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.