Friday, December 26, 2014

RANGERING: March 2006 (4)

Dear Reader: The truth is never an absolute; it is subjective and it changes over time. So I do not claim that any of what I write is the truth. It is only my perception and recollection of events as they happened years ago. In some situations I have changed names and details to protect the privacy of people involved.

NOTE: I will never write about upsetting details without a warning.

When I’d moved into the ranger house all of the faucets dripped. My dad had shown me some repairs I could do with the washer/dryer faucets. We’d turned off the water, removed the faucets, and replaced the worn washers with new ones. The metal the washers sat on also had grooves worn into them, so even a new washer would not make a good seal. We’d used a tool from the park that fit onto the top, and by twisting it around and around, you could file down the metal seat until it was flat and smooth.

So that was my plan for the guest bathroom. But to my dismay, I was unable to turn the water off. The pipes were old and rusty, and when I tried to turn off the valve they moved alarmingly; and the valve did not. Being a novice plumber, I’d exhausted my personal resources and had to call it quits.

When I went into work the next day I saw Jim struggling at the computer filling out monthly reports – daily recordings from car counters at our day use and main park entrance, and daily camping attendance categorized by sites with utility hookups, no hookups, and hiker/biker (bicyclist). While Jim could build or repair just about anything, it was clear that the computer was not his forte.

He looked up. “Well hello there, Kjerstin,” he said cheerily.

“Hello there, Jim. Looks like you’re just zooming through those reports.”

Jim threw down the paper in his hand with emphasis, grumbling about how frustrating the forms were and how distasteful it was that he had to do them. And just like that my solution presented itself.

“I’d like to propose a trade,” I said. He cocked his head. “I need some plumbing help. My bathroom faucets are dripping, and the pipes are rusty and I can’t even get the water turned off. In exchange for your help, I can help with these reports. You dictate to me and I’ll type them.”

“Well, how ‘bout that. So you’d type up the report for me, huh?”

“Yup. Trust me, it’ll go fast.”

He looked in disgust at the computer, then at his handwritten notes, and pushed them aside with finality. “Let’s go then.”

The leaky faucets turned into a bigger project, as plumbing projects are wont to do. Jim was also wary about the stuck valve under the sink and the groaning pipes, so we turned the water off at an outside valve. The washers and metal seat were corroded and grooved as expected. In fact as we disassembled the faucets to get to the washers, the faucets practically crumbled in our hands.

“I think it’s time for you to buy new faucets, Kjerstin.”

A benefit of living in park housing was that not only were Jim and I paid for the time making repairs, and able to use park tools for the job, but with prior approval the park would also purchase replacement parts. That did mean, however, that the project would not be completed today.

Jim removed the J-shaped pipe under the sink that he called a pee trap (where people’s rings that fall down the drain are hopefully recovered from), and a stench rose as he emptied the clumps of dark slimy gunk into a bucket.

“Nice,” I commented.

“Hungry?” he asked, offering me the bucket.

Unfortunately there was no valuable jewelry hidden in the stinky munk, but this pipe too was corroding on the bottom where all the sludge had been sitting. By now I had quite a list of items to buy.

We cleaned up, wiping off tools and replacing them in the plumbing tool box, using rags and old towels to clean up the muck and throwing them straight into my washing machine and starting a cycle.

We decided to break for lunch, after which I ambled over to the office. Pretty soon Jim came in and we convened around the computer. As he read off numbers from his log, I typed them into the correct day of the month and then tabbed over to the next spot. “Faster,” I said, my fingers hovering impatiently.

We went to the next form, and again I had to encourage him to speed up. He looked up at me, then hastily back to his notes.

One of the reports required a couple paragraphs describing any planned or unplanned activities. He didn’t have notes written up for these. Jim thought a moment, then started speaking. My fingers flew, only a couple times requiring him to repeat himself. He paused, my fingers caught up, then hovered in wait. He was still quiet, and I looked at him sidelong.

His eyes were bugging out, and he blinked them rapidly. I wondered if his eyeballs had gotten stuck in the “open wide” position. His gaze was fixed on my hands.

“Wow, Kjerstin, that’s fast.”

I smiled.

“How fast is that?”

“That I type? Last time I took a typing test it was 80 words a minute. Some people can type a lot faster, but I can move along pretty well.”

“Well, how ‘bout that. I don’t think you really need to go to academy. Next time a camper is causing problems, you’ve already got your weapons.” He grabbed one of my hands and held it up. “Your little wizard fingers, typing on his eyeballs!” He jiggled my hand.

I laughed. “That’s my defense?”

“Right! No need for pepper spray, you’ll just type on someone’s eyeballs!”

“That’s hilarious.”

“Sir, it’s after quiet hours and you’re going to need to keep it down over there. Otherwise I’m going to type on your eyeballs.”

I’d taken typing lessons in seventh grade. As soon as my fingers learned where the keys were, they took over. Thinking about what I was typing, what the words strung together meant, or what letters spelled a word, slowed me down. My fingers knew. They mainlined the data, taking it directly from my eyes or ears and rat-a-tat-tatting onto the keyboard, bypassing any conscious brain activity or interpretation. My brain, however, started an irritating activity that continues to this day.

