Tuesday, October 20, 2015

RANGERING: April 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.

I started at Dosewallips just a bit too late to participate in the annual parks law enforcement academy, and would attend next year. At the end of March the three-and-a-half months of academy culminated in several days of scenario training. The ranger cadets traveled from Mount Vernon, Washington to Deception Pass State Park to play out law enforcement scenarios that they might encounter during their careers. Glenn urged me to join them for a couple days to assist with the scenarios and get a preview of what to expect next year.

I drove up to Deception Pass State Park and arrived at the large group camp area being used for this final part of academy. Uniformed park rangers were everywhere: they were overwhelmingly young, male and white. I wandered onto a grassy field surrounded by cabins and larger buildings; at the far end was an area for campfire programs and beyond that a lake.

Several of the rangers looked familiar, but on closer inspection they only shared features of other rangers I knew. With close cropped hair, uniforms and ball caps, their distinguishing features could be categorized: tall and lean, sturdy and muscled, tidy goatee, clean shaven, thick glasses, pink complexion, grim face and purposeful stride.

A ranger cadet approached me. This one was young and white, but also tall and slender with a tidy goatee. He introduced himself as the liaison for visitors, and asked if I was there to help with the scenarios. He brought me into a large building nearby, set up as a classroom with dozens of chairs and desks facing a table, and introduced me to a man sitting at the table, a ranger in his 30’s or 40’s with a National Parks Service uniform and much harder lines on his face. The NPS ranger welcomed me and told me they were coming back from a break shortly for a bit more classroom before starting the scenarios. He welcomed me to have a seat.

Rangers cadets started filing in. I was introduced as a new park ranger, and given the opportunity to share how excited I was to be there, and that I was looking forward to getting a glimpse at what I would be doing at academy a year from now.

We saw a video that demonstrated how someone trained with a knife, and standing 20 feet away, could stab and kill a person before they had a chance to unholster and fire off a single shot. 20 feet was outside of conversation distance. I tried to overlay this information on campground contacts and came up empty. No contact happened without close proximity, usually only a few feet. That was disconcerting. At 20 feet you’d be yelling.

The cadets stood up, with the instructions to respond to the verbalized scenario with the weapon of their choice. The instructor described a scenario where it was nighttime and a man was approaching with a large Maglite flashlight held up on his shoulder. The classroom full of cadets responded with a variety of weapon choices: pepper spray, baton, and firearm (I noticed all of them had red, plastic “guns.”) I was incredulous, and raised my hand.

“That’s every other contact in the campground. Why does that seem like a threat?” I asked.

The instructor’s eyes narrowed. He embellished the scenario, describing threatening posturing from the man with the flashlight. Or had he described that initially, and I had missed it?

It didn’t make sense to me. I recounted stories of rangers coming out of academy thinking their lives were constantly in danger, threatened by grandma out camping with her grandkids.

The cadets separated into groups for the scenarios and we rushed outside with all the chatter and enthusiasm of any class being dismissed.

That evening I overacted egregiously, hiding, resisting arrest, and getting into a violent domestic dispute with the academy commander, a distinguished looking man dressed in a crisp white and navy uniform, who had worked and retired from park rangering. I had a blast!

I was set up in a small cabin for the night. Before turning in I drove around for a place to buy some simple breakfast food and caffeine for the next morning, and set my alarm with ample time to start the next day at 8 a.m.

At a bit past 7 a.m., when I was still in bed and calculating exactly how much time I needed to get ready, the cabin door burst open. A young ranger was halfway into the room making a beeline for the restroom before seeing me. He stopped cold, said, “Oh!” and made a hasty retreat.

Well that was disconcerting. I wondered if anyone else would barge in on me. There was no lock on the door. I pulled on my pants under the blankets, then got up and made myself ready. Assuming that 8 a.m. meant thereabouts, I wandered out of my cabin with my travel mug of room temperature coffee and took the short walk to the classroom.

Outside facing a U.S. flag, lined up with chests out and chins up, were all the cadets standing at attention. The NPS instructor made his way down the line, inspecting them and making comments that the rangers hastily responded to by fixing whatever it was he found amiss.

