Friday, April 11, 2014


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 many years ago. In some situations I have changed names and details to protect the privacy of people involved, but I do my best to maintain the underlying substance of events and their impact on me.

Two weeks before the park ranger fitness test, I got the news that my Gramma Gould had suffered a massive stroke. Soon it was realized that her body would not recover, and my dad and aunt made the painful decision to remove medical interventions and allow her to die.

I took two trips to Portland, the first hoping to see my Gramma before she passed (she died early on the morning I left, long before I got there), then again for her funeral. Most difficult is seeing how hard this is on my dad, how extremely well he is holding up, and wondering at what cost to his health.

It’s impossible not to reflect on death and dying: her death is a startling reminder that nothing is permanent, that eventually we will lose everyone dear to us, and ultimately we will lose our own lives here on this planet.

Weddle Bridge, Sweet Home OR
Our whole family including all my siblings and my son Chris drove from Portland south to Sweet Home, my dad’s hometown. Only pieces here and there are familiar to me from the handful of years my family lived here during my early adolescence. The service at the Evangelical church seemed to honor Jesus more than Gramma; and there haven’t been any opportunities to express grief beyond politely dabbing one’s eyes; and it saddens me that I don’t recognize many of the relatives who know me.

But it is comforting being among relatives like my cousins who, even though I am not an active part of their lives, are family. It is so nice having my son Chris here, and a gathering of all us siblings is a rare event anymore.

After the service my dad led our family on a stroll – he is like the pied piper, with all of us strung out in a line behind him – to the house he was raised in. The day is beautiful, warm and sunny. Probably he’s shown me that house before, but I don’t recall.

Being in training and so close to the test I have avoided alcohol (though it beckons me) and the multitudes of desserts, and I’ve managed to fit in my fitness regime.

On the long drive back home, just two days before the long drive north for my fitness test, I am grateful to be able to focus my energy and attention on the upcoming test.

I have been using my weekends to see what types of morning nourishment most help my performance: complex carbs, simple sugars, protein, or a combination thereof. I am confident in my training and preparations, although unfortunately my adrenaline kicked in at bedtime last night and I hardly slept at all. I awoke nervous, energized, and shaking. The shaking didn’t stop until our third event.
Capitol Lake, Olympia WA

We met at a school campus in Olympia, Washington; there were about 20 of us. Two men, both rangers from Washington State Parks were there to test us. They were extremely upbeat and encouraging. Most hopefuls were men in their 20’s or early 30’s, though there were two other women (one of whom arrived on a Harley) and a fellow in his 50’s named Ivan who is friendly and pleasant, has a wiry runners build, and claims he hasn’t trained at all for the run. And there’s a park ranger with Oregon State Parks named Russ, who hopes to become a ranger for Washington State.

We started with sit-ups. I jammed, meeting the requirement in just over half the time allowed. I felt confident about my pushups: my typical method was 10 in a row, pause for a couple extra breaths, then the remaining 10 with one or two more pauses. At my first pause everyone started cheering me on, concerned perhaps that I was reaching my limit. I completed them comfortably. I was surprised to make the 15” vertical jump on the first try, the one activity I’d practiced the least. Jumping, I’d found out, is a learned skill. If you jump a lot for example playing basketball, you will naturally become better at it.

I stepped on a scale to show my weight, and the bar was adjusted to 70% of my body weight. Not often having a spotter, most of my practice was on a machine which held the bar at a constant horizontal plane. As I started pushing up the bar tipped to the right; I managed to get back under it and push the bar up over my head.

Then we all walked outside to the track.

“Do you think Washington is a better state to work for than Oregon?” I asked Russ.

“Heck yeah,” he replied. He was an affable, jovial guy. I wanted to ask him more.

I ran one-and-a-half miles at my usual comfortable pace, 2 minutes under the 15 minute limit. Our final event was the 300 meter run. It was tempting to try to keep up with the three men I was grouped with. But I knew how to run it, so I stuck to my practice pace for the first two-thirds, then ran full out for the final third. I beat my own time by almost 10 seconds, completing the run in 58 seconds (72 allowed).

And just like that it was over. I felt very satisfied and proud of what I’ve been training for the past half year. I did not feel celebratory; it was more of a quiet, private sense of accomplishment.

After a snack break and a quick phone call to tell my parents I had passed the physical exam (to which they let out a “whoop” in unison), we filed into a classroom and sat down for more than three hours of various written psychological tests. I turned in my test papers and I started the long drive back home.

It will be close to a month before I hear if I passed the written psychological exam. If so I will be invited back up north for a two or three-day session involving the polygraph, oral psychological interview, medical exam, and drug tests. After that it will take another month for them to complete the scoring and rank me along with the other applicants. At that point I will start getting calls to interview at parks with ranger openings.

I know it’s still possible that I will be disqualified on any of those tests, however I don’t think it’s likely. And I find it reassuring to know that there isn’t anything I can do about it. I am who I am, I have the past that I do, and I have been completely honest about all of it. Only they get to decide if I am the type of person they want to be a gun-carrying ranger.
Willapa National Wildlife Refuge

I had to get up for work the next day which was hard – my body was weary! But then I have a free weekend. I plan to thoroughly clean my neglected abode, start work on my garden (so it’s late, so what!), and go on a hike and soak up some sun in the Willapa Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Life is fleeting. But life is good.

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