I was thinking about this last week the whole time I was upside down in my dentist's chair wearing funny glasses and looking way to closely at the pores of the man who was breaking all the rules and using sharp metal pointed things to scratch away at the precious teeth that I thought I had been doing a pretty good job of protecting.

"You might need a root canal," he told me when he was done.

"Excuse me?" I said. "I thought I had a cavity."

"No," he said. "There's nothing wrong with the tooth you came in for. But it's good you came in anyway."

In the end, it turned out that I, in fact, did not need a root canal after all.

After probing what little was left of my tooth with my tongue before he filled it in, it was hard for me to imagine exactly what more they could have taken out of that tooth, but whatever.

I was happy. My tooth still lived, and my smile was still intact.

You wouldn't think a smile would be that important for a park ranger, but you would be surprised.

A couple years ago, while working the visitor center desk, I looked up to see a huge black man walking through the front door. He must have been a football player. He was at least 6'5" and built like a wall. And as he walked toward the desk I just remember my head tilting back until I was finally looking straight up into his friendly face. It was such a surreal feeling that I must have been grinning like a cheshire cat.

And as I looked up at him, he looked down at me and said, "Nice smile."

"Thanks," I said.

"Can I have a map?" he said.

"Sure," I said.

Not a deep moment, to be sure, but a memorable one.

And just today a different man came into a different visitor center. He had simple questions, and, after every one, I thought he was done and would leave. But after a moment, he would just come up with another question.

Finally, as he turned to go, he said, "It's so nice to talk to someone who smiles so much and so obviously loves her job."


And that's why I will continue to brush and why I will continue to lie about how much I floss. It's why I will continue to sit upside down in a dentist's chair and why I will continue to smile at people when they walk through my door.

Because it makes a difference.

To them.

And to me.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

How 'bout now?


Fourteen short days left.

The happiness has arrived.

I'm officially excited.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Where's the Happiness?

It's been two weeks since I accepted the job in Yellowstone National Park.

The first week I was too busy to really think about my decision clearly.

This last week, though, as the reality of my situation has set in, I've been bombarded by a maelstrom of emotions. And though I know I've made a good decision, I've yet to feel the rush of happiness I've expected.

When I first saw the job advertised on the federal USAjobs website, I got a lump in my stomach. I knew this was my job. This job was what I'm good at in a place I love. There was no way I wouldn't get this job. And I was right. I took it without reservation. I didn't even ask anyone their opinion about whether I should take it or not - which for me is huge. I'm not good at big decisions. But there was no decision involved - of course I would take it. And I did.

So why, since then, have I been fighting my right to be happy about my decision? It is, after all, the culture of the National Park Service to move from place to place. I'm not doing anything wrong by leaving. I don't think I'm even doing anything unexpected by leaving.

But despite my yearning to escape from Forks and the loneliness I have found here, the truth is, that I will be leaving things of value behind:

This place.
While the Olympic Peninsula may not be the best place for a single girl to expand her social life, it is a great place for an adventurous girl to explore her surroundings. And I didn't do half as much exploring as I would have liked. I did get to the Blue Glacier. I did hike the South Coast. Both amazing experiences. The Press Expedition Route will, I suppose, have to wait.

The ocean, too, has been a pleasure. In a place where the sky does not always seem big enough, visiting the beach brought me space and openness and an endless horizon, complete with beautiful sunsets. My occasional encounters with the harbor seals, an added bonus. No whales yet, though. I've got three weeks left to keep working on that one.

New friends.
Not many, it's true. But good ones, nonetheless. And not just in the park, but also in the Pacific West Region. I really had just started to get to know some really great, fun, warm, talented, and interesting people. They are what kept me going, and I learned and benefited from each and every one of them. The family network that is the NPS, though, will hopefully keep them if not close, then reachable.

A job where I know I can make a difference.
I've learned a lot from this job in the short time I've been here. With the right motivation and energy, I know I could learn a lot more and continue to do good things here. I also know that I could stay for another five years and still not get everything done that needs to be done.