I hovered uncomfortably. I felt far too casual, and embarrassed at showing up late. Apparently 8 a.m. meant before 8 a.m. The whole military thing was so unfamiliar to me, I felt quite intimidated. I looked at the cadets more appraisingly. There were four young women total, one with short hair, the others had their hair pulled back into tidy buns. All the young men had either short hair, or extremely short hair. Any facial hair was tidy and close-cropped. Their uniforms looked impeccable. It dawned on me that academy had a decorum and strict discipline. I wondered if it would be anything like boot camp, not that I really knew what that was like.

That day I played my role in a few more scenarios, again ridiculously overacting and having a great time. Before leaving I said goodbye in turn to the NPS instructor and the academy commander, and told them I looked forward to seeing them next year.

Eager to make a contribution as the new ranger at Dosewallips, I ordered dark green Naugahyde mattress covers to replace the skanky, stained white ones in our platform tents. Unfortunately, my measurements were off and some of them didn’t fit very well. Glenn and Bertie, the full time senior park aide who had filled in during the time they were down a ranger, complained about their struggles putting a couple of the covers on. So one night Jim and I decided we’d put on the rest, and were confident that we’d find a way to make it simple!

Each tent had one futon and a bunk bed with a twin and a full sized mattress. The futons behaved like futons. As we wrestled the stained white cover off the first futon, the pad acted like two people gone limp. No matter where we held it, it would buckle and collapse, a literal dead weight. The futon slid onto the floor with a thud, where we finished pulling off the white cover. Each taking a side of the smart looking new Naugahyde cover, we slowly started pulling it over the futon, an inch at a time. Finally the cover was on, but the futon mattress had enormous lumps and rolls inside the cover.

“Kjerstin, you’re going to have to go inside to try to push those lumps out.”

I looked at Jim to see if he was joking. He wasn’t. Well, it was the adventure that brought me to park rangering after all.

I crawled head first in through the zippered opening, and pushed, then pulled, coaxing the mattress folds out towards the edges. Jim did the same from the outside. It was exhausting and awkward, trying to manhandle the dead weight of the mattress inside such a confined space. Finally I had pushed the lumps and folds almost to the ends, and found myself completely inside the mattress cover with just my feet sticking out.

I stopped my struggle to catch my breath. “Kjerstin, you look ridiculous. Bet you never thought this was what park rangers spent their time doing.”

We both laughed, then I made the last effort to force the mattress into the corners. I was huffing and puffing, and it had become humid and claustrophobic inside my Naugahyde cocoon. I started to wriggle out backwards and my duty belt and radio got caught. Feeling panicky, I took some slow breaths and did a little self-talk to calm down. Finally I was birthed from the mattress cover, hair disheveled and red faced.

Unfortunately the regular mattresses were simply too long for the mattress covers. No amount of wrestling could change that. “I know what we can do,” Jim said. He took out his Leatherman and started ripping open the mattress end. I followed suit on the other end. We pulled out as much stuffing as we could between the springs, then cinched them up tight with twine – like wilderness first aide stitches.

The mattresses, which were already old, looked ridiculous. The work was very physical and it was pretty late at night at this point. Jim and I were joking about the destruction we were wreaking on these poor mattresses, and I practically peed my pants I was laughing so hard.

Shown: yurts at Cape D. State Park
When Glenn saw our handiwork the next day (and we had indeed finished covering all of the mattresses), he called it cheating. I thought it was ingenious and creative – just what being a ranger is all about!

My parents would drive up to visit every few weeks. On one visit, my dad helped fix up one of the park bicycles by taking the best parts of two bicycles. I ordered a new seat, helmet, rack bag, and lights to complete the set.

I loved zooming through the campground. It was so efficient, often faster than either walking or driving, because I didn’t have to stay on the meandering roads. Quarters jammed in the women’s shower?  I’m there in a few seconds. Need to go to the registration booth to check in a camper? Right there. Back to the office to get some tools for fixing the shower, then back to the restroom, all in under five minutes. As I rode through the park doing my job, I stopped to pick up bits of litter, all while hardly slowing down.

