Friday, December 26, 2014

RANGERING: March 2006 (4)

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.

When I’d moved into the ranger house all of the faucets dripped. My dad had shown me some repairs I could do with the washer/dryer faucets. We’d turned off the water, removed the faucets, and replaced the worn washers with new ones. The metal the washers sat on also had grooves worn into them, so even a new washer would not make a good seal. We’d used a tool from the park that fit onto the top, and by twisting it around and around, you could file down the metal seat until it was flat and smooth.

So that was my plan for the guest bathroom. But to my dismay, I was unable to turn the water off. The pipes were old and rusty, and when I tried to turn off the valve they moved alarmingly; and the valve did not. Being a novice plumber, I’d exhausted my personal resources and had to call it quits.

When I went into work the next day I saw Jim struggling at the computer filling out monthly reports – daily recordings from car counters at our day use and main park entrance, and daily camping attendance categorized by sites with utility hookups, no hookups, and hiker/biker (bicyclist). While Jim could build or repair just about anything, it was clear that the computer was not his forte.

He looked up. “Well hello there, Kjerstin,” he said cheerily.

“Hello there, Jim. Looks like you’re just zooming through those reports.”

Jim threw down the paper in his hand with emphasis, grumbling about how frustrating the forms were and how distasteful it was that he had to do them. And just like that my solution presented itself.

“I’d like to propose a trade,” I said. He cocked his head. “I need some plumbing help. My bathroom faucets are dripping, and the pipes are rusty and I can’t even get the water turned off. In exchange for your help, I can help with these reports. You dictate to me and I’ll type them.”

“Well, how ‘bout that. So you’d type up the report for me, huh?”

“Yup. Trust me, it’ll go fast.”

He looked in disgust at the computer, then at his handwritten notes, and pushed them aside with finality. “Let’s go then.”

The leaky faucets turned into a bigger project, as plumbing projects are wont to do. Jim was also wary about the stuck valve under the sink and the groaning pipes, so we turned the water off at an outside valve. The washers and metal seat were corroded and grooved as expected. In fact as we disassembled the faucets to get to the washers, the faucets practically crumbled in our hands.

“I think it’s time for you to buy new faucets, Kjerstin.”

A benefit of living in park housing was that not only were Jim and I paid for the time making repairs, and able to use park tools for the job, but with prior approval the park would also purchase replacement parts. That did mean, however, that the project would not be completed today.

Jim removed the J-shaped pipe under the sink that he called a pee trap (where people’s rings that fall down the drain are hopefully recovered from), and a stench rose as he emptied the clumps of dark slimy gunk into a bucket.

“Nice,” I commented.

“Hungry?” he asked, offering me the bucket.

Unfortunately there was no valuable jewelry hidden in the stinky munk, but this pipe too was corroding on the bottom where all the sludge had been sitting. By now I had quite a list of items to buy.

We cleaned up, wiping off tools and replacing them in the plumbing tool box, using rags and old towels to clean up the muck and throwing them straight into my washing machine and starting a cycle.

We decided to break for lunch, after which I ambled over to the office. Pretty soon Jim came in and we convened around the computer. As he read off numbers from his log, I typed them into the correct day of the month and then tabbed over to the next spot. “Faster,” I said, my fingers hovering impatiently.

We went to the next form, and again I had to encourage him to speed up. He looked up at me, then hastily back to his notes.

One of the reports required a couple paragraphs describing any planned or unplanned activities. He didn’t have notes written up for these. Jim thought a moment, then started speaking. My fingers flew, only a couple times requiring him to repeat himself. He paused, my fingers caught up, then hovered in wait. He was still quiet, and I looked at him sidelong.

His eyes were bugging out, and he blinked them rapidly. I wondered if his eyeballs had gotten stuck in the “open wide” position. His gaze was fixed on my hands.

“Wow, Kjerstin, that’s fast.”

I smiled.