A friend helped put things in perspective for me, though, when she told me (in so many words) that you can do good things for a place that you like, but you can do great things for a place that you love. She told me I owed it to the National Park Service to put myself in a place where I could do the most good. I take my responsibility to the NPS very seriously. And while I like Olympic National Park and have come to feel a great fondness for it, I know deep down that it will never replace the Tetons and Yellowstone in my heart. My position at Yellowstone may not need me as much as my position here does (at least not yet), but I feel in my heart that I will be giving back to a place that has already given me so much.

It gives me hope that I will actually feel like I'm doing good, instead of just feeling like I'm keeping up.

The idea that I can do anything.
This one I've struggled with. I've tried to write about it several times, and just couldn't find the words. It's probably one of the biggest reasons I haven't been able to be outwardly happy about leaving.

I've always thought of myself as a strong person. I've always wanted to be that person who can be a rock - an island unto themselves - weathering the storm, and all the other metaphors that mean you can survive on your own.

Well, apparently, I'm not.

And for the last two weeks I've been dealing with the idea that accepting a new job and leaving here means that I'm accepting defeat, accepting weakness. That I couldn't make it here on my own.

My brother helped me with this one. He simply said, "Don't try to be who you're not."

Simple, huh?

And so now I see that me leaving this place is not me giving up. It's not me being weak. It's me accepting that this place is not what's best for me. It's me going back to a place where I hope I can be myself again.

And I can finally leave here knowing that this place helped me better understand more of who I really am.

My family.
This one is the hardest because I know it's the thing I'm going to miss the most about being here. My brother and his family is the one reason I would consider staying here on the OP.

I've never lived this close to them, and I've never been this involved in their lives. And, tragically, I probably never will again. Having them close, sharing my life with them, having them be part of my comings and goings- these things have been what has kept me going for the last year and a half. They have seen me through some of my darkest days - whether they know it or not.

I have found friends in them that I did not have before. And I have found an unconditional love that I always had but had never realized.

I truly regret that I'm leaving them.

I hope what we've shared while I've been here will be a strong foundation on which we can continue to build our lives with each other, no matter where I go.

And I hope the kids don't forget me. Another thing I'll have to work on....

I will miss all these things.

But now that I've voiced my reservations, I know with certainty that I've done the right thing. Just as I know that coming here to the Olympic Peninsula in the first place was the right thing to do.

It was hard to come here. And it will be hard to leave. So I think it's ok that I'm not "happy" to be leaving.

Because I've learned from it all - professionally and personally - and I know that while Yellowstone too will have its hardships, I'll also find things that will make it all this worth while.

Adventure, new friends, challenge, reward.

And maybe, if I'm lucky, a little happiness, too.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

To find....

I wrote this a few years ago, but just found it recently. Somehow it seems appropriate.

I am sometimes lost.

I long to find a land I love
Filled to full with mountain song
Bubbling with water romp and babbling with robin talk
And with sunny sky on snowy slopes
That glow to green as winter melts.

I long to find my heart a home
Hung with silvery lupine blooms
Colored thick with paintbrush red
And built of pine and post and stone
Strong enough to stand alone.

I long to find a memory
That keeps those bright blue angel days
That slow and set and simmer down
To golden plumes and purple sighs
That roll in late like mountain tides.

But I find myself in love at once
And all my longings fade away
When the clouds before my windows lift
The Tetons rise, are sunlight crowned
And in that moment

I am found.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

All Decked Out....

It rained all day today.

Not just your everyday downpour, but oh-my-god-the-roof-is-going-to-cave-in-if-it-doesn't-stop-raining rain.

As I dashed to my car to home, the rain turned to hail. Little ice balls that pelted at me while I tried to find my car keys in my pocket.

As I turned onto the road that led home, the hail turned to sleet. And I had to turn the front defroster on high.

And as I walked into my warm, dry home I was greeted by a bouncing young dog that quickly crouched into pounce position - ready to play. I knew then that there was no way I was going to be able to put off the dog walk. He would hound me until I took him out. Regardless of the elements.

So I reluctantly dug my entire arsenal of foul weather gear out of the closet. Gore-tex boots, rain pants, heavy sweatshirt, and rain jacket all came out. The hair was put in pigtails and the rain hat was put on top.

Bridger, totally immune to the pelting rain, bounded out as soon as the door opened. The leash went on and down the road in the pouring rain to the beach we went.