When I hear a word, when I’m not at a typewriter, I type out the word in my head, looking for a pattern. Equally numbered keystrokes from both the right hand and the left are preferred. Or descending: four-right, three-left, two-right. Or all even: two-right, two-left, four-right. After first learning to type, this brain activity was compulsive and relentless. I would wake from dreams, irritated to find my brain was typing frantically:

Freaky: 4L, 2R
Clown: 1L, 2R, 1L, 1R
Chasing: 1L, 1R, 2L, 2R, 1L
Kjerstin: 2R, 4L, 2R (good pattern!)

Now, three decades later, it’s background chatter. But I still notice delight when my brain types out a good pattern, as if bells are dinging a jackpot win.

So all that mindless brain chatter, and the fast flight of my ten digits, has brought me an unexpected boon: a way to subdue the unruly camper by typing on his eyeballs until he surrenders in pain and fright.

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Saturday, December 20, 2014

RANGERING: March 2006 (3)

Dear Reader: The truth is never an absolute; it is subjective and it changes over time. So I do not claim that any of what I write is the truth. It is only my perception and recollection of events as they happened years ago. In some situations I have changed names and details to protect the privacy of people involved.

NOTE: I will never write about upsetting details without a warning.

The infernal, unrelenting rain. I thought I’d moved to the rain shadow, where the annual rainfall was more like the desert than the rainforest.

Lori’s directions had been casual: “Take the main road through Port Townsend to the dock.” The dock? What dock? What was the cross road? How many miles? What were the landmarks? I was kind of a direction Nazi. Good directions were extremely important to me, both giving and receiving, and nothing was bound to make me crankier than poor – or wrong! – directions. I drove into town and slowed way down. Port Townsend had a cute downtown; Sims Way was lined with local art galleries, funky boutiques, and cafes. Tipping their cap to tourism, it also housed an old 50’s style soda fountain/diner, an ice cream parlor, and a hot dog shack that was closed for the winter. As I drove through intersections I looked down side streets, looking towards the water. At one I saw a viewing platform, but no dock. I kept driving. I passed through the downtown and the street ended at a marina. There were docks here. This seemed as likely a bet as any. I did not see anyone standing around as I pulled into a parking space.

As the minutes ticked by, I became frustrated. Was this even the right place? I should have insisted on clearer directions. Poor directions always strike me as careless and unhelpful, implying, “I don’t care enough about you to make sure you get to where you’re going.” Ten past. Was she the type who typically ran late? Another disrespectful attribute.

My neck was getting sore from swiveling in all directions, looking for someone who might look like she was looking for someone.

15 minutes late. Why hadn’t I asked her to describe herself? In her last email she’d referred to us as “two beautiful women;” she’d seen my photo online but I hadn’t seen hers.

Was it possible there were two docks and I was at the wrong one? Wouldn’t she look at both if that was the case, knowing I was new to town and might pick the wrong one?

20 minutes. I started up the car. I would drive back through town, looking for another dock. And if I didn’t find one, I would figure out then what to do.

So I drove back through the downtown, which was pretty full of cars despite the dreary day, and again looked towards the water at each cross street. This time on one I saw what looked like an old dock at the end of the road. I’d missed it on my way into town. I turned onto the short street and looked for a parking space.

A slender woman of average height, perhaps late 20’s or early 30’s, was standing on the sidewalk under an overhang. She was wearing a fitted suede jacket with fringe on the bottom, tight jeans, and hiking boots. Her hair was short and unkempt, pixyish, red. She had an impish face, enormous green eyes and a snub nose. She was adorable and she was looking right at me.

I pointed a finger at her through the windshield, and she pointed back with a smile.

I pulled into a space and got out. We made our introductions. Lori’s voice was rough and raw, as if she’d smoked too many cigarettes or taken too many bong hits.

We walked across the street to the ice cream parlor where we each ordered a sorbet and a cup of herbal tea.

I told her about my trials finding the right dock. I hoped for an apology. Instead she said with a shrug, “Yeah I drove in today and saw the other dock. I’d never noticed before. But… you found me!”

Aha. The response of a free spirit: if we were meant to find one another, we would. And what was half an hour more or less if it was meant to be?

“So Lori, tell me how you found yourself in Port Townsend?”

“Well, really I don’t live in Port Townsend. I live closer to Sequim.” She laughed, a harsh, barking laugh: Huh. Huh. Huh. I flinched in surprise. 

“I live in a lesbian trailer park.”

“I think I’ve heard of that place! A lesbian couple volunteering at Cape Disappointment was going there to retire.”

“Probably. I don’t think there are too many lesbian trailer parks around here.”

“That’s crazy. I love the idea, though. What’s it like?”

“Well, I’m the young one. Pretty much everyone is in their 60’s and 70’s. Most of the ladies are really sweet. But oooh, can they gossip! Everyone knows what everyone else is doing! I think I provide most of the excitement for a lot of the women.”

Uh oh, what did that mean?

“There’s not much going on around there: bingo night; people complaining about other people’s yard decorations, that kind of thing. I live in a single wide trailer. I love it! It’s tiny, but it’s all the space I need. I don’t spend much time indoors, anyway. I’ve got space for my guitar. And I have some daisies in pots in front. It works!”

She laughed again: “Huh. Huh. Huh.” Surely that wasn’t her real laugh. Her voice was such a contrast to how she looked. She looked like a fresh young pixie, cute, earthy. She sounded like a weathered biker chick.