“How fast is that?”

“That I type? Last time I took a typing test it was 80 words a minute. Some people can type a lot faster, but I can move along pretty well.”

“Well, how ‘bout that. I don’t think you really need to go to academy. Next time a camper is causing problems, you’ve already got your weapons.” He grabbed one of my hands and held it up. “Your little wizard fingers, typing on his eyeballs!” He jiggled my hand.

I laughed. “That’s my defense?”

“Right! No need for pepper spray, you’ll just type on someone’s eyeballs!”

“That’s hilarious.”

“Sir, it’s after quiet hours and you’re going to need to keep it down over there. Otherwise I’m going to type on your eyeballs.”

I’d taken typing lessons in seventh grade. As soon as my fingers learned where the keys were, they took over. Thinking about what I was typing, what the words strung together meant, or what letters spelled a word, slowed me down. My fingers knew. They mainlined the data, taking it directly from my eyes or ears and rat-a-tat-tatting onto the keyboard, bypassing any conscious brain activity or interpretation. My brain, however, started an irritating activity that continues to this day.

When I hear a word, when I’m not at a typewriter, I type out the word in my head, looking for a pattern. Equally numbered keystrokes from both the right hand and the left are preferred. Or descending: four-right, three-left, two-right. Or all even: two-right, two-left, four-right. After first learning to type, this brain activity was compulsive and relentless. I would wake from dreams, irritated to find my brain was typing frantically:

Freaky: 4L, 2R
Clown: 1L, 2R, 1L, 1R
Chasing: 1L, 1R, 2L, 2R, 1L
Kjerstin: 2R, 4L, 2R (good pattern!)

Now, three decades later, it’s background chatter. But I still notice delight when my brain types out a good pattern, as if bells are dinging a jackpot win.

So all that mindless brain chatter, and the fast flight of my ten digits, has brought me an unexpected boon: a way to subdue the unruly camper by typing on his eyeballs until he surrenders in pain and fright.

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Saturday, December 20, 2014

RANGERING: March 2006 (3)

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.

The infernal, unrelenting rain. I thought I’d moved to the rain shadow, where the annual rainfall was more like the desert than the rainforest.

Lori’s directions had been casual: “Take the main road through Port Townsend to the dock.” The dock? What dock? What was the cross road? How many miles? What were the landmarks? I was kind of a direction Nazi. Good directions were extremely important to me, both giving and receiving, and nothing was bound to make me crankier than poor – or wrong! – directions. I drove into town and slowed way down. Port Townsend had a cute downtown; Sims Way was lined with local art galleries, funky boutiques, and cafes. Tipping their cap to tourism, it also housed an old 50’s style soda fountain/diner, an ice cream parlor, and a hot dog shack that was closed for the winter. As I drove through intersections I looked down side streets, looking towards the water. At one I saw a viewing platform, but no dock. I kept driving. I passed through the downtown and the street ended at a marina. There were docks here. This seemed as likely a bet as any. I did not see anyone standing around as I pulled into a parking space.

As the minutes ticked by, I became frustrated. Was this even the right place? I should have insisted on clearer directions. Poor directions always strike me as careless and unhelpful, implying, “I don’t care enough about you to make sure you get to where you’re going.” Ten past. Was she the type who typically ran late? Another disrespectful attribute.

My neck was getting sore from swiveling in all directions, looking for someone who might look like she was looking for someone.

15 minutes late. Why hadn’t I asked her to describe herself? In her last email she’d referred to us as “two beautiful women;” she’d seen my photo online but I hadn’t seen hers.

Was it possible there were two docks and I was at the wrong one? Wouldn’t she look at both if that was the case, knowing I was new to town and might pick the wrong one?

20 minutes. I started up the car. I would drive back through town, looking for another dock. And if I didn’t find one, I would figure out then what to do.