It's two miles to the beach. The first 200 yards were wet. The next 200 yards were less wet. After the first mile, the rain stopped, and by the time we made it to the beach, the clouds had parted, the wind had died, and rays of golden sunlight were shining down on us.

I am always surprised how the sun can change a place. What only minutes before had been a swirling, howling mess of wind and water and sea foam now shone with a new warmth. And though a dark sky hovered not far from shore, the short time I walked along the water was enough to make it worth the trip through the storm.

I was still all decked out in foul weather gear. I expected the rain to set in again at any time, but it held off until Bridger and I rounded the last bend toward home.

I had expected the worst. I was ready for it. But I just kept going and the sun came out to show me why I was going through it all to begin with. And though the rain came again, Bridger and I had that time together on the beach to celebrate.

Sometimes, without words, the world knows just what to say.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Lessons from Leroy

This is Leroy.

Leroy likes airboats.

So do I.

Leroy does not like Captain Jungle Erv's airboats.

Leroy (and all the people) hang out at Captain Doug's place.

Apparently, to have a successful business in Everglades City, you must be endorsed by a Captain.

But really, life in the Everglandes doesn't really seem that different from anywhere else.

You've gotta give credit where credit is due.

Be tolerant of others.

And be prepared to help out a friend in need.

Simple rules to live by.

It's a good day when you learn something from a pelican.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Fire and Rain (and Weddings)

Who'd have thought that James Taylor would be my undoing? I had, after all, made it through multiple family dinners, bathing suit insecurities at Miami Beach, a bad “freestyle” rap session inspired by my backside, several very large mojitos, a session with a Panamanian sadist intent on making my hair look like a poodle, a long photo session that made me question whether I actually have “a good side”, a walk down the aisle with not one, but two handsome yet unavailable men, and an achingly emotional Jewish wedding ceremony complete with glass stomping and a beautiful bride. All of this I survived with mascara and positive attitude intact....until the band struck up James Taylor....

I haven't been to very many weddings. Four, maybe five total. Since most of my friends are already in their “baby” stage of life, it's pretty amazing that I've attended so few of their ceremonies.

Up to this point, I've considered myself lucky.

Don't get me wrong. I actually love weddings. I totally, whole heartedly, 100% believe in love. It's just that I'm currently a little cynical about the way love seems to be playing itself in my life. By highlighting all that is good and beautiful and inspiring about the union of two loving souls, weddings also seem to bring out all that is wrong, depressing, or just plain lacking in one's own love life. Sad and somewhat predictable, I know, but this cynical, single girl in her 30s, who recently had a veritable allergic reaction to the millions of honeymooning couples in Hawaii, was unsure how she was going to react to being a bridesmaid.

I won't keep you in suspense.

I had a blast.

The cynic in me has been silenced. Surprising, even to me.

I couldn’t help it. There was jus so much love flowing! And when you're surrounded by people who love and appreciate and support each other, you can't help but take a little bit of that in.
There was an incredible feeling of togetherness at this event that I've never felt before at a wedding. Perhaps it was because this time I was part of the wedding party, but I think it was more than that. We all got along. All ages of people from all over the country from all walks of life. We all got along and actually enjoyed the time we spent together. Everyone helped out. The mother and the father of the bride ran errand after errand and yet still had smiles on their faces as they sat tying ribbons on programs and cutting paper for place cards. People who had never met each found themselves sharing drinks and stories with new friends they felt they'd known forever.
Everyone was happy. Even me.

No one was happier, though, than the bride and groom. And, surprisingly, listening to them proclaim their love for each other did not make me think about being single or finding the right guy or getting married. It just made me think about all the people I already know that I will love for the rest of my life.

I was lucky enough to have found a great number of these people all at the same time in the same place. And I was lucky enough to have been reunited with several of them at this wedding.

Of course I must say that since leaving Grand Teton National Park, I have not been able to find or make the same kind of friends….and I’m not the only one who’s had this problem. The sarcastic side of me thinks that something happened to us there that ruined us for the rest of the world. The more idealistic side of me thinks that we must have had something pretty special that we just haven't been able to duplicate without those same set of conditions.