Before my new bike helmet arrived in the mail, Glenn and Jim made fun of my plain white Styrofoam helmet. Coming to the park office after a ride around the campground, I found Jim and Glenn there. Jim walked up to me and scribbled something on the helmet. “There, Glenn, don’t you think that’s better?” Glenn giggled.

I took my helmet off and turned it around to look. In front of the brand, “Bell,” Jim had written “Tinker.”  They were both laughing. I said, “Well the laugh’s on you, because I’m gonna wear it this way.” I put on my helmet and zoomed off on my bike. I was smiling and laughing to myself.

There are times with the two of them that I feel like the little sister being teased by the older brothers.

Please SHARE my blog with others. I would love to hear from you – post your COMMENTS and QUESTIONS below. Thank you for visiting!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

RANGERING: March 2006 (5)

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.

I was pouring boiling water into my Melitta filter when there was a knock on the door. The delicious aroma of Ethiopian Harar, shipped from Long Beach Coffee Roasting Company near Cape Disappointment, made promises of eternal bliss in a cup of joe.

Jackie’s little gate was in place, creating a small safe zone at the front door allowing me to answer the door to campers with questions, or invite in guests without fear of Jackie bolting outside.

Lori was at the door with a small bouquet of early daffodils. She was wearing snug jeans, low around her hips, and a tiny shirt that left her midriff exposed. It was a beautiful, sunny day. She looked good.

“Thank you,” I said, taking the flowers. “They’re beautiful.”

“Beautiful flowers for a beautiful woman,” Lori said almost shyly.

I smiled and she followed me into the kitchen. “Did you want some coffee? The water just boiled, and it’s really good. Actually this is kind of embarrassing, but I have it shipped from a place I moved from.”

“No thanks, I’m good. I pretty much only have fruit in the mornings.”

“Ah, I’ve heard of people like you. How is that for you? My stomach would not be happy with me.”

“I’ve never had any trouble with it. In fact I’m practically a fruitarian.”


“Huh. Huh. Huh. I have a bad sweet tooth. Eating fruit helps me stay away from sweets. Although sometimes I splurge and have a really decadent dessert wine, which I like with dark chocolate. Huh. Huh. Huh,” she barked.

She often looked me right in the eye when she laughed, and I never quite knew how to respond. I’d smile, but didn’t feel compelled to laugh along with her. Her barking laugh was always a bit startling. We lapsed into an awkward silence; I turned and tended to my coffee.

“There’s a winery not too far from here that has fruit wines I’ve heard folks rave about: blackberry, raspberry, that sort of thing,” I offered.

“Oh, uh,” Lori snapped her fingers, “The Hoodsport Winery?”

“That’s the one.”

“Yeah, I’m good friends with Hoodsport Winery. Their blackberry wine is my favorite. It’s sweet and tastes like real fruit.” She closed her eyes. “Mmmmm.”

I don't have much appreciation for dessert wines. I’d been raised on “grape juice” wines like D’Oro and Asti Spumanti. When I first moved to California, I disliked the abundant local wines that were not at all syrupy. But over time and repeated wine tastings, my taste buds woke up to the delicious and intricate flavors of good wines. And they were not, typically, sweet. I puzzled over a California import enjoying sweet, fruity wines. How exactly had that happened?

“I did a wine tasting there one time when I was checking out Dosewallips before I got the job. But I didn’t try any of the fruit wines.”

“Oh, you missed out. Huh. Huh. Huh. We’ll have to go there sometime.”

“Sounds good.” I took a sip of the rich brew, unadulterated the way it should be. “So do you want to take a tour of the park?”

“With the park ranger? Sounds good.”

We walked outside, me holding my coffee mug. There are few things I love more than being outside on a sunny day with a cup of hot, delicious coffee.

We hadn’t gotten far when Ranger Glenn drove up in his patrol sedan, his arm resting on the outside of the door. “Good morning Ranger Gould. And how are you today?” He asked with a cheerful smile.

“Doing very well.”

“I don’t believe I’ve met your friend.”

“Lori, this is my boss and the park manager Glenn. Glenn, this is my friend Lori.”

“Very nice to meet you Lori. And how do the two of you know each other?”

Lori and I exchanged a look. “Well, online personals actually,” I said.