So I drove back through the downtown, which was pretty full of cars despite the dreary day, and again looked towards the water at each cross street. This time on one I saw what looked like an old dock at the end of the road. I’d missed it on my way into town. I turned onto the short street and looked for a parking space.

A slender woman of average height, perhaps late 20’s or early 30’s, was standing on the sidewalk under an overhang. She was wearing a fitted suede jacket with fringe on the bottom, tight jeans, and hiking boots. Her hair was short and unkempt, pixyish, red. She had an impish face, enormous green eyes and a snub nose. She was adorable and she was looking right at me.

I pointed a finger at her through the windshield, and she pointed back with a smile.

I pulled into a space and got out. We made our introductions. Lori’s voice was rough and raw, as if she’d smoked too many cigarettes or taken too many bong hits.

We walked across the street to the ice cream parlor where we each ordered a sorbet and a cup of herbal tea.

I told her about my trials finding the right dock. I hoped for an apology. Instead she said with a shrug, “Yeah I drove in today and saw the other dock. I’d never noticed before. But… you found me!”

Aha. The response of a free spirit: if we were meant to find one another, we would. And what was half an hour more or less if it was meant to be?

“So Lori, tell me how you found yourself in Port Townsend?”

“Well, really I don’t live in Port Townsend. I live closer to Sequim.” She laughed, a harsh, barking laugh: Huh. Huh. Huh. I flinched in surprise. 

“I live in a lesbian trailer park.”

“I think I’ve heard of that place! A lesbian couple volunteering at Cape Disappointment was going there to retire.”

“Probably. I don’t think there are too many lesbian trailer parks around here.”

“That’s crazy. I love the idea, though. What’s it like?”

“Well, I’m the young one. Pretty much everyone is in their 60’s and 70’s. Most of the ladies are really sweet. But oooh, can they gossip! Everyone knows what everyone else is doing! I think I provide most of the excitement for a lot of the women.”

Uh oh, what did that mean?

“There’s not much going on around there: bingo night; people complaining about other people’s yard decorations, that kind of thing. I live in a single wide trailer. I love it! It’s tiny, but it’s all the space I need. I don’t spend much time indoors, anyway. I’ve got space for my guitar. And I have some daisies in pots in front. It works!”

She laughed again: “Huh. Huh. Huh.” Surely that wasn’t her real laugh. Her voice was such a contrast to how she looked. She looked like a fresh young pixie, cute, earthy. She sounded like a weathered biker chick.

“OK, then. So what brought you to be living in a lesbian trailer park in Sequim?”

Lori told me about her last relationship. She and Eve had lived in New York City. They had a beautiful apartment. Eve had a demanding, high-powered job in finance. Lori tried different careers: bike messenger, waitress, karaoke bar manager.

They’d had a decadent commitment ceremony on top of a sky rise with two hundred guests, and I was surprised to hear that they made their commitment in front of God.

Eve was an unhappy person, pressured to perform harder and better than her male counterparts and insanely stressed. She was emotionally unstable, warm and loving one moment, and volatile the next.

After being passed up for a promotion she’d been working around the clock for, Eve decided impulsively to quit. They moved to the outskirts of Port Townsend, where they were able to buy a luxurious home. They had a pool. They started collecting art.

“But her emotional cycles just got worse. She would yell at me, and she was always so critical. Everything was my fault. She started getting paranoid. She thought I was stealing things and having an affair. She wanted to know where I was all the time. She’d give me the second-degree every time I wanted to leave, and every time I came home.”

Lori chattered on as if she was describing an outfit she’d just purchased, emotionless and expressionless. “And then she started hanging around this guy. More and more. After a while I knew they were having an affair, and finally she admitted it. But she didn’t know what she wanted, and she asked me to stay. She said it was my fault she was with this guy; that I made her crazy. But finally I couldn’t take anymore. I waited till she was away for the weekend with her boyfriend.”

“Wait, what?”

“Yeah. They’d gotten pretty close.”

