Monday, May 26, 2014

RANGERING: January 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 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.

NOTE: I will never write about upsetting details without a warning.
  
As 2005 nears an end and I approach my 40th birthday, I find myself ready to take the next big step in my life – becoming a park ranger. While this was the single biggest focus of my efforts this past year, my path was far more convoluted than I anticipated, and the end result looks far different than the picture I’d created in my mind…


After being passed over for the ranger opening at Cape Disappointment I struggled with feelings that I’d wasted my time and efforts over the past year. But the manager at Dosewallips State Park noticed and appreciated my determination and persistence at Cape D., and these things led to their job offer. He has consistently given me the positive feedback and acknowledgement that I longed for at Cape D.

It feels like the right time to leave the Lower Columbia. I will miss the ocean, the discoveries about the infinite patterns that sand can hold, created by combinations of wind, water, insects, and pieces of dried dune grasses and other vegetation. One of my favorites was endless terraces and plateaus, all in miniature, all geometrically designed with straight edges. I will miss seeing my dog chase after foam churned up after a hard storm, skittering across the sand; or excitedly digging after a rogue scent of stinking crustacean flesh.

I am truly grateful for the friendships I found both in Astoria and on the Peninsula. I will be sad to leave them, and the many other people who touched my life. During this past year I relied heavily on my old friends Paul & Lilly for emotional support and their more objective perspective on my struggles. They have known me long enough, and been through enough with me to be well acquainted with my failings. My interactions with my mom have transformed into much deeper sharing. She too gave me tons of support and counsel.



But I look forward to settling into my new home, sandwiched between the Olympic National Forest and the Hood Canal. And since my daily commute consists of stepping out my front door, I will surely be ready to drive for a mere hour on my weekends to explore any number of cultural Meccas including Port Townsend and Olympia.

Major discovery: turning 40 has no limits, but only more interesting opportunities. I have much to celebrate, and much to be grateful for.



This Saturday the 14th will be my last night here on the Long Beach Peninsula. For the past week I’ve had a bad cold with fever that has all but kept me from packing and otherwise preparing to move my life. What it has allowed is time to ponder, and for ideas to bubble up to the surface. One is the desire to somehow mark this transition that is upon me.

This time of particular transience and impermanence is over. I am grateful for the friends and family who’ve stood by me, and the new friends I’ve made, and for the many opportunities I’ve been given. And I grieve for the hopes that did not come to fruition, of which I’m ready to let go. I have achieved the goals I have worked so hard for during this vision quest. I am ready for the next chapter in my life, and I walk towards it with excitement and anticipation.



Between the two I stand – my Past and my Future. Being sick has forced me to go inward, even keeping silent for several days when my voice completely left me, and keeping to myself. As my mom said, this is my “still point,” a time of inactivity between ebb and flow, between past and future, a time of making ready before the transition.

Because of my transience (and my good fortune of having special friends all over the world), it is not possible for me to gather together the people I would most want to celebrate with. So instead, on my last night at the ocean I will have a solo ritual to help integrate all that has transpired, and all that is to come. I will light a candle, ponder the many lessons I’ve learned during the past two years, and call on the strengths that will serve me in the challenges to come. In this way I will honor the significance of the crossing that I’m about to make. 





Dear Reader, please consider posting your comments and questions below. I would love to hear from you! Please let your friends know about my blog. And thank you for visiting!

Friday, May 23, 2014

RANGERING: December 2005


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.

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

Next Tuesday I will interview for a ranger position at Dosewallips State Park, west of Seattle on the other side of the waters of Puget Sound and the Hood Canal, in the eastern foothills of the Olympic National Park. It’s a bit further from Portland than I’d like, and my nearest community of Port Townsend appears to be about 45 minutes away from Dosewallip’s neighboring town of Brinnon, population 100 within the town proper. Dosewallips is a 3-ranger park, so there would definitely be social limitations.

Mt. Constance viewed from Dosewallips River
On the other hand it’s an extraordinarily beautiful park in the middle of exceptionally beautiful land. Orcas make their home in the Hood Canal, and Dose” (pronounced Dosee) is doing some environmental restoration geared at protecting three types of wild salmon that I could really get into. The manager of Dosewallips, Glenn, seems like a great guy. I met him half a year ago for a ride-along and got an education in the environmental and wildlife issues facing Dosewallips. What I saw and have heard about him create a picture of a man who is respectful and considerate, open-minded, flexible, yet not afraid to say unpopular things.