Regardless, all the emotions stirred up by thinking about those people and that place came to well up out of my eyes when the stupid band started playing stupid James Taylor's stupid “Fire and Rain”. Up until then, everything had been great.

I guess I shouldn't blame the band. It wasn't their fault. JT just writes good lyrics -

I've seen fire and I've seen rain.
I've seen sunny days that I thought would never end.
I've seen lonely times when I could not find a friend.
But I always thought that I'd see you again.

Somewhat appropriate for my little world of come and go park rangers.
And somehow, it was all the more touching at an event celebrating changes in life.

You always think you'll see the people you love again.

But sometimes you don't.
Life moves on. People move on. It gets hard to stay in touch. It gets expensive to travel. Families grow and people change. Accidents happen.

The fact that this song was being silently sung by a friend who takes his service weapon with him when he takes the trash out “just to be safe” did not help. Some of my friends have dangerous jobs. It’s silly how scared I am that some freak occurrence could take them away from me. But I’m also ridiculously proud that, even knowing the danger, they do their jobs anyway to fulfill a mission they believe in. That’s one of the reasons I love them.

And you always think you'll see the people you love again.

And, luckily, sometimes you do. Sometimes you get to meet their families and see how they turned into such wonderful people. Sometimes you get to hear about the amazing things they're doing in their jobs and with their lives. Sometimes you get to watch them dance around like idiots and know they are looking at you and thinking the same thing....and not care.

And sometimes you get to fly across the country to a beautiful, sunny place with white sand and blue water and watch two wonderful friends look into each other's eyes and say that they can't wait to start spending the rest of their life together.

So I guess, in the end, I don't really mind that I had to wipe my eyes a little when the band played James Taylor.

And I guess maybe in the future I might not mind weddings so much.

Fire and rain, friend.

Bring it on.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

To Hawaii and Beyond...

I came back from Hawaii with a damp towel, sunburned feet, a suitcase full of various kinds of macadamia nuts for assorted people back home, some good memories, and a little enlightenment.

There are some standouts as I look back on my week in paradise:

THE PLANE - The plane flight is long. There is no doubt about that. And there are, surprisingly, A LOT of people who take their very, very young children on this long plane trip to Hawaii. My enjoyment of children has increased dramatically since spending more time with my nieces and nephews. However, children screaming in a cramped space for a long time is something I have not yet grown to tolerate very well. It makes me a bit grouchy. Luckily, there are many technological gadgets that now allow young children to be entertained for extended amounts of time. Let's hear it for the portable DVD player! Nevermind that I spent a good chunk of the trip, myself, watching Finding Nemo with no sound from the across the aisle. Guess they work for adults, too.

On the whole, though, the flight was fine. I took considerable enjoyment in watching people deal with carry-on luggage. Watching adults try to fit carry-on luggage into overhead bins is not unlike watching a toddler trying to find the right shaped hole to put his square block through. It makes me wonder if these people have trouble with their spacial acuity in other situations.

I was also pleasantly surprised to find that Hawaiian Airlines actually still serves meals on their flights. This was especially nice on the way out since I neglected to purchase anything besides trail mix to feed myself. The food was not great, but after three hours on an airplane with nothing else to eat, a soggy croissant with turkey and mayonnaise was like manna from heaven. I had to hold myself back from channeling Oliver Twist and asking the purple flowered steward for some more. Those stewards are pretty tough, though.

When I finally escaped the plane, I discovered that my friend Shad had arranged to have a lei waiting for me. Lovely man, Shad. It was a beautiful combination of purple and white flowers that made me feel like, at any second, I might see a man in a white suit jump out and croon, “Welcome to Fantasy Island!” Didn't happen though. No midgets either. Bummer.

THE CAR - When I arrived at the Budget rental car counter in Maui, I found out that there were no cars of the type I had reserved available. There were, in fact, no rental cars available on the entire island for those without reservation - a little justification for my sometimes annoyingly paranoid pre-planning instincts.

Because fate is kind, instead of the Pontiac I had budgeted for I was issued a red mustang convertible for the couple days I was to be on my own.

I've never driven a convertible. I usually don't even like to drive with the windows down....too many hair issues. But I had an insanely good time with this silly car.

