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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