Thinking of the primary areas of responsibility for Washington State park rangers, Glenn will probably want to know four types of things. For law enforcement, how do I deal with stressful situations; for resource interpretation, how am I at establishing rapport with the public and do I have experience giving presentations; for administrative tasks am I good with computers; and for maintenance, am I handy with tools or at least comfortable getting dirty and figuring things out. Oh wait, there’s one more important park ranger responsibility: what’s my attitude about cleaning restrooms? If any scuttlebutt has traveled from Cape D., he may want to hear what I say about getting along with people.



I added an hour to the recommended three to drive the back route from Astoria to Brinnon. But it was cold and the less travelled, early morning roads were hazy with ice. I gripped the wheel hard and drove like a granny. Jackie was curled up next to me as she so often is on car trips. I pulled over at a gas station in Hoodsport to say I was getting close and apologized profusely for being late.

When I arrived I was cheerily hustled into the park office/maintenance shop. The first room we entered has a high counter littered with a radio charger, a stack of in boxes, books and papers. Behind that was Ranger Jim’s desk cluttered with little wood model airplanes and cars, and a bulletin board above his desk showed photos of Jim, a woman, and two boys at various ages of growing up engaged in outdoor activities, mechanics, and Boy Scouts. Ranger Glenn’s small office off to one side was crammed full with paperwork and interesting metal and wooden pieces – remnants of the old steam donkey engines that hauled the beautiful old growth western redcedars off the mountainsides a hundred years ago he explained. There was a refrigerator in the corner and a small sink. Jim cleaned out a delicate coffee mug, inspected it carefully, and filled it with coffee, handing it to me. They escorted me into the next room which was also floored with concrete. Smells of gasoline and other solvents permeated. Painted wooden lockers lined one wall, some with stained and disheveled rain gear and Carhartts hanging from them. A workbench was on the facing wall with several projects apparently going on, based on the number of tools, types of materials and hardware strewn about. The floor was covered in wood shavings, wood curlicues, and metal shavings – all except a small swath near the door we’d just entered, surrounded by four folding metal chairs. They seated me in the one closest to a wood burning stove that was pouring out blessed heat.

I was introduced to the town’s Fire Chief, Hank. He was a sturdy man wearing his official uniform which included a starched, brilliant white shirt and a very stern demeanor. Glenn and Jim seemed content to banter, have a lovely chat sitting by the wood stove sipping strong coffee. When it was his turn, Hank asked me why I was the right candidate for the job.

“Well, this has been something I’ve been working really hard for. Dosewallips has a great deal to offer and this could be an exciting place to work…” My thought had been to explain how if I was excited about the job, they would only stand to benefit.

Hank cut me off. “I can understand why you might want the job. I want you to tell us why we might want you.” No smile, just a hint of impatience.

I sat up a little straighter, set down my coffee, friendly chat clearly over. Perhaps Hank had been brought in by Glenn and Jim for this very purpose, to provide them with the hard line questioning they struggled with. Now the interview started in earnest.



Bald eagle taking flight
After the interview concluded, Hank shook my hand and left. Jim went back to work; I decided I really liked him. Glenn took me to the ranger house that went along with this job, right smack next to the park office. It was a standard 1970’s ranger house: basic brown, stick-built, rambling one-story. It had three bedrooms and two bathrooms and a good sized, fenced backyard. There was this crazy handmade statue shaped like an amorphous humanoid (made with a concrete mold by a former ranger resident) that Glenn found embarrassing, but I though was awesome! The house of course was far more than I needed, but the yard would be wonderful! It had a red huckleberry bush, and along one side a wealth of Himalayan blackberries (which are invasive, but no less delicious for that!).



On the drive home my thoughts led me in an inevitable direction.

Dosewallips is surrounded by redneck country, and the nearest culture is too far away to meet friends after work for a cup of coffee or a beer. The two other rangers have families, but I would be there alone. I would feel isolated at a time when I need desperately to create community. And why would I move somewhere that could never feel like home? So many things about Dosewallips are just right. Butnot quite.

I could make more money doing work that is more traditional. I should just move to Olympia where I can settle down, and find a well-paying government job that won’t tax my body. I went to sleep having made my decision.