“Ohhh…” his eyebrows hitched up. “So this is sort of a date.”

I nodded.

“Is it a first date?”

“No, it’s… date number three.”

Glenn asked Lori, “And where do you call home?”

“Discovery Bay, for now.”

“And what line of work are you in, Lori?”

Was this an interview? Already I’d noticed that Glenn treated me almost like a daughter, even though I was pretty sure he wasn’t more than five or six years my senior. So was this him taking on the role of protective father, screening his daughter’s potential romantic interests?

“I’m working at Ace Hardware.”

“The one in Sequim?”


“I’ve been there many times. I’ll have to look for you next time.”

“Oh, you think you’ll recognize me?”

“Oh, certainly. Did Kjerstin tell you about the first time I met her?” He looked at me, grinning from ear to ear. Oh, brother.

Lori looked at me and I shrugged. “Go ahead, Glenn.”

“The first time she came here she was undercover. She didn’t introduce herself as a park aide wanting to become a ranger. She was walking her little dog Jackie near the welcome station. You’ve met Jackie?”

Lori nodded.

“I asked her a few questions about Jackie; I’d never seen the breed before. Shiba Inu, right Gould?” I nodded. “And still she didn’t introduce herself, the little turkey.” A pretend hostile look thrown my direction.

“Then a few months later she came to the park to do a ride-along with me, to learn more about the park; she knew we were going to have an opening for a ranger soon. When she arrived, she mentioned we’d met before. I didn’t remember at all. But we stopped at her car where Jackie was waiting patiently. I recognized the dog, just not her owner.” He shot me another look, as if still upset with me for not introducing myself that first time.

Lori barked her laugh.

“It’s very nice to meet you Lori. And Kjerstin is bringing you on the grand tour?”

“She is. Well, we really only just started.”

“Well, I won’t hold you up any more. Good day!” And off he drove.

“That’s my boss!”

“Seems like a nice guy.”

“He is. He was awfully happy to meet you!”

We walked along the main campground road. I pointed out the large group camp, which essentially butted up against my backyard, separated by a small gulley. I pointed out the road to the platform tents. “They’re very popular, booked year-round.” The trees lining the road, many old apple trees, were swathed in long strands of green and black lichen. We came around a corner and the main campground was spread out to the right: 80 campsites, most of them with utility hookups for RVs. The sites at the end farthest from us were a stone’s throw from the highway, with a line of trees creating the park boundary. The entire area was covered in grass and decorated with majestic Western Redcedars and Douglas Firs. There was no other vegetation closer to the ground, so campsites had no barrier between them for privacy. The RVs themselves formed the walls between the sites.

We walked through the pedestrian tunnel under the highway and stopped to look at the two-dimensional sculpture of the salmon life cycle, embedded into the concrete. It was artistic, accurate, and beautifully done.

On the other side of the tunnel was the riverside campsites. These sites ran alongside the Dosewallips River, many with little footpaths down to the gravel river beach. This area was more popular with tent campers, since without utility hookups it did not appeal to RVs. Boulders, logs, ferns, salal and Himalayan blackberry did a better job at defining site boundaries and lending a more private feeling to campsites, and cottonwood trees were more plentiful here.

The campground ended at a dirt path with a steel gate across it, leading to one of our day use areas: one primarily used as a rest stop for travelers. Picnic tables, a kitchen shelter with a brazier for grilling food, and a view of the Dosewallips estuary flowing into the Hood Canal made this a lovely spot. We walked along the road to the highway, then carefully crossed it. This took us to the campground entrance road and we soon came full circle to the park office – and my house was just a few steps beyond.

We walked into the park office. Ranger Jim was sitting at his desk: his long, lanky body; his bent knees which seemed uncomfortably high; his permanent uniform a park aide baseball cap, stained and faded pants, and boots with dirt in the creases, soft and worn from extensive use. He looked up and his smile reached his eyes, blue behind thick glasses. “Well hello there, Kjerstin.”

“Hello there, Jim. What’s going on?”

Jim and I talked in a playful, exaggerated manner.

“Well Kjerstin, I’m trying to fix our traffic counter, here.” He had several parts scattered on the desk, and one in his hand that was a small cube with numbers on it like an odometer. Jim’s eyes fixed on Lori. “Well hello, there.”