“OK, then. So what brought you to be living in a lesbian trailer park in Sequim?”

Lori told me about her last relationship. She and Eve had lived in New York City. They had a beautiful apartment. Eve had a demanding, high-powered job in finance. Lori tried different careers: bike messenger, waitress, karaoke bar manager.

They’d had a decadent commitment ceremony on top of a sky rise with two hundred guests, and I was surprised to hear that they made their commitment in front of God.

Eve was an unhappy person, pressured to perform harder and better than her male counterparts and insanely stressed. She was emotionally unstable, warm and loving one moment, and volatile the next.

After being passed up for a promotion she’d been working around the clock for, Eve decided impulsively to quit. They moved to the outskirts of Port Townsend, where they were able to buy a luxurious home. They had a pool. They started collecting art.

“But her emotional cycles just got worse. She would yell at me, and she was always so critical. Everything was my fault. She started getting paranoid. She thought I was stealing things and having an affair. She wanted to know where I was all the time. She’d give me the second-degree every time I wanted to leave, and every time I came home.”

Lori chattered on as if she was describing an outfit she’d just purchased, emotionless and expressionless. “And then she started hanging around this guy. More and more. After a while I knew they were having an affair, and finally she admitted it. But she didn’t know what she wanted, and she asked me to stay. She said it was my fault she was with this guy; that I made her crazy. But finally I couldn’t take anymore. I waited till she was away for the weekend with her boyfriend.”

“Wait, what?”

“Yeah. They’d gotten pretty close.”

“And what, she acted like that was OK?”

“Oh, yeah. Eve was always right. So they were away for a romantic weekend getaway. I packed a bag of clothes, took my guitar and left. Left everything else I owned, everything I’d gotten over the last ten years. I didn’t want anything. I just wanted to escape with my sanity. Huh. Huh. Huh.”

“How long ago did all this happen?”

“Oh, mmm, about half a year ago.”

“And how are things with Eve now?”

“Well, I’m not allowed to call her. In fact she doesn’t want me in that neighborhood anymore.”

“You’re kidding.”

“No. It’s probably better; it would be too weird running into her. I hear she’s pregnant, and she and this guy are getting married.”

I took a deep breath. Let it out. “And what do you think about that? I mean, that’s all rather dramatic.”

“Yeah. She’s crazy. Mostly I’m worried that when she has this kid, she’ll completely go over the edge.”


“But I married her in front of God, and I believe that’s forever. So a few weeks after I left her, I drove up to Hurricane Ridge and hiked in. I was the only one around. I found a big tree, enormous, and wrapped my arms around it and looked up at Heaven. I cried, I mean I was just sobbing. I begged God to release me from my promise. I stayed there a long time and cried and just hung on. And finally I felt something and knew that He released me and that He forgave me.”

“Wow.” I didn’t know what to say. Promises to God, begging for his permission to leave someone who was verbally abusive and cheating, this wasn’t my reality. I felt more than a little uncomfortable.

Our refreshments were consumed, and the pervasive smell of sugar was nauseating. It wasn’t the best weather for sightseeing, but I suggested we walk through the town a little.

We bundled up and went outside, started walking down the sidewalk. Stores offered delightful window displays, creative and crafty and funky. Many of the buildings were brick or sandstone, many quite old. It was charming. Similar in looks to Astoria, though more upscale I decided. The rain and wind kept coming at us, and before long we retreated into a café.

“There seem to be a lot of places to explore in this town,” I said, wrapping my hands around a mug of decaf coffee.

“There are, especially if you have money. Huh. Huh. So when I first started emailing you, you were somewhere else.”

“Cape Disappointment State Park.” Lori and I had “met” through an online lesbian dating site when I was still working there. I told her about being a park aide for over a year, then the park offering their ranger opening to the only other applicant – a young man fresh out of college.

“And so you just happened to move closer to me!”

I had to admit, the coincidence was pretty extraordinary. She had extended a greeting when we lived a considerable distance apart, and now we were neighbors. We seemed to have so much in common: an abiding love of nature, hiking, eating local, organic foods, staying fit. It all felt very “meant to be.” But I had learned to be wary of “meant to be” after a love affair had gone terribly wrong a couple years earlier. Still, wouldn’t it be wonderful if this worked out? How perfect.

“Dosewallips was the only park other that Cape Disappointment that I’d consistently been interested in. I’d visited the park early on, then later arranged a ride-along with the park manager. Nice guy. It’s a beautiful park. I’ve already seen the herd of Roosevelt Elk, bald eagles…”

“I’ve driven by. I have a friend who owns property on the Hood Canal. We go there for weekend parties and eat raw oysters and drink whiskey all weekend long.”

“Sounds great!”

“I’d like to come visit you there.”


“Yeah.” Her huge green eyes sparkled. Her hair was perfect: playful, flirty, up for anything.

“That would be nice. You can come on my day off and we can hike around and explore.” I smiled at her.

“All right.” She smiled back.

Having agreed that we’d like to see each other for a second date, we both grinned privately. I wondered what friend she would call first to describe our date to. Me, I could hardly wait to call Lilly.