The next day a question popped into my head. How could it be, after being absolutely sure that becoming a ranger was what I wanted to do, that I was ready to throw it all away? Was it possible that I was telling myself stories to keep from taking on the challenge of a radically different type of job? Convincing myself to take a safe, comfortable, familiar job because perhaps I was afraid? I wasn’t sure what the answer was, but it seemed that before turning my back on becoming a ranger, I needed to take a hard look at my reasons for turning it down and ask myself once again what I want at this time in my life.

Because really, if I go back to office work it’s unlikely that I will ever again try something like this. I’m turning 40 in a couple of weeks, and I may not again convince myself that my body is up for this kind of challenge. If I set aside my fear, what is my one hesitation? The remoteness of Dosewallips. But in truth, Port Townsend is about 45 minutes away and Olympia is an hour away. Day trips would work fine on my days off. And both are communities that I’ve wanted to explore as possible places to settle down. Working at Dose I would in fact be ideally situated to explore both communities and even to start building community – to help decide which, if either, place to move to if and when the time comes to leave Dosewallips.

In less than 24 hours I went from being sure that I would not accept a job offer from Dosewallips and that I was closing the door on rangering, to realizing that becoming a park ranger at Dosewallips is the best possible thing to do right now.

Dosewallips mud flats leading into the Hood Canal

My start date is February 1. I can start moving my stuff into my new house anytime. I’m thrilled. And scared. And ready to take on the challenge of my life. I’m going to be a park ranger! 




Dear Reader, please consider posting your comments and questions below. I would love to hear from you! Please let your friends know about my blog. And thank you for visiting!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Humility


Dear Reader: I write to better understand my experiences of life; I share with the hope that my words will touch something inside you, and together we will remember that 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.

I find a kind of grace in looking for an unmet need and meeting it. There is a right-ness to this kind of task, regardless of how humble, regardless of whether it is noticed.


Many years ago I managed a volunteer program. Several days a week I supervised a group of volunteers whose job required that they be outside in all kinds of weather for several hours. They referred to me as Grand PooBah and bowed down to me, called me Queen of All, things like that. But one of my greatest pleasures was in fetching hot coffee for them; and I referred to it that way, fetching coffee, a task traditionally assigned to women in subservient administrative roles.

When I started another job, also management level, I looked around to see where there was a need – not in my department, but in the office in general. I noticed that some anonymous person always washed the dirty mugs and dishes we all left behind in the sink, and stacked them up in the dish drainer – where they stacked higher and higher until they would topple over. Finding my unmet need, in the mornings when I arrived I started to take the dishes from the drainer and put them away in the cupboard above. Just as quietly and unceremoniously as the mystery dishwasher, I found a way to serve. It was a modest and simple task, but it served a need and it made me happy.

During my fourteen months spent as a park aide earning minimum wage for the State of Washington, the mainstay of my job was cleaning restrooms. Since that was my job, I decided to do it very well. I cleaned places that no one else did: I made the toilet bowl and sink undersides sparkle; I scoured the built up scum in the sinks and on the walls under the hand dryers. I noticed the difference when I hadn’t been working for a couple of days; the restrooms no longer gleamed. I knew that campers would not necessarily notice, but that was ok. I was still making their camping experience better. And that made me feel better.

Later as a park ranger I felt proud to wear the badge and iconic flat hat. I carried the responsibility of my firearm and law enforcement authority with gravity. And I delighted at opportunities to engage children in the wonders of the natural world. But through it all, the task I found most satisfying - in its simple, meditative, modesty - was “litter patrol.” I did not always have time to stop and pick up cigarette butts, chicken bones, gum, gum wrappers, and the amazing array of objects that people think belong on the ground; but when I did I always felt satisfaction at returning pieces of the park back to nature.
  
My neighbor two doors down died a few weeks ago. Friends have been leaving bouquets and potted flowers on her doorstep. Her parents live out of state, and have not yet come to claim her belongings and empty out her apartment. It has been quite windy recently, and one evening I came home from work to find a big vase toppled, the water spilled out of it, and flowers scattered and dying. I couldn’t bear the thought of her friends coming to leave more flowers, and eventually her parents, and seeing this neglected and withering shrine. I got some scissors and a pitcher of fresh water, and sat down on her porch. Slowly, mindfully, I trimmed off wilted flower heads and reassembled a fresh bouquet, then set it up inside a small stand that would prevent it from tipping again. Every few days I go and freshen up the water, clean up the bouquet and any new flowers. Her friends and parents won’t ever know that someone did this; they probably won’t even think about it. And that’s ok. I just want to make sure they don’t wonder why her neighbors cared so little that they let the bouquets scatter and decay.

