Saturday, December 18, 2010

White Christmas

There's one thing for sure: we will have a White Christmas. The snow on the trees is beautiful; the afternoon light is beautiful. It's quiet and peaceful on the trails. This is a winter wonderland, all right here in my backyard.

For those of you NOT in Alaska, I feel sorry for you! You don't know what you're missing out on. ;)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Long Days of Winter

The nights are long, the days are short. Nine days until the solstice, the shortest day of the year. We have about 4.5-5 hours of daylight right now. On work days, I get to work before dawn cracks (even though it's 7:30 a.m.), and I leave when it's almost completely dark.

Lots of people have asked me something along the lines of, "Isn't it always dark up there??"

No, of course it isn't. Barrow, maybe. But here in Denali it's far enough south that we get at least a few hours of daylight all year.

And what daylight it is! I have yet to learn the physics involved with sunlight at such a low angle. But suffice it to say, it is stunning during daylight hours at this time of year. I wish I had a camera that took good enough pictures. My little Canon does fine in bright light (or when I have good enough batteries to make the flash work), but the subtle nuances of the daylight here in the Interior of Alaska are lost on my camera.

I went snowshoeing yesterday afternoon (about -10F at about 12:30 p.m.), and the snow on the tree limbs was beautiful. Everything takes on a very light purple-ish blue hue.

Today it's hovering around -21F, so I'm not out snowshoeing. Here in the office, it's slow. Park traffic should pick up after the first of the year. Until then, we are like the other animals that call Denali 'Home' - hunkering down and focusing on the little projects that we can't get done the rest of year when the park is full of visitors. And, yes, like the bears, I hope to sleep a lot! :)

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Time Out For Jen

When you were a little kid, did you ever get a Time Out? Say you did something mean to a classmate. Your teacher made you take a Time Out in the hallway to separate you from the situation and (hopefully) make you think about what you'd done.

Ranger Jen needs a Time Out. But this is a Preemptive Time Out.

For years, I liked learning about politics. Then I got away from it for a while. I just sort of steered away while doing other things.

But my job - as with many others - can be very political. Or at the very least, influenced by politics.

The past week or so, my mind has been drawn in. Imagine if you pulled the plug on a bathtub full of water. As the tub drains, the water circles and circles the drain before falling through. I feel like my mind is moving in those never-ending circles.

I need to thoughtful, conscientious, well-informed and educated when I speak my mind. And at the moment, I don't think I can hold myself back. I want to scream and shout and show people the error of their ways. Sadly, unless some folks get put in front of the proverbial firing squad, I doubt they'll learn.

For now, I'll just leave it at this:

Please, Please, PLEASE do NOT support the Republican idea of a Federal Hiring Freeze. You know what? I see that some jobs can be eliminated. But I see where this action could really hurt us in the long run. This is the time of year when the National Park Service is starting to recruit and hire their seasonal staff for next summer. A large portion of the Rangers you see in your parks only work 4-6 months of the year - withOUT benefits like insurance or retirement - because it's a job they love, they believe in, and serves their country well. The rest of the year they find work elsewhere. And we have millions of park visitors to take care of each year. I've worked in a park where we were short-handed - I could tell you a few unpleasant stories. And I WAS that seasonal employee. It would take me a while to count up the employees, but my guess is that out all divisions, two-thirds to three-quarters of our East District staff at Mount Rainier were seasonal - and most, if not all, of the permanent employees were subject-to-furlough (unpaid leave at least 2-4 weeks each year).

Interestingly, I have the statistics on how many visitors we served in 2010. I compiled the East District statistics. Have no fear, when I calm down tomorrow, you'll get more Mount Rainier statistics than you'd ever care to read. And I'll send the spreadsheets to anyone interested.

If we can't hire our seasonal staff this year, I really think our parks - and park visitors - are going to be Screwed. With a capital S. If you plan on visiting a National Park this summer, consider this situation. Please.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Getting Old(er)

I have a friend, a childhood classmate, who was recently mentioning that she's got grey hairs popping out all over and vision that is going down hill. And then she kindly reminds me that I'll always be older than her. (This is only by about 4 months, but who's counting?)