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Sunday, December 7, 2014

RANGERING: March 2006 (2)

Dear Reader: The truth is never an absolute; it is subjective and it changes over time. So I do not claim that any of what I write is the truth. It is only my perception and recollection of events as they happened years ago. In some situations I have changed names and details to protect the privacy of people involved.

NOTE: I will never write about upsetting details without a warning.

It was pouring rain and dusk was approaching, but I wanted to stretch my legs and get a better sense of my new surroundings.

I put on my tennis shoes and rain jacket, leashed up Jackie and headed out the front door. A few strides took me into the parking area in front of the park office, and a couple dozen more to the other side and to a trail head. We walked the little bridge across the creek that comes down the hill then runs along both sides of the park entrance road.

It looked like a tropical rainforest: lush, green, and dripping wet. Beautiful western redcedar, douglas fir, big leaf maples and cottonwoods dominated the forest. The generous understory consisted of vine maple, elderberry, and many plants I didn’t know. Closer to the ground was just as plentiful: five kinds of fern (sword, bracken, licorice, deer and maiden hair), several types of edible berries though none were in fruit (both Himalayan and wild blackberry, Pacific and red huckleberry, salmonberry, thimbleberry, fairy bell, salal, and Oregon grape), and moss and lichen blanketing downed trees and limbs. The air was fragrant with the wild, earthy, fertile smell of a living forest, where new springs from old, and death nourishes life. I breathed it in, and then bent down to unleash Jackie. As always I said to her, “OK now be good. You have to come to me when I call you.” She wriggled impatiently, wondering what the hold-up was. As soon as she heard the “snap” that meant freedom, she raced ahead.

I pocketed her leash and hiked taking big strides, swinging my arms. I looked around. I looked up. It was magnificent. I passed an old western redcedar stump, known generally as “cedar,” cut off a good ten feet from the bottom where the tree fans out quickly and creates a far greater challenge for those cutting it down. Out of the stump top a red huckleberry bush grew. I saw a couple notches on the stump, and later learned they were the notches made for springboards: 100 years ago when this forest was logged, boards would be fit into the notches, laying horizontally so a man could stand on them while he and his partner on another springboard would hold either end of a crosscut saw.

I got to a fork in the trail: to the right it sloped downhill; to the left, uphill. I called Jackie and pretty soon she came running towards me from the right hand fork. “Come on girl,” I enthused, and turned left.

The trail came out onto the fire road. I thought for a moment, trying to orient myself. I turned right, continuing uphill. The road was gravel and slick with a mat of leaves, little rivulets running down it. My breath came out in plumes. I picked up my pace, really stretching my legs on the steep uphill. Jackie trotted alongside, then darted ahead, periodically stopping to sniff.

We came to a white metal gate pulled across the road. A sign indicated the end of the park boundary. I’d been told much of the land beyond belonged to a timber company, though Dosewallips had acquired the piece of property further up that was being rehabilitated; and just beyond was the Olympic National Forest, over 600,000 acres of wilderness surrounding the Olympic National Park. I decided this was enough for our first outing. The light was starting to fade, my tennis shoes had soaked through, and I was getting cold. I hollered to Jackie who looked back at me from up ahead, then turned and raced back to me, passed me up, and disappeared around a bend in the road.

The fresh smells and lush beauty were not quite so appealing now that I was feeling underdressed, and the rain poured even harder. I pulled my hood closer around my face and wrapped my arms around my middle. I hunkered down and marched a rhythmic pace downhill, now only paying attention to my footing so I wouldn’t twist an ankle on loose gravel or slip on decomposing leaves.

After a while I lifted my head and looked around for Jackie. She wasn’t in sight, but I was on a curved stretch of road with a steep hillside on the right, and couldn’t see very far in front or behind. I called to her. Not seeing her, I turned around and called the way I’d come. Sometimes on walks if I stayed where I was long enough she would notice I was missing and find her way back to me, the way dogs amazingly can. I continued to holler, and still no Jackie. I started getting irritated. I was cold and wet, and didn’t need trouble from her right now. I decided to backtrack to where I’d last seen her; sometimes she would catch an exciting scent and get so wrapped up in smelling and digging, she would be oblivious to my calls. That or, like a child, she had selective hearing.

I didn’t see her while retracing my steps, though I continued calling her in every direction. She probably was just out of sight, behind a big log with her nose to the ground and her butt in the air, tail wobbling with excitement. Damn dog! I stood where I’d last seen her, reviewing my options. I could return home, going along the path we’d come up on, and trust her to sniff her way back. That had worked before. But we were in a new place, we’d never come this way before today, so nothing would be familiar to her. And I worried that the rain would wash away the scent of our route. And if she simply stayed on the fire road and headed down, she would end up dangerously close to the highway. To top it off, I hadn’t yet updated her dog tag with our address or phone number. If someone found her, they would have no way of knowing where she belonged.

I decided it was too risky to go home and decided to walk back and forth between two points: where I’d last seen her, and where I’d first noticed her missing, and just keep on walking and calling her until she showed up.

Didn’t cougars come out at dusk to hunt? Jackie would be a prime morsel for one. Would I even hear her scream? Would I ever find her remains? Would I have to engage a cougar in order to save her? No question my dog would take on a cougar, having no real sense of her inferior stature and strength.