I’ve been writing my blog for nearly a year now. Through my writing I feel the same sense of satisfaction I have felt from the tasks above – it has a right-ness to it. In this case the need is in me, but when I hear from readers that my words echo feelings they have, I am deeply gratified. This gratification is juxtaposed with my unglamorous temporary job, which I often can’t even manage to go to because I just can’t face the world. My ego withers under what I perceive as the judgmental stares of my coworkers who also work unglamorous jobs, but who manage to get to work every day. And while my blog does not offer glory, it does make me feel proud. It is mine, it is born from me, it is my way of turning my confusion and love and pain and passion and fright and joy into something tangible, something I can share with you.

The unmet need was my feelings of isolation needing to be expressed. Meeting that need through my writing in itself has been satisfying. To discover in the process that I am not alone, I am with all of you, we are all here living this life together, has changed everything.



Dear Reader, please consider posting your comments and questions below. I would love to hear from you! Please let your friends know about my blog. And thank you for visiting!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

RANGERING: November 2005


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.

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

I interviewed for the Ranger 1 opening at Cape Disappointment on the first of November.

On the 6th I was given the news that the job was offered to The Other Candidate.



To have been bested by a very young man does nothing for my self-esteem. After more than a year of fully dedicating myself (during and after work hours) to the pursuit of this job, offering significant prior work experience, and the admission that I was their clay to mold, they decided that was not enough. Or perhaps it was too much.

I am crushed. To say otherwise would be untrue, and I find myself struggling daily, hourly, with feelings of rejection and humiliation. Was I ignoring signs along the way because I so desperately wanted to believe that this was the job for me; because it made so much sense that I could be a ranger and live near Astoria? In truth I had put all of my hope into this one outcome, and now I feel completely lost. I feel that all of my time and effort this past year has been wasted.

I will have to figure out what comes next, now that this chapter that seemed “meant to be” turned out not to be. What do I do with myself now?

I am still on the list to be called for interviews at a select few other parks, but their timelines are unknown. And I have started sending out my resume to some nonprofits that have sparked my interest around Washington and Oregon. If there ever was a time for me to open up my options, this is it.

I know that I want community. I know that I’m done with big cities. I know that I want a job that excites me and challenges me. And I’ve decided given my recent experience that I want to work in an environment that recognizes and celebrates employees as whole people, where communication is clear and unambiguous, if such a thing exists.

Will I ever become a gun-toting ranger? I just don’t know.



Dear Reader, please consider posting your comments and questions below. I would love to hear from you! Please let your friends know about my blog. And thank you for visiting!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

RANGERING: October 2005


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.

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


AUGUST

Staging area for jetty repair project
For weeks large trucks with beds shaped like a half-pipes have been rumbling into the park carrying one, two or three giant boulders – and no more. This is part of a project to make repairs to the north jetty. I had no concept of how massive the jetty was until seeing these 10-ton boulders arriving daily from quarries in Washington and Oregon. The musty old trailer has been torn down and the entire jetty road has been blocked off in order to accommodate an undertaking of this size. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is overseeing the repairs; they are who built the jetties on either side of the Columbia River in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Giant cranes maneuver the 10-ton boulders into place, filling gaps made by intense storms.



I’m not sure why they keep delaying holding interviews for the ranger opening at Cape Disappointment. Actually I’ve been told that they plan to hire two new rangers before long. I asked our park manager if he could recommend anything for me to make my application stronger: more ride-alongs, more time learning about the area history, more time on maintenance. He responded that I was doing about all I could be doing.

Not satisfied I said, “You know I’m your clay to mold, right? You have a ranger in the making right here, and I want to be the best. I’m very open to your input.”

“You know, I was a ranger for a long time before coming to work at Cape Disappointment. That had always been my goal, to end up here. And I’m proud to be a ranger at Cape D., and now the manager here. Really, the best thing is to get on wherever you can, get some experience as a ranger, and then look for opportunities to settle down at the park of your choice. It isn’t very common to start out at your dream park.”

Well that didn’t make any sense. They were planning on hiring two brand new park rangers who wouldn’t have experience at other parks. Why couldn’t I be one of them? I’d certainly shown an enthusiasm and a willingness to learn anything. Everything seemed to be coming together so perfectly, and it would be so easy for the park manager to give me the tiniest of reassurances. I felt confused and uncertain, when I wanted to feel self-assured and excited.