“And what, she acted like that was OK?”

“Oh, yeah. Eve was always right. So they were away for a romantic weekend getaway. I packed a bag of clothes, took my guitar and left. Left everything else I owned, everything I’d gotten over the last ten years. I didn’t want anything. I just wanted to escape with my sanity. Huh. Huh. Huh.”

“How long ago did all this happen?”

“Oh, mmm, about half a year ago.”

“And how are things with Eve now?”

“Well, I’m not allowed to call her. In fact she doesn’t want me in that neighborhood anymore.”

“You’re kidding.”

“No. It’s probably better; it would be too weird running into her. I hear she’s pregnant, and she and this guy are getting married.”

I took a deep breath. Let it out. “And what do you think about that? I mean, that’s all rather dramatic.”

“Yeah. She’s crazy. Mostly I’m worried that when she has this kid, she’ll completely go over the edge.”


“But I married her in front of God, and I believe that’s forever. So a few weeks after I left her, I drove up to Hurricane Ridge and hiked in. I was the only one around. I found a big tree, enormous, and wrapped my arms around it and looked up at Heaven. I cried, I mean I was just sobbing. I begged God to release me from my promise. I stayed there a long time and cried and just hung on. And finally I felt something and knew that He released me and that He forgave me.”

“Wow.” I didn’t know what to say. Promises to God, begging for his permission to leave someone who was verbally abusive and cheating, this wasn’t my reality. I felt more than a little uncomfortable.

Our refreshments were consumed, and the pervasive smell of sugar was nauseating. It wasn’t the best weather for sightseeing, but I suggested we walk through the town a little.

We bundled up and went outside, started walking down the sidewalk. Stores offered delightful window displays, creative and crafty and funky. Many of the buildings were brick or sandstone, many quite old. It was charming. Similar in looks to Astoria, though more upscale I decided. The rain and wind kept coming at us, and before long we retreated into a café.

“There seem to be a lot of places to explore in this town,” I said, wrapping my hands around a mug of decaf coffee.

“There are, especially if you have money. Huh. Huh. So when I first started emailing you, you were somewhere else.”

“Cape Disappointment State Park.” Lori and I had “met” through an online lesbian dating site when I was still working there. I told her about being a park aide for over a year, then the park offering their ranger opening to the only other applicant – a young man fresh out of college.

“And so you just happened to move closer to me!”

I had to admit, the coincidence was pretty extraordinary. She had extended a greeting when we lived a considerable distance apart, and now we were neighbors. We seemed to have so much in common: an abiding love of nature, hiking, eating local, organic foods, staying fit. It all felt very “meant to be.” But I had learned to be wary of “meant to be” after a love affair had gone terribly wrong a couple years earlier. Still, wouldn’t it be wonderful if this worked out? How perfect.

“Dosewallips was the only park other that Cape Disappointment that I’d consistently been interested in. I’d visited the park early on, then later arranged a ride-along with the park manager. Nice guy. It’s a beautiful park. I’ve already seen the herd of Roosevelt Elk, bald eagles…”

“I’ve driven by. I have a friend who owns property on the Hood Canal. We go there for weekend parties and eat raw oysters and drink whiskey all weekend long.”

“Sounds great!”

“I’d like to come visit you there.”


“Yeah.” Her huge green eyes sparkled. Her hair was perfect: playful, flirty, up for anything.

“That would be nice. You can come on my day off and we can hike around and explore.” I smiled at her.

“All right.” She smiled back.

Having agreed that we’d like to see each other for a second date, we both grinned privately. I wondered what friend she would call first to describe our date to. Me, I could hardly wait to call Lilly.

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Sunday, December 7, 2014

RANGERING: March 2006 (2)

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.

It was pouring rain and dusk was approaching, but I wanted to stretch my legs and get a better sense of my new surroundings.