I pulled off my hood because the crinkling noise muffled sounds I needed to hear: Jackie running, barking, or screaming in distress; or a cougar snarling. Did cougars snarl? Probably. I tried to turtle into my jacket as much as possible, and took turns blowing on each hand to warm up my numb fingers. I looked up at the rain, the incessant, pounding rain, and the impending darkness. I cursed my dog. I cursed myself for being so ill prepared. I didn’t have as much as a pocket knife to defend myself against a cougar. I imagined coming around a bend and seeing one, all sleek and magnificent and terrifying. I would yell at it, unzip my jacket and pull the front open, making myself appear larger (hoping the cougar wouldn’t think that only meant more deliciousness to enjoy). Then I would have to decide. It’s recommended to throw sticks and rocks at them. I know that sounds like it would just piss off a cougar, provoke it, but that’s what the experts recommend. Problem is I’d have to bend down to pick them up, making myself seem smaller. Which would be more effective? Sticks and rocks? Or staying big? I guess I would have to hope for Divine Intervention or Instinct to fill me in on that one.

I continued my march. Downhill, knee joints smashing, tennis shoes squishing, yelling “Jackie” every two steps. Then uphill, thighs burning, toes stubbing, more yelling. All interspersed with the peanut gallery of my thoughts.

“Stupid, stupid dog! Why doesn’t she answer? It’s cold and I want to go home. I’m never letting her off-leash again. I am stupid, so stupid. Why did I let her off leash in a new place, without a new dog tag?”

Now I had to pee. And I was shaking hard from the cold, despite my physical workout. With each jarring step, my bladder protested. My fingers were numb. My toes were numb. My thoughts were numb, except for my mantra of “stupid,” directed equally between me and my dog. I pivoted yet again and started uphill. I started to whimper.

As I came around a corner, I noticed something 200 yards ahead in the middle of the road. I squinted through the dimming light and pounding rain. It was Jackie. Thank goodness! What was she doing just standing there in the middle of the road, looking at me? I hollered to her. And then suddenly she was in motion, running towards me with a wiggle in her hind end. As I waited for her I crouched down, continuing to scan for cougars.

Jackie raced up to me. Her eyes glinted wildly, as if she’d gone half-crazy during her time alone in the forest. Her fur was plastered to her body, saturated through and through. I reached out and calmly took her collar with fingers that could barely feel, and snapped on her leash. I kissed her wet forehead and told her how much I loved her and that I was so glad to see her again, and how she was in so much trouble she’d never be allowed off leash again.

By the time we walked in the front door I was seeing yellow. I unleashed Jackie and sloshed into the bathroom, scraping my pants off my hips and down past my knees. After a long, long pee, I roughly toweled Jackie and cranked up the heat. Then I peeled off my clothes and hopped in the shower, holding my fingers under the hot water for a long time as they went from numb, to feeling like they were burning, to finally warming up. I savored the feelings of an empty bladder, of being warm, of standing under hot water; and of knowing my pup was safe and warm as well.

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Thursday, November 20, 2014

RANGERING: March 2006

Dear Reader: The truth is never an absolute; it is subjective and it changes over time. So I do not claim that any of what I write is the truth. It is only my perception and recollection of events as they happened years ago. In some situations I have changed names and details to protect the privacy of people involved.

NOTE: I will never write about upsetting details without a warning.

During my second week as a park ranger, a film crew arrived to work on a project for Jefferson Land Trust, a non-profit agency we’re working with alongside the county to restore habitat in and around the park. We’ve acquired some riverfront property that used to be privately owned. Portions of it had been clear-cut for development. Since this area is part of the local elk herd’s diminishing territory, the buildings have been cleared away and now we are reforesting and re-vegetating. It’s pretty cool to be protectors of this land, and to give some of it back to the animals that have been encroached upon. At most, the park will build a trail through this property; it will not be used for campsites. So the film crew’s assignment is to make an educational piece that will be used to raise funds to help with the restoration project and possibly to fund additional land acquisition.

Photo courtesy of Jefferson Land Trust

They interviewed me, but I was so green I didn’t expect to be on the final piece (and I wasn’t). It was great watching my boss in his element. He was so articulate and eloquent as he talked about the area’s history, its natural resources, and the importance of this project.

The film can be seen here:

In many ways this park has an environmental focus. Because of threatened wild salmon and elk, both water and forest ecosystems are being protected. Collaborations among various government, environmental, and tribal groups reach agreement about the best way to restore the area to health. Portions of the park are closed during the winter because the river typically floods its banks; and allowing it to enriches the soil with nutrients from the brackish water. Pesticides and fertilizers are not used, and gas-powered equipment like chainsaws are prohibited close to the water. When funds allow, park equipment is run on bio-diesel. Awareness is high, and we are always asking ourselves how the park can be a better steward of the natural resources in its care.

As the weekend approached, we had a dozen groups of campers in the park – the most since I’d arrived. Doug told me that a part of my evening duties is to walk around the campground to answer questions, inform campers if they are breaking rules, and get a sense of possible trouble spots later on (e.g. sites that are engaging in heavy drinking or are too noisy). So I did my first foot patrol smelling the fresh evening air perfumed with campfires and saw stars appear as the daylight waned. I felt at home and very fortunate.