That night as I restlessly waited for sleep, a rhythmic noise finally pierced my obsessive thoughts about work. I got up and followed the noise. My bedroom is at the end of a hallway, the second bedroom closer to the living room and my only heat source, a gas stove. The noise was coming from the second bedroom. I turned on the light, a solitary, ugly domed fixture in the middle of the ceiling, from which drops of water were steadily dripping onto the carpet. I quickly snapped off the light switch, not wanting to short circuit it or worse, start an electrical fire. I put a bucket under the drip, then experimented with a wet towel until I was able to muffle the sound, and crawled back into bed with even more to obsess about.

I called my property manager the next morning, and when he called back a bit later, it was with the incredible news that, “The owner says there’s no more money for repairs. So I recommend putting a bucket under the leak, taking anything valuable out of that room and just shutting the door.”

Welcome to Ocean Park, Washington.



SEPTEMBER

Cape Disappointment has had a ranger opening for months now, but they keep pushing back the interview. Last I heard they won’t interview until December.

Ranger Steve has been a great help with my fitness training, giving me tips and months ago getting permission for me to use the gym at the coast guard station. I have felt his confidence and enthusiasm in my ability to be a good park ranger. But yesterday we had an exchange that confused me.

I was sharing my eagerness and anxiety about getting hired at Cape D.

He was looking down at a report he was writing as he responded, “Kjerstin, I don’t think you should start at a big park. I think you want to start at a small park.”

“What? Why? I can learn so much from the other rangers here.”

“At small parks the pace is slower, it gives you a chance to get up to speed. Plus you learn to do things on your own, you can’t always rely on someone else. It’s a great way to get your feet wet as a ranger. Then you can decide if you want the faster pace of a larger park. I wish I’d done that, you know. Yeah, the more I think about it, the more I think that’s what you should do. You don’t want to start here.”

He tucked his report into a desk drawer and abruptly left the office.



It makes so much sense that I could be a park ranger here and live near Astoria where I have made friends and connections so easily. Everything has fallen into place, as if this is meant to be. But I don’t understand why the park manager and Ranger Steve are saying the things they are, when they could be encouraging me instead. If Cape Disappointment isn’t meant to be, I have no idea what is.

I’m taking the next few days off to clear my head.

I want so much to settle down somewhere and establish community, and I hope to stay here, but in truth I will continue to be transitory until I actually become a ranger. I left behind my home, family, and friends in California two years ago, and the uncertainty of my future has begun to wear on me. I am having more difficulty rallying, am feeling less resilient and less patient.

I am seriously considering leaving my job as a park aide at Cape Disappointment and coming back when it is time to interview. It has been a wonderful training experience spending the past year working at Cape D., but it is beginning to feel difficult. Better to not taint the good reputation I’ve built here over the past year, and better to not have my growing feelings of discontent color my perception of the park.

I also need to look more seriously at other options. Since community is so important, I will further investigate parks near communities I’ve heard good things about that aren’t too terribly far from my family in Portland.



I’ve borrowed a dehumidifier from my parents, which is running all the time now in my bedroom. The heat from the living room isn’t able to penetrate past the wall of moisture, and as I enter my room my breath forms clouds. Also, I’ve noticed tiny mushrooms poking up through cracks in the linoleum in my bathroom. I wonder if they’re the hallucinogenic variety.



OCTOBER

I have been feeling pretty stressed lately, tired of having my life in flux, ready to be settled. I decided after all to not leave the park, and rather to try to stick it out. My mood surely hasn’t been earning me any points, and I’ve continued to feel like I’m slogging through tar – each step getting more difficult and frustrating.

This morning in dim lighting I grabbed my toothbrush, but it looked funny so I switched on the light  to find little pink spots on it, which I can only guess are some variety of mold. Shuddering, I scrubbed the toothbrush with soap and scalding water, then poured boiling water over it, then soaked it in rubbing alcohol. No wonder I’m always getting sick.

Daily I entertain thoughts of scrapping it all and moving to Olympia. I’m not even sure I want to be a ranger at Cape Disappointment anymore. But I want the decision to be mine, not theirs.



Then today as I was leaving work the park manager stopped me.

“Kjerstin we’ve scheduled interviews for November 1st in the afternoon. Which time slot would you like?”

“Oh my God! Oh my God!” A smile swept across my face. I felt giddy, my grumpy attitude of late completely forgotten.