First of all, I must say that, though I like to drive fast, Maui is not the place to get a muscle car in the hopes of really opening it up and zooming along at top speed. I'd say the average speed I ended up driving my Mustang was about 25 mph. This speed restriction, however, did not diminish my enjoyment of this fine car, because, while I was driving quite slow, I was also driving on the Hana Highway.

Now, if you've never been to Maui, you probably have no reason to know about the Hana Highway. I didn't. Not until I started planning my trip did I hear about this “really curvy” road between Kahului and Hana. To describe it best, I will say only this - I like to drive fast, I was driving a Mustang convertible, and I drove between 15 and 25 mph on this road. It's not that I didn't want to drive faster, it's just that I couldn't. The road has a tight hairpin turn every quarter mile or so, and when there isn't a turn, there is a section of one lane road on which you usually have to play chicken with another tourist who is not paying attention to the road signs or the width of their own rented mustang. I think that because of my 3 days on the west side of Maui that I might actually be ready to try my hand at qualifing for the Grand Prix of Monaco. It was fantastic. It did, however, make it impossible for me to pretend that I was not a tourist. I earned my fair share of scowls from the Hana locals. I will probably never actually own a red convertible, but, for the trip, it was splendid.

THE SUN - The day before I was to leave for Maui, I looked at the weather forecast.

Rain all week, it said.

Crap, I said.

So when I stepped off the airplane and saw dark clouds in the sky, I was not surprised.

And when I was driving to Kipahulu to find my host for the week and it started raining, I was also not surprised.

And I am, after all, used to the rain. I must step in here and say that although it did rain, the rain in Hawaii is not like the rain in Washington. Perhaps this is something that should have been obvious to me. However, I found I quite enjoyed hiking in the rain in Hawaii. It was warm enough that a short rain shower and a little cloud cover were enjoyable and refreshing, not bone chilling and depressing. So, essentially, I had no problem with the rain.

I did, however, come to Hawaii, not for the warm rain, but for the sun. So on my third day on Maui, I drove to Kihei on the south side...and I found the sun. For the rest of the trip, while it continued to rain in Hana, it was sunny and warm and beautiful in Kihei. Thus, the sunburned feet. I now have a heightened Vitamin D level, a few more carcinogenic cells, and a nice base tan (for a pale girl). Right on.

THE RISING AND SETTING OF THE SUN - There is a reason that many postcards sent from Hawaii have sunsets on them. They are stunning.

On Tuesday, after soaking in the sun all day, I then watched it set. I watched the colors change as it fell lower and lower in the sky. And I watched it sink below the horizon and disappear into the ocean.

It's possible that there might have been 3,000 honeymooning couples watching this with me, but I tried not to notice them.

Instead I watched the humpback whales breaching in the distance and worked on writing a little poetry.

What could be better? Maybe watching the sun rise the next morning from the top of Haleakala?

It's possible.

Although it necessitated rising at 4:30 am to get up there, the sunrise, accompanied by the traditional chant of a local Hawaiian NPS interpreter, was spectacular. I'm sure many people feel this way, but it was like being on top of the world and watching the sun come up to meet me. I think, however, that the 3,000 happy couples from the night before had the same idea since they were also at the top of Haleakala awaiting the sun. That's ok, though. There was enough for everyone.

WHALE WATCHING - I have to admit that after spending time in Maui, I now think whales are the coolest creatures on this planet.

And I didn't even see a whole one.

I only saw part of one.

Actually I saw part of about 20, but, on the whole, my whale watching experience was THE highlight of this trip.

Not only did it offer the chance to see some of the most fascinating and strangely beautiful creatures on the planet, but it was also a chance to go really fast on a boat.

Little things make me happy.

SHAVE ICE - Passion fruit flavored. Yummy. Hmmm....another little thing.

LESSONS LEARNED - There were a number of things I didn't get to do in Hawaii - snorkeling, more whale watching, luau with a fire dancer (how did I miss that!?!?) And there were a couple things I would have changed about the trip, but, in the end, I would...and probably will...go back to Hawaii again.

I thought it would be a great escape from reality for awhile to go to Maui. I must admit, though, that while it was an escape...and a great one at was a wake up call that, no matter where we go, we carry our reality with us. We can't escape our lives. What we get out of life is always colored by the experiences and expectations we carry with us. The most we can do is try to get past what is holding us back and live in the moment...and let those moments color our experiences and expectations of the future.