I took an all-day class on CPR including use of the AED (heart defibrillator). I learned that unlike the defibrillators used in ambulances and hospitals, most AEDs do not send shocks to restart a stopped heart. They only respond to one condition – a heart that is spasming uncontrollably, and the shock is designed to stop the beat altogether, so that the heart can restart itself correctly. The AED is designed to test for this condition, and will only deliver a shock if it finds it. So “accidents” involving shocking your coworker’s heart aren’t possible. Good to know.

During my 14 months at Cape Disappointment, I frequently begged (in vain) to be taught to drive the tractor. At Dosewallips I’ve had no less than three opportunities to use the tractor. I’ve scooped up and distributed piles of woodchips, moved rocks, compressed a burn pile, and mowed lawns with our enormous mowing attachment. I can’t help it; anytime I’m sitting on that tractor, I have a grin stretching nearly to my ears.

But my favorite activity so far took me out of the park altogether. We took a field trip to the NW Raptor Center in Sequim. The proprietor Jaye has a long history of advocating for wild animals and opening her home to injured and displaced ones. She has turned her property into a nonprofit rehabilitation center. The animals in her care are released to the wild if at all possible; other times released to a humane zoo; and in some cases the animals stay with her for the rest of their days. Most of them have come to her because of horrific circumstances, almost all the result of human cruelty and ignorance.

To my delight two seven-month-old bobcats mauled me. They were like gigantic kittens, enthusiastically climbing up my pant legs, sneaking under my jacket, licking my hands and face, and resting atop my head. Where one was, the other was close to follow. The experience was intense; kittens on crack. I felt enormously privileged, but very aware of how exhausting it must be to be their caretakers. These ones have never lived in the wild so cannot go back to it, though as they age they will become increasingly dangerous and ultimately will not be allowed to play with visitors. My second favorite new friend was Wiley the coyote who also had no experience in the wild and in fact thought himself a dog. He was also very enthusiastic, and at one point I had him on his back with his legs gleefully kicking up in the air while I scratched his belly. Such a strange thing to interact with creatures that are wild, look wild, but don’t quite act it. The Center had dozens of different species: squirrels, raccoons, ducks, bald eagles and golden eagles, ravens, bard owls and barn owls, rabbits, a lynx and a cougar, and many more. I told my boss Doug that I was leaving my new job at the park to help out with the bobcats!

Doug has spent a great deal of time talking to me about issues in the park, issues for rangers to be aware of and learn: how to fix plumbing problems; what all the lights, sirens and buttons do in the law enforcement vehicle; how to respond to difficult choices; how to deal with troublesome campers; what to do in a medical or law enforcement emergency; to always be prepared for traumatic situations. He has continued doing this, and now also gives me verbal pop quizzes. He is proving to be a thoughtful and deliberate mentor. He wants me to be the best ranger I can be both for my own personal gains, as well as to benefit the park; and he wants to help me get there.

Not that long ago I was despairing not being invited to join the rangers at Cape D. Now I can’t imagine finding a better fit. Who knows how long I will enjoy being a ranger. But so far I love it. It fits like a worn-out flannel shirt. And I know that I could continue to learn new things here for a great many years. All of the effort, time, anxiety, and uncertainty were so very worth it.

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Saturday, October 11, 2014

Life Simply Is...

Dear Reader: I write to better understand my experiences of life; I share with the hope that my words will touch something inside you, because we all walk through life with love and loss, joy and sorrow, hope and despair, faith and uncertainty.

NOTE: I will never write about upsetting details without a warning.

On Saturday we gathered to celebrate my cousin Shantel’s marriage to Wes. Shantel is my youngest cousin on my dad’s side, the last one to marry. There was a time during our childhood when I hung out with her a lot, the big cousin and the little cousin, teaching her to write letters and numbers and doing lots of craft projects together. Shantel holds a special place in my heart, even though we rarely see each other. She met Wes when she moved to Tennessee for a job several years ago, and this was the first time I’d met him. He was cheerful and friendly, and made a deliberate effort to connect with the non-Christian side of the family. I liked him and appreciated the effort he made. I’m happy that Shantel has found someone to share her life with. Of course I don’t know, likely will never know, what he is like every day; I can only hope that he treats her with kindness and a warm heart.

Sunday marked one year since my 18 year old niece Simone died. Simone had been an avid cupcake baker, so her mom Lauren invited all her friends and family to mark the anniversary by gathering to share cupcakes. I never considered not going, but that morning I wondered if I could simply stay in bed until the day had come and gone.

A lot of people came to see Lauren; to acknowledge the passing of their friend, niece, cousin, granddaughter; to acknowledge the passing of time. Dozens and dozens of cupcakes lined the tables: some elaborately artistic, others in gourmet flavors. I self-medicated with caffeine and sugar, gave hugs all around, and didn’t even try to put words to my jumbled feelings.

That evening I got a message from my son’s fiancĂ© Selena; her sister had just given birth to a baby boy. When I shared the news, Lauren suggested we call him Cupcake.

I have found myself atypically unable to articulate my feelings a year after Simone’s death. It seems surreal that it happened at all; hard to recall the three weeks of horrible news layered on horrible news; impossible that it happened so quickly. It is so senseless for a person on the cusp of adulthood to have their journey brought to an abrupt end; tragic to pour oneself into parenting a child for eighteen years only to have their life then ripped away.

