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! 

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