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.

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