I have no ambiguity about there being a higher purpose or plan; there is none. There is no benevolent force in the world that would make a choice like this. This isn’t a debate I have; I feel neither betrayed nor angry, I feel certain. I feel certain as well that two people meeting each other and falling in love, or the birth of a baby, are not signs of divinity.

The world, Life, is wild. It is wild and unpredictable. Magnificent and splendid things happen, as well as horrific things. We are a part of the wild, natural world, whether we want to accept it or not. There is no need to search for complicated explanations for the mysteries. In truth, the answer is very simple:

Life Simply Is.

I would like to introduce my new blog which will be dedicated to the new adventure I’m about to embark on, living in my travel trailer on the NW California Coast.

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Saturday, September 20, 2014

RANGERING: February 2006

Dear Reader: The truth is never an absolute; it is subjective and it changes over time. So I do not claim that any of what I write is the truth. It is only my perception and recollection of events as they happened years ago. In some situations I have changed names and details to protect the privacy of people involved.

NOTE: I will never write about upsetting details without a warning.

The evening before my first day as a park ranger, our senior park aide Bertie invited me to $2 tacos at the Geoduck Restaurant and Lounge.

The geoduck (pronounced gooey duck) is a clam that grows so large it cannot fully retract its body back into its shell. These gigantic clams are really quite obscene looking, but cut into bite-sized pieces and grilled or fried have a delicious shellfish flavor.

For a good video on harvesting the geoduck filmed at Dosewallips State Park, go to: Or to see how geoducks are raised at a farm watch this:

When I arrived Bertie was there with her friends, and I was surrounded by a small group of friendly young adults. The mom of one of Bertie’s friends coordinates women’s outdoor activities such as wilderness first aid and fly-fishing, and I was excited to meet her. She holds some of her activities at the park. The $2 tacos actually cost $3, and their quality was as expected. The restaurant was a large room with a u-shaped bar taking up nearly half of it, a pool table and foosball table, and several mounted elk and deer heads – one of which talked to you when you walked by. The proprietor joked with her customers at the bar, and was all business with me. The Geoduck was nothing fancy, but it offered an incredible view overlooking the Hood Canal. 

Our park manager Glenn was going to be away my entire first week, attending in-service, the annual law enforcement training for park rangers. Apparently in-service takes place on three consecutive weeks, so that every park ranger can attend without emptying the parks of all the rangers at the same time.

On my first day of work Ranger Jim and park aide Bertie were working with me. Because it was winter, we were all scheduled to work four consecutive ten-hour days; as spring approached we would switch to five eight-hour days. Each of we three rangers would have different days off. Ranger Jim took a bite of cookie and wiped crumbs off his greasy cargo pants.

“Let’s go see how the trail’s coming along.” The Washington Trails Association is a volunteer organization that helps build and maintain trails around the state. They were starting a trail reroute and a new bridge. The Maple Valley Trail was a sodden mess. Suddenly Jim veered off the trail and into the dense underbrush of salal, huckleberry and ferns, followed by an agile Bertie and a less-than-agile me. Jim and Bertie’s long legs had no problem cresting fallen trees, but I got stuck on a few and had to scooch across their mossy tops and down the other side. I could feel the moisture seep into my crotch. Jim and Bertie joked and horsed around casually.

Jim took us to a view that the reroute would capture: the creek cascading merrily through moss-covered rocks and over fallen trees. I understood the inspiration for all the hard work: it was idyllic. The new bridge was just being started, and despite the small size of the creek, the bridge looked to be a major undertaking. Jim said that all the wood they were using came from fallen trees and limbs. I felt both exhausted and refreshed as we made our way back, pulling twigs and pieces of lichen out of my hair and wiping mud and moss off my trousers. My crisp brand-new uniform was initiated before my first day was over.

On my second day Bertie and I drove to Parks headquarters in Olympia. She took the wheel of our old stick shift one-ton pickup and asked me a barrage of “getting to know you” questions: “What’s your favorite color? What food do you hate the most? Tell me about an embarrassing moment. What kind of music do you like?” I appreciated her friendliness, while reflecting on her youthfulness. I understood she was college bound in a year, and I wondered how her questions might change after a bit of college under her belt.

Soon after arriving at headquarters Bertie saw someone she knew, and launched into a very animated discussion about this woman’s recent trip to Dosewallips and some land-use planning activities that were being developed. I felt cloddish; Bertie did not introduce me, and not knowing where to go I waited until they finished.

Geri was in charge of ranger uniforms and equipment. I was able to try on shirts and pants and came away with several new pairs, two ball caps, and a jacket with removable lining. I was delighted to get trapper hat like Margo wore in the movie Fargo; it makes me feel very rangerly.

I asked Geri where I could find Will, the guy in charge of law enforcement for the agency; I needed to give him my completed application for law enforcement academy. She pointed to his office door and told me he was having lunch with his son. I knocked, entered when called to, and stopped short as I noticed two things: a toddler on a chair being spoon-fed, and a teenage Matthew Broderick decked out in jeans, t-shirt and beat-up tennis shoes feeding the toddler.

I was confused. Where was Will? Surely this teenager was his son. But then who was the toddler? I was about to say, “I think I’m looking for your dad.” Instead I said, “I’m looking for Will.”

“That’s me.”