Oh...and drive a mustang a little more often.


Saturday, January 17, 2009


And so begins the age of the Pilot....

I must admit that having a car accident, while at the time really REALLY sucking, has turned into a somewhat enlightening experience.

I've talked with several people about this.

Apparently near death experiences are well known as purveyors of perspective.

Who knew?

And although a metaphorical wake up call would probably have been easier to handle, I think, in the end, a little perspective is something that I have been sorely in need of.

(It's not surprising, however, that living amongst the tallest trees in the world would skew my perspective a little.)

Long story short (too late!) and without too many details (to spare all of you that have heard them), I am falling back on what got me here in the first place to haul my sorry butt out of the emotional doldrums - my job.

When I first got here, one of the first people I met described me as "driven".

"Driven" has never been a word I have used to describe myself. I have, in fact, often considered myself "inherently lazy", which I think might actually be the technical opposite of "driven".

"Driven" to me implies an almost maniacal compulsion to do something or get somewhere. It is a negative word. To be driven is to sacrifice to achieve a goal.

I am not big on sacrifice.

Regular readers of this blog may remember my heretofore reluctance to be pinned down to what I want - whether in men or the grocery aisles.

Being driven implies that you know what you want.

I think, in most cases, it is still true that I don't know what I want. In most cases, that is, except for my job.

The last month has given me a little clarity. It's showed me that there is deeper meaning in what I'm doing...that there is value in the lifestyle that I am living despite it's social deficiencies.....and that I can be really good at what I do if I just quit revelling in being inherently lazy and instead embrace that fact that being DRIVEN is not a bad thing.

I hope it works.

I hope being driven will get me to where I want to be.....not that I really, decisively know where that is.

But at least now I know the general direction.

Maybe I'll take the Pilot.

The Only Constant Thing...

This piece was written for the Olympic National Park Newspaper - The Bugler. I don't know if the park will like it. But I do.

I try to go to the beach every day.

As a coastal park ranger here in Olympic National Park, going to the beach is my job. But I'd go anyway, even if it wasn't.

There's just something about watching the waves. Something about the constant coming and going, the powerful crashing, the fine mist the floats up and away from the cresting water. Something about the sand that's never in the same place twice and the way you can feel the salt and moisture hanging in the air.

There's something about knowing this place is always changing and yet, somehow, always the same. It draws me to this wild coastline as it draws so many others.

The contradiction of wanting things to change while wanting them to remain the same, while a little confusing, is not really surprising. Most of us are not comfortable in an environment that is always changing. We have a routine with expectations. We like knowing that we have control over our lives - where we live, what we eat, what we do at work. We know what we like and what we don't like. Change means inconvenience, discomfort, or effort. Change is hard.

And yet change is what gives meaning to our lives. Babies are born. Loved ones die. We fall in love. Our hearts get broken. We learn. We forget. We are constantly bombarded by the world around us and all it has to offer, and it makes us feel alive.

And so our love of the coast makes sense. It is a place of extremes - where one world meets another. Violence meets tranquility. The known meets the unknown.

It is a place where change is expected and welcomed.

It is a place where change is easy.

As a park ranger, I can't help but wonder if this place would hold the same mystique if it weren't protected. Would the intrusion of human-caused change destroy this magical balance?

The same instinct that spurs me to pluck discarded water bottles and candy wrappers from the sand tells me that a car on the beach, a house on the hill, a film of oil on the water would destroy the very essence of what this wonderland offers us.

The same instinct tells me that if we as a society do not fight to protect this place by doing whatever little thing we can do - supporting the protection of wild places from development, knowing where our watersheds drain, or even just picking up trash as we walk the beach - this balanced world of embraceable change may disappear only to be replaced by yet another thing that has changed for the worse.

Mahatma Gandhi once said, "We must be the change we wish to see in the world."

And so I try to go to the beach every day.

I go to remind myself that change can be good. I go to remind myself of what I'm protecting. And, as I join the others staring out at the miles upon miles of waves breaking on the Olympic coast, I go to remind myself that I'm not doing it alone.