I put on my tennis shoes and rain jacket, leashed up Jackie and headed out the front door. A few strides took me into the parking area in front of the park office, and a couple dozen more to the other side and to a trail head. We walked the little bridge across the creek that comes down the hill then runs along both sides of the park entrance road.

It looked like a tropical rainforest: lush, green, and dripping wet. Beautiful western redcedar, douglas fir, big leaf maples and cottonwoods dominated the forest. The generous understory consisted of vine maple, elderberry, and many plants I didn’t know. Closer to the ground was just as plentiful: five kinds of fern (sword, bracken, licorice, deer and maiden hair), several types of edible berries though none were in fruit (both Himalayan and wild blackberry, Pacific and red huckleberry, salmonberry, thimbleberry, fairy bell, salal, and Oregon grape), and moss and lichen blanketing downed trees and limbs. The air was fragrant with the wild, earthy, fertile smell of a living forest, where new springs from old, and death nourishes life. I breathed it in, and then bent down to unleash Jackie. As always I said to her, “OK now be good. You have to come to me when I call you.” She wriggled impatiently, wondering what the hold-up was. As soon as she heard the “snap” that meant freedom, she raced ahead.

I pocketed her leash and hiked taking big strides, swinging my arms. I looked around. I looked up. It was magnificent. I passed an old western redcedar stump, known generally as “cedar,” cut off a good ten feet from the bottom where the tree fans out quickly and creates a far greater challenge for those cutting it down. Out of the stump top a red huckleberry bush grew. I saw a couple notches on the stump, and later learned they were the notches made for springboards: 100 years ago when this forest was logged, boards would be fit into the notches, laying horizontally so a man could stand on them while he and his partner on another springboard would hold either end of a crosscut saw.

I got to a fork in the trail: to the right it sloped downhill; to the left, uphill. I called Jackie and pretty soon she came running towards me from the right hand fork. “Come on girl,” I enthused, and turned left.

The trail came out onto the fire road. I thought for a moment, trying to orient myself. I turned right, continuing uphill. The road was gravel and slick with a mat of leaves, little rivulets running down it. My breath came out in plumes. I picked up my pace, really stretching my legs on the steep uphill. Jackie trotted alongside, then darted ahead, periodically stopping to sniff.

We came to a white metal gate pulled across the road. A sign indicated the end of the park boundary. I’d been told much of the land beyond belonged to a timber company, though Dosewallips had acquired the piece of property further up that was being rehabilitated; and just beyond was the Olympic National Forest, over 600,000 acres of wilderness surrounding the Olympic National Park. I decided this was enough for our first outing. The light was starting to fade, my tennis shoes had soaked through, and I was getting cold. I hollered to Jackie who looked back at me from up ahead, then turned and raced back to me, passed me up, and disappeared around a bend in the road.

The fresh smells and lush beauty were not quite so appealing now that I was feeling underdressed, and the rain poured even harder. I pulled my hood closer around my face and wrapped my arms around my middle. I hunkered down and marched a rhythmic pace downhill, now only paying attention to my footing so I wouldn’t twist an ankle on loose gravel or slip on decomposing leaves.

After a while I lifted my head and looked around for Jackie. She wasn’t in sight, but I was on a curved stretch of road with a steep hillside on the right, and couldn’t see very far in front or behind. I called to her. Not seeing her, I turned around and called the way I’d come. Sometimes on walks if I stayed where I was long enough she would notice I was missing and find her way back to me, the way dogs amazingly can. I continued to holler, and still no Jackie. I started getting irritated. I was cold and wet, and didn’t need trouble from her right now. I decided to backtrack to where I’d last seen her; sometimes she would catch an exciting scent and get so wrapped up in smelling and digging, she would be oblivious to my calls. That or, like a child, she had selective hearing.