This is a timeframe I can work with. I’ll put my nose to the grind stone for the next week and a half, preparing for the interview. To minimize the impact of my grumpiness I’ve tried keeping a low profile by working outside, and of course working outside helps bolster my mood particularly on beautiful days.

If I don’t get offered the job, or decide not to take it, perhaps I will move to Olympia.



Dear Reader, please consider posting your comments and questions below. I would love to hear from you! Please let your friends know about my blog. And thank you for visiting!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

RANGERING: July 2005


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.


Cape Disappointment Lighthouse
This afternoon I found out that I passed the ranger screening for Washington State Parks. This means I will be called to interview at those parks of my choice that have Ranger 1 openings. This is the culmination of the preparation, fitness training, travel, excitement and anxiety that has defined my life for nearly a year. Washington has determined that I am fit to be a ranger, trustworthy enough to carry a firearm and enforce the law.

It is possible that I will start getting calls to interview almost immediately. And since Ranger Eva was promoted to Ranger 2, her old position will open up at Cape Disappointment. So far my timing throughout this process has been uncannily perfect. I hope it will continue to be so, and that the next chapter in my journey will be as a park ranger at Cape Disappointment State Park.




Dear Reader, please consider posting your comments and questions below. I would love to hear from you! Please let your friends know about my blog. And thank you for visiting!

Friday, May 2, 2014

Spring


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

CAUTION: This post discusses suicide.


The stirrings of spring awaken the slumbering heart. The heady smells, the warmth and sunshine after a bleak winter, remind us of new life and new chances, poised and fecund and waiting only for us to say yes. Spring can make anything seem possible… or awaken deep longings for the things we do not have.



A cruel Denver winter, snow falling on packed snow for month after month, the daily routine of lifting feet high and crunching down with every step, slipping on the treacherous icy spots, bundling up but never warm enough outside, then retreating inside where it feels suffocatingly hot. And then the first hint of spring comes in strong, as it always does. Driving around Denver with the windows cranked down in our family car, a stick shift VW van, that I became licensed to drive just last year. I feel the warm breeze on my face, the mirror reflects back the edges of my hair that the sun has turned to flames. I am on the verge of adulthood, I’m behind the wheel, and the world is filled with possibility, endless possibility. I am elated and free.



Another Denver winter, no less cruel for its predictability, this time driving to work in a beat-up Rambler with bald tires, purposely skidding against the curb to come to a stop at snow-covered intersections. Then after it breaks down I take refuge from the bitter cold inside a Duncan Donuts, warming hands on the Styrofoam cup of hot water, waiting for my connecting bus to take me the rest of the way to work. The winter is hard and desolate, much as my marriage is starting to feel. But then overnight trees burst into riotous blossoms of pink, yellow and white, and bees buzz around in ecstasy. The heady smells of spring sweep through my body bringing the promise of new life and new hope. But their promises are empty, and two months later I walk out on my marriage for good.



My second marriage is coming to an end. He is good and generous and compassionate; but I am desperate to shed the confines of marriage to explore newly discovered parts of me. It isn’t until the divorce is complete that the sadness comes. He believed he would do anything for me; I wonder if I will ever again find someone who is so good to me; who is so good. I will miss him so much: his funny, enthusiastic, gregarious nature. He tells me REM’s new song “Losing My Religion” symbolizes our dissolution. Suddenly I can’t stand to be inside, so I choose to conceal myself in the crowds at the park. In sunny California the park is teeming with ducks, geese, children chasing the fowl, and parents chasing after the children; it is a glorious spring day. I put on big sunglasses to hide my tears and prevent any eye contact. I walk briskly, the pain coming in waves. A man on a bicycle rides by saying, “Smile! It’s a beautiful day.” I turn to face his retreating back and flip him off. How presumptuous; how dare he suggest that I should smile. He doesn’t know me; he doesn’t know that this morning I found out I’m no longer married. “Fuck off,” I say angrily but quietly as he disappears around the next bend.





My final spring as a park ranger. I have taken an assignment at our headquarters in Olympia, Washington managing an outdoor education grant. I love the job; love working with our advisory committee who represent nonprofits dedicated to environmental stewardship and education; love working with our grant recipients and seeing how they bring environmental awareness and love to children. I am living in an apartment across the street from headquarters, and on weekends drive to Astoria to my own 600 square foot, 100-year-old bungalow. The winter brings record-setting storms, and for a while Astoria is cut off from me and from the rest of the world by massive landslides. With the spring I am itching to make sure my little home has survived the storms, and to retreat to my beloved refuge. But spring surprises us with floods that sweep across the highway and make travel south impossible. I am unable to go home.