OK, now I was even more confused. This kid was 19. How could he possibly be old enough to be in charge of law enforcement or anything else other than pep rallies at high school? I hesitated, I’m sure a stupid grin on my face.

Will said sharply, “What can I help you with?”

Shaking aside my disbelief I offered my academy application. After our quick exchange I found Will to be both impatient and quite articulate.

“Shut the door on your way out.”

I shut the door and leaned against it, catching my breath. Wow, that was a major fuck-up. I wonder if he had any idea what my confusion was about, or if I just appeared to be a slack-jawed idiot.

When Bertie and I finished all of our tasks we drove the short distance to our region headquarters, also in Olympia, to pick up a flatbed trailer to bring back with us. Bertie was familiar with the two fellows who helped track down the trailer and fill the tires with air, and she seemed confident and comfortable. Again she was very chatty and animated; again she didn’t introduce me. I extended my hand and introduced myself and received warm congratulations. Still, I was getting a bit weary of her exaggerated show of competence.

On the drive back, as a vehicle passed us the passenger reached an arm out the window and pointed behind us. Then a second vehicle passed, this time getting in front of us and flashing its hazards. I looked back both times, but it was getting dark and I couldn’t see anything. After the third car that signaled was particularly frantic, we pulled over. Somehow the cotter pins holding the ramp up had fallen out, and the grated metal ramp was dragging and bouncing on the road – undoubtedly creating a lot of sparks. I was tired and out of my element. After a search through the pickup, Bertie pushed long nails through the ramp holes and bent them back over on themselves with a set of pliers. I wouldn’t have thought of that.

My third day of work was the start of both Jim and Bertie’s days off, so I was the only person on shift. I closed the front door to my house and walked the two dozen steps to the park office to see if there were any notes from Jim: none. I decided to do a quick patrol of the park, something Glenn had told me was always a good way to start my shift.

Just ¼ mile down the highway from the park was a meadow and access to the shellfishing beach. There I had my first sighting of the local elk herd. I counted over 40 of them casually grazing. They were massive creatures, regal and magnificent.

The Roosevelt Elk were named after President Theodore Roosevelt. Their native name is wapiti, which means white rump. 

A large and proud buck stood slightly apart from the herd of females and juveniles, keeping watch. With some silent communication other heads lifted from their grazing and turned to look at me, continuing to chew. With the exception of the buck, all those distinct white elk butts faced me, with heads looking back over their shoulders. Was that a coincidence?

That night after work I heard the wind pick up. Glenn called me at home.

“Gould, NOAA has issued an extremely high wind warning. So what I need you to do is close the park.”

“Close the park?” How would that work, exactly?

“Right. Close the park, we can’t let any new campers in. What I’m worried about is the threat of falling trees. We only have a few campers at the park now, right? It would be irresponsible to put them out on the road in this weather. So I need you to move all the current campers to new sites away from the trees.”

“OK. Like camping sites that aren’t near any trees? That might be a little tricky.”

“Doesn’t have to be camping sites. Anywhere. Maybe under the bridge, or in the group campsite. Fran will help you. Give me a call if you need me, but I have confidence in you Gould.”

I put on my lined ranger coat over my sweats and patted my new trapper hat into place, and walked over to where our volunteer camp host Fran had her RV. It was getting wild, little gusts pushing and pulling me suddenly. Fran was already in action, overseeing our half dozen campers unhook their RVs. One fellow was jump starting Fran’s old motor home, which had been parked in place for quite some time – by special arrangement longer than the usual three-month limit for volunteers. We relocated two to under the highway bridge, and the remaining four pulled into the middle of the large, grassy part of our large group campsite. 

As instructed I pulled one side of our entrance gate closed, locking it into place. It had a large "STOP" sign facing anyone coming into the park, but we couldn't close both sides of the gate in case an emergency compelled anyone to come or go.

Before going to bed that night I took Jackie on a final walk to make sure that our campers were all settled in: I grabbed my radio, having agreed with camp host Fran that we would both keep ours on during the night in case anything else came up. I let Jackie meander, both of us savoring the darkness and the howling wind.

When we got back from our walk my radio was gone. Damn!

The next morning as soon as the sun came up I set about trying to retrace my footsteps. Everything was soaking wet, and branches were strewn about everywhere. It wasn’t easy, not yet being familiar with the park, and having lost it after dark. But as I looked around I would remember the next jaunt in our walk, and the next. Then I remembered tripping on the edge of a fire pit. Eagerly I looked, and found my radio just beyond the pit; it had probably been jostled out of my pocket. Thank goodness it still worked after a night in the elements.

On my fourth day I was working alone again. The park remained closed except for the folks already there. Some campers decided to head out, only to find their RVs stuck in the muddy soup of the group campsite. They said they just wanted to get home. A local fellow with a massive pickup truck and a winch rescued them, and they were on their way. Several trees had come down, though none where our campers had been.

Power was out all day, so I brought my kerosene lamp to the office for light and some warmth. Then I heard a thunderous sound and stepped outside the office in time to watch an alder crash down across the creek. It was a cold, wet day.

Day five was spent doing errands, primarily shopping for necessities for my house – outlet covers, door mats, shower curtains. It was a benefit of living in park housing that some household tasks were also considered work tasks; and some house expenses work expenses. I could get used to this.

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