I didn’t see her while retracing my steps, though I continued calling her in every direction. She probably was just out of sight, behind a big log with her nose to the ground and her butt in the air, tail wobbling with excitement. Damn dog! I stood where I’d last seen her, reviewing my options. I could return home, going along the path we’d come up on, and trust her to sniff her way back. That had worked before. But we were in a new place, we’d never come this way before today, so nothing would be familiar to her. And I worried that the rain would wash away the scent of our route. And if she simply stayed on the fire road and headed down, she would end up dangerously close to the highway. To top it off, I hadn’t yet updated her dog tag with our address or phone number. If someone found her, they would have no way of knowing where she belonged.

I decided it was too risky to go home and decided to walk back and forth between two points: where I’d last seen her, and where I’d first noticed her missing, and just keep on walking and calling her until she showed up.

Didn’t cougars come out at dusk to hunt? Jackie would be a prime morsel for one. Would I even hear her scream? Would I ever find her remains? Would I have to engage a cougar in order to save her? No question my dog would take on a cougar, having no real sense of her inferior stature and strength.

I pulled off my hood because the crinkling noise muffled sounds I needed to hear: Jackie running, barking, or screaming in distress; or a cougar snarling. Did cougars snarl? Probably. I tried to turtle into my jacket as much as possible, and took turns blowing on each hand to warm up my numb fingers. I looked up at the rain, the incessant, pounding rain, and the impending darkness. I cursed my dog. I cursed myself for being so ill prepared. I didn’t have as much as a pocket knife to defend myself against a cougar. I imagined coming around a bend and seeing one, all sleek and magnificent and terrifying. I would yell at it, unzip my jacket and pull the front open, making myself appear larger (hoping the cougar wouldn’t think that only meant more deliciousness to enjoy). Then I would have to decide. It’s recommended to throw sticks and rocks at them. I know that sounds like it would just piss off a cougar, provoke it, but that’s what the experts recommend. Problem is I’d have to bend down to pick them up, making myself seem smaller. Which would be more effective? Sticks and rocks? Or staying big? I guess I would have to hope for Divine Intervention or Instinct to fill me in on that one.

I continued my march. Downhill, knee joints smashing, tennis shoes squishing, yelling “Jackie” every two steps. Then uphill, thighs burning, toes stubbing, more yelling. All interspersed with the peanut gallery of my thoughts.

“Stupid, stupid dog! Why doesn’t she answer? It’s cold and I want to go home. I’m never letting her off-leash again. I am stupid, so stupid. Why did I let her off leash in a new place, without a new dog tag?”

Now I had to pee. And I was shaking hard from the cold, despite my physical workout. With each jarring step, my bladder protested. My fingers were numb. My toes were numb. My thoughts were numb, except for my mantra of “stupid,” directed equally between me and my dog. I pivoted yet again and started uphill. I started to whimper.

As I came around a corner, I noticed something 200 yards ahead in the middle of the road. I squinted through the dimming light and pounding rain. It was Jackie. Thank goodness! What was she doing just standing there in the middle of the road, looking at me? I hollered to her. And then suddenly she was in motion, running towards me with a wiggle in her hind end. As I waited for her I crouched down, continuing to scan for cougars.

Jackie raced up to me. Her eyes glinted wildly, as if she’d gone half-crazy during her time alone in the forest. Her fur was plastered to her body, saturated through and through. I reached out and calmly took her collar with fingers that could barely feel, and snapped on her leash. I kissed her wet forehead and told her how much I loved her and that I was so glad to see her again, and how she was in so much trouble she’d never be allowed off leash again.

By the time we walked in the front door I was seeing yellow. I unleashed Jackie and sloshed into the bathroom, scraping my pants off my hips and down past my knees. After a long, long pee, I roughly toweled Jackie and cranked up the heat. Then I peeled off my clothes and hopped in the shower, holding my fingers under the hot water for a long time as they went from numb, to feeling like they were burning, to finally warming up. I savored the feelings of an empty bladder, of being warm, of standing under hot water; and of knowing my pup was safe and warm as well.

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