“Jim, Lori. Lori, Jim. Lori has come to visit us here at Dosewallips State Park.”

“Well how about that. Nice to meet you, Lori.”

“Ditto. Huh. Huh.”

“So what are you going to do today? Ahhh! You know what you should do! You should pack a picnic, drive out to the washout, then hike across the river to the old Forest Service campground. You’d probably have the place to yourselves.”

“Where is this Jim?”

“Just follow Dosewallips Road. It becomes gravel. And then you get to the washout – you can’t miss it. The old Dosewallips Forest Service campground is about a mile past that, you have to walk in. It’s a really nice place. And then you know what you could do? When you got back you could go to the Gooey Lounge and have a beer looking out at the Hood Canal. Ah, that would be just lovely.”

Jim loved to suggest itineraries for me, especially when I was entertaining guests. I had told him that he should turn the little cabin on his property into a B&B and help coordinate peoples’ activities while they were staying there.

Jim had put over 20 years into Parks. He’d met his wife Sarah when they were both working at another park: she’d been an administrative assistant. He often reflected on what a shame it was that new park rangers were now required to be armed (a change that had happened about a decade prior). Once their two sons reached a certain age, Sarah would have liked to get a paying job, and he insisted she would have been a great ranger. I guessed he was right.

Sarah was one of the primary organizers of the local Boy Scout troop, of which both their sons had long been active members, helping the boys earn badges and leading them regularly on backpacking trips. She was a walking encyclopedia about the local flora and fauna. She was proficient at canoeing and kayaking, knew how to tie-dye, home can, smoke shellfish, make apple cider, dip candles, and do dozens of other home crafts that were great skills to pass on to the scouts. Sarah also had a garden at their property near the Duckabush River, and in the growing season sold produce. She was always involved in some industrious activity.

Jim and Sarah were among the hardest-working people I’d ever known. While Sarah was doing all of the above, plus all the shopping, cooking, and housekeeping, Jim spent most of his free time building their house. They had raised their sons in park housing. But they dreamed of Jim retiring early and they would live on their property, sell produce from their garden, and do odd jobs for cash. Their house was in the Craftsman style and was absolutely exquisite. The outside was mostly done. Inside was mostly unfinished lumber, but it had taken shape.

Jim had built a maintenance shop which was quite large and filled with a huge stock of tools – many of them working, but antique. Just outside of this he had a small lumber mill. As they had cleared trees to make room for their home, they generated raw materials for much of their building needs.

Jim and Sarah, I thought, had done it right. They took full advantage of inexpensive park housing. They lived very modestly, making things that most of us buy, fixing things that most of us hire someone else to fix or simply throw out. When they received a small inheritance, they found a parcel of land with several acres that was relatively close to the park they lived at (and was even closer once they moved to Dosewallips). Jim built their house bit by bit, as they had money to buy supplies outright. When Jim did retire, they would have no debts, and a lovely piece of property to live on. Smart.

Jim and Lori were having a lively discussion about motorcycles. Lori once had a job selling motorcycles, and currently owned one. Jim’s younger son Brent had bought an old motorcycle that they were trying to rebuild. Jim’s eyes glittered and he looked at Lori with obvious admiration.

Motorcycles were not a big deal to me. In fact I had some misgivings about motorcycle riders as potential mates. I thought they had a propensity towards taking physical risks, liked to live on the edge.

I turned to the wooden box with little cubbies used for staff mail, memos, and work lists. Something about it had changed since the last time I’d seen it. Someone had taken the thin wood bottom off my cubby, effectively doubling its size by joining it with the cubby below. It was crammed with papers, folders, and large, stuffed manila folders. I heard the motorcycle conversation behind me wind down and turned around.

“Jim, what happened to my box?”