Spring comes to Oregon after a wet, gray winter. Sun bursts and stretches without rain lift the spirits. The good weather coaxes me out of my winter hobbit hole to walk my grateful little dog. As we return from a walk we run into my neighbor from two doors down, a pretty woman in her mid 30’s with long hair and a pronounced stoop. We haven’t talked much. I walk alongside her. It feels blissfully warm at 65 degrees, but she has sweat beaded on her forehead. I wonder what her physical condition is, and if walking causes her pain or slows her down. I ask if she might get another cat, feeling badly that her aged cat died a couple months ago. Her answer is vague, then she offers little Mags a dog biscuit fished from her pocket, and we retreat into our respective abodes.



I am at work when I get the news that a young man who is close to my sister’s family had tried to end his life. After being bandaged and released from intensive care, for four days he is hospitalized in a bleak and desolate room that is entirely lacking any of the things that make a person smile or feel hope. The beauty of spring is hidden, one small window looking out at a parking lot. It is not until his final day there that he agrees to start therapy and medication, and promises to not make another attempt at least until his medication kicks in. Will this young man now live in small increments of time, making promises to not hurt himself today, this week, this month? Will those who love him live in those same small increments of time? Will he be willing each time to make that promise? Will he keep his promise? Having suffered extraordinary loss this past autumn and winter, all he can see is his grief and despair and hopelessness. What experience does he have to draw on that might encourage him to hold on, because things may get better?

Two weeks have passed since my neighbor gave Mags a dog biscuit. I get home from work and there are two strangers at her closed door, talking with the landlord. They ask me if I know the woman who lives there (I say only a little), or if I’ve seen her in recent days (I shake my head no). They are worried; they haven’t heard from her, her car is here, and she hasn’t answered her phone.

Today the weather is quintessential Pacific Northwest: raging rain broken up with intermittent sunbreaks. But by evening the sky clears and I can’t resist taking the dog out for a walk. We walk for a long time, savoring the changing colors in the sky, looking around wildly every time a random floral scent wafts up my nose, feeling the cooling breeze on my face. When we return I see several bouquets of flowers propped up against my neighbor’s door. After letting my dog into our home I knock on my landlord’s door. “I’m sorry for bothering you.” I gesture to my neighbor’s door. “I’m worried, do you know what has happened?” Her face becomes rigid with self-control. “We’ve heard a couple different stories. She was depressed. You can figure it out.” My tears surprise me. How close to the surface tears are for me, these past years. I say, “She died.” A brusque nod. “It just goes to show, you can never count on anything. You never know what’s going on with a person.”

I thank her for telling me and go inside. I can imagine that the onset of spring, with its overabundance and garishness might seem obscene and mocking to my neighbor. Too late. Too late to make more of an effort, to reach out, to let her know that she doesn’t need to be alone with her demons. To let her know that no matter the depth of her pain, if she lives there is hope that she can find happiness again; but if she dies that hope dies with her. But when someone is in the depths of despair, how can another’s words of encouragement even touch that? And still I wonder, if I had known, if I had tried, if perhaps I may have said the words she needed to hear, to make the choice to live one more day.



As I breathe in the perfumed air and listen to birds chirp, and watch my cat hunt insects with fervor, I cannot imagine a darkness so deep to shut all this out. But then I see a family taking an evening stroll, and suddenly I cannot breathe. How is it possible to have come so far, and have so little? The spring does not uplift me, rather I want to close the shutters and hide from it. Spring makes us restless, and the restlessness is fickle: one moment it drives us to pursue our dreams, the next it ridicules us for our failures.

I have experienced life being more than I could bear. I have experienced being beaten down until I couldn’t get up again. But I have also known countless sweet moments: wonder and delight at new discoveries; a peacefulness and sense of belonging in the middle of an ancient forest; seeing a pod of humpback whales and realizing that our human lives are very small; a love for the young people in my life so strong that it cannot be contained in this body. And I am glad that I am here; no, I am privileged to be here, and to have had these experiences. I wish I could have told my neighbor. I will tell sister’s friend. If you stay, I promise you that one year spring will come with all of its lavish scents and colors, and you will know that you are experiencing a marvel and that you are a part of it.



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