First of all, le prompt: http://kellieelmore.com/2013/11/01/fwf-free-write-friday-life-changers-with-guest-host-kelley-rose/
First of all I’d like to state it’s been awhile for me. For several reasons. One of which is that I had been a furloughed government employee, and was looking for other work, trying to move, and stressed out to the max. Never a good excuse not to write. Make time, my friends, make time.
I’m particularly grateful to Kelley Rose this week for the prompt: I’d been needing to focus on something positive, something positive away from my day to day experience. I’m choosing to focus here on the day I decided (or was called, if you call it that) to become a park ranger. There are really 2 life changing stories, the first gave me the bravery to become a park ranger, but the other will have to wait for another time. Right now this memory is as strong and green to me as western cedars after a rain.
It began with a dirty little piece of paper, dangling by a single tack (the other had fallen down), in the back of my biology classroom. (This was an environmental studies class to be precise). I was 18, almost 19. I was trying to figure out if I’d have enough time after this class to scurry to my restaurant job so I wouldn’t get fired. The professor was late.
A friend I’d been working on a group project with sidled up next to me. Being a community college, the average age of the student population was 35. I’m assuming that’s about how old my friend was. He had a full, dark beard, and looked like he should be the one teaching the class. I’m sure I was looking like the bored and anxious teenager I was. For some reason, he asked me,
“So what do you want to do with your life?”
Really? I was hoping to survive the day if my boss didn’t slay me for being late to work, if this class ever started, if I ever get out of this class…but I liked beard man so I was polite to him.
“Oh, I dunno, I like this class, I guess,” I stared at the giant tree outside, whose name I’d not yet learned, “I think it’d be fun to be a ranger.”
“Well, hey, did you see the notice at the back of the classroom?”
“There’s a notice?”
“Yah, the thing dangling from one tack. They’re hiring at Mount St. Helens.”
As if. As if they’d hire me. I was young, no experience, didn’t even know I liked science until I got to college, knew nothing about volcanoes or the forest that volcano is in. Zip. I was not an environmental studies major. After work I had play rehearsal, for chrissake. I was one of those “creative” people. Not a ranger. Hell no, not me.
But beard man was very nice. And encouraging. And smiling and nodding his head. And not creeping me out. So, okay. O.K.
I went back and peered at the little notice, which said to report to the career center for further information. So, the next day, when I was not scheduled to my eyeballs, I went, and the woman helped me put my resume together. I still felt foolish. No way. Dopey little thing like me. I couldn’t even remember where I’d parked my car after my career center meeting. I was definitely too dumb to find my way through the woods.
A few weeks later, I got a phone call at home.
“Could I get a table for two, please?” I had to look around and make sure I was in my home. Yup. Definitely at home…who is this SOB calling me at home with this prank? I was about to let some expletives flow into the receiver when I heard the man introduce himself as a Forest Service employee, and then say the most shocking sentence I’d ever heard in the English language,
“So, you still interested in working at Mount St. Helens?”
All I could manage at that point was an “I’m…sorry…I… um?”
“Oh, yes, sorry about the restaurant thing. You do work at a good restaurant. my wife and I love to go there when we’re in town.”
I came to love this man and his sense of humor. He is now a second father to me.
After a very nervous phone interview, he said he would be getting back to me. But, he could tell, I was one of their strongest candidates.
This park ranger man has an amazing, Santa-Clausy, belly laugh.
“But, I’m sorry, and I have to ask…I don’t have much experience. Any. You must have encountered people more experienced than me. People with backgrounds in geology, or biology…”
He interrupted me there. He really does have a great laugh.
“Well, as it turns out, we’ve hired some of those folks before. And they’re really great, they are, it’s just that in this job, you need to be able to talk to people. Some of them can, but some of them can’t. You’ve done well in this interview. You studied theater. You taught theater. I can’t imagine you have much of an issue getting up in front of a crowd.”
I gulped. Yes, but getting in front of a crowd and talking about VOLCANOES…
“Don’t worry. We’ll train you.”
And they did. I spent the next six years working seasonally there (I took some semesters off college, which took me longer, but it was worth it). I came to love the work, the people, but of course, foremost, the mountain.
The mountain draped in pink silk and floating on a cloud tutu early in the morning. The mountain, sulking, in cool shades of granite (dacite and andecite actually), magenta, and violet just before the sun splashed into the earth. The mountain feeding the creeks which I would jump across as I hiked the trails leading me closer and closer to heaven. The mountain, percolating like Granny’s teapot when snow caught in the magma chamber…
I knew I had to finish school when I left. I followed multiple career paths after receiving two different degrees. Two years ago I went back to being a ranger. Seasonally. Boots to trail again. (Or rather, visitor center, in this case).
With all that’s going on I’ve had to fall back on my museum experience for my next assignment. But if I get a call about being a ranger again…
Well I just may cancel those reservations for two.