“Oh, well, let’s take a look,” and he walked over. In an exaggerated gesture, he threw back his head and smacked his forehead with his hand. “Well look at that! What happened here? This has Glenn W. Simpson all over it.” Jim started pulling things out. “What is this? ‘Fire Safety in the Forest Service.’ Well that’s useful. Oh look, the agency travel manual. And what’s this? A booklet on tree identification.” He’d been speaking with mock surprise, condescension obvious in his tone. Abruptly he turned to me, holding the last. “This is actually pretty good, Kjerstin. You should know these trees.” He thrust it at me, then went to his desk and picked up some items. These he started putting in my cubby: a few nuts and bolts, a length of wire, a C battery. “There ya go! Thank goodness Glenn made your box bigger, none of this would have fit.” A bolt rolled out and onto the floor. Jim picked it up and shoved it back in, holding his hand in front of the box for a moment. This time it stayed.

“Well Kjerstin, you guys enjoy your day.”

“All right Jim. See you tomorrow.”

“All right. Nice to meet you Lori.”

Lori and I exchanged a smile as we left Jim to his traffic counter, then walked to my house and into the backyard. The tall wooden fence and a thicket of Himalayan blackberries created privacy between my yard and the office. If I was looking towards the back of my yard, the park office was to the left. To the right, beyond my fence and a small gulley, was the large group campsite. The fence along the far back was hog wire, showing the forest beyond. The wire allowed a clear view, giving the illusion that my yard extended far into the trees.

The yard nearest the house was flat, then it sloped up as it approached the trees. Just before the slope was an odd statue. Made of concrete from a 2 dimensional mold was a stylized human figure that appeared to be dancing. I thought it looked like a simple, ancient Goddess symbol so I thought of it as a She. The edges were darkened from some tiny moss or lichen. When I first toured the house during my interview, Glenn was embarrassed by the statue and confessed that he’d contemplated taking it down. I emphatically urged him to leave it. Truth was, I thought it gave character and cheer to an otherwise boring, cookie-cutter 1970’s ranger rambler. The story was that a previous park manager had made it, a man. I wondered if he intended it to look female, or to look like it was dancing.

We sat on top of the picnic table, which was next to the fire pit: two standard features of park housing.

Lori looked around. “Pretty private.”

“Yeah, at least it gives that illusion. But I’ve had people peek their heads over the fence before. Kind of curtails sunbathing.”

“I’m glad you told me. I was about to take my top off and get some sun.”

I was startled. Would she have done this without asking me if I felt ok about that? This was my private home, but my coworkers and boss were just on the other side of that fence. “Good thing I said something!” I said humorlessly.

We agreed that we missed the warmth and sunshine of California, and that it was a big adjustment acclimating to the Pacific Northwest.

“I just make sure I get sun when I can. When I’m driving home from work on a nice day, I’ll drive up some Forest Service road, pull off to the side, get up on the hood and sunbathe in the raw. Huh. Huh.” She was looking me in the eye to see my reaction.

I felt uncomfortable. I wasn’t a prude. Well – maybe I was. I would never feel comfortable doing that. I would be too afraid that someone else would drive by and see me. And it didn’t seem safe. “Aren’t you worried someone will drive by and see you?”

“If they do, maybe it’ll make their day. Huh. Huh.”

Her laugh was getting on my nerves. It never varied. Even in moments of spontaneous humor, her laugh sounded forced, staccato. It sounded insincere as if her feelings didn’t go very deep.

While I returned to work tomorrow, Lori had another day off.

“What are your plans for tomorrow,” I asked her.

“I have some things I want to get from the house. Some clothes. My music CDs – I really miss them.”

“Oh, are you and Eve talking?”

“No, that hasn’t changed. But I think she’s out of town.”

“Are you going with a friend?” I was thinking of volatile and unpredictable Eve, being there unexpectedly. This did not sound like something Lori should be casual about.

“Nah, it won’t take that long. I’ll just go myself.”

“You don’t think you should have a friend go with you, just in case Eve’s there?”

“Nah. I’m pretty sure she’s gone. But if she’s there, she won’t do anything. I don’t think.”

“People become crazy during breakups. They do things you’d never expect them of.”

“She probably won’t be there.”

I didn’t feel it was my place to press the point any further. But Lori was not acting smart. I wondered to what extent she’d contributed to her relationship dramas. I was beginning to think she made choices that put her in drama’s way.

Please SHARE my blog with others. I would love to hear from you – post your COMMENTS and QUESTIONS below. Thank you for visiting!