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.


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.


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.


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.

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