I have another friend who likes to tell me I'm old - and he's only 13 days younger than me.

What is it with people and age?

Tomorrow is my birthday. I think I found a grey hair a year or so ago, but really, the hairs that surprise me are DARK RED. Huh? Like everything else in my life, my hair doesn't do the average thing. Time says to turn grey; my hair turns red.

People supposedly settle down as they age. I move to Alaska. In the middle of winter.

Some people reflect on where they are in life - or where they are not.

I just look at my To-Do list and think, "($*&! How am I going to get all of this done?"

My Sunrise teammates this past summer teased me about being the Project Person. If there was a project to be done, give it to Jen! If it involved spreadsheets or statistics, give it to Jen!

Don't mistake "project" with "chore". I'll clean bathrooms only when someone points a gun to my head. My bed hasn't been made since I was eight years old.

Mostly my love of those little 'projects' stems from my natural curiosity. I like making things and I like learning. Consider those traits as a springboard into action over a broad range of things that spark my imagination and curiosity. I think both of those - imagination and curiosity - have grown as I've aged. And I happen to think this is a good thing.


I think a couple of my coworkers are going to take me out for dinner. "Out" around here? I believe that involves the 11-mile drive to Healy. I'm curious.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


The title is a bit vague. This might be an on-going topic I address over and over.

Oh well.

This week, I've been watching the Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan The National Parks: America’s Best Idea PBS series that came out last year. I'd not seen most of the series yet, and people comment about it when they visit our parks, so I thought I needed to watch the series in its entirety.

I'm not going to comment on quality, breadth of content, etc. That's up to each person's point of view. But I do like history a bit and I think the photography has been beautiful. :)

The thing that - almost unknowingly - hits me is that this series has the ability to grip emotions if you let it. Or if you are moved by these great parks as I am. Several influential early park proponents went into the moutains for their health. They talked and wrote of spiritual experiences they had.

I can identify with them. And I'm thankful that there were people willing to set aside places for breathing mountain air, for renewal, for escaping the 'everyday' world.

Watching this series, too, I find myself wanting to be more of an outspoken advocate. I feel compelled to act. To do more.

“National parks embody an idea as uniquely American as the Declaration of Independence and just as radical: that the most magnificent and sacred places in our land belong not to royalty or the rich but to everyone- and for all time,” said Burns. “While making this series, we discovered more than stories of the most dramatic landscapes on earth. We discovered stories of remarkable people from every conceivable background. What they had in common was a passion to save some precious portion of the land they loved so that those of us who followed might have the same chance to fall in love with that place. Without them, parks would not exist.”

Monday, November 29, 2010


“When you walk into any natural National Park, you’re walking into somebody’s homeland. You’re walking into somebody’s house. You’re walking into somebody’s church. You’re walking into somebody’s place where they’ve lived since the time the Creator made it for them.”
– Gerard Baker, U.S. National Park Service, Retired

You may hear the word "home" and think of the house you live in. Or maybe the house you grew up in. Still others might think of a specific town or city. Perhaps you are lucky enough to have more than one home, or feel at home whenever you are with friends and family.

Let me backtrack and give a bit of context to the quote above. Gerard Baker is a Mandan-Hidatsa Indian who grew up on the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota. He just recently retired from the National Park Service, after spending years living, studying and interpreting native cultures. So the quote above bears special meaning to him. His words spoke volumes to me; they resonated with a message I struggle to verbalize.

The word 'home' has different connotations to different people. Some objective and other subjective. Objectively, you might consider St. Louis, Missouri, to be my home; I was born and raised there. Or you might consider Denali Park, Alaska, my home, as that is where the U.S. Postal Service currently sends my mail.

But perhaps I can offer a bit more insight into my home: carpeted with flowers in the summertime, and snow in the wintertime, my spirit is at home - at peace - out in our great parks. It is in great valleys surrounded by towering peaks that I understand the significance of cathedrals and the interconnectedness of the world around me. These places of beauty nourish the body, mind and soul.

The cabin that started it all.
The Holzworth Homestead
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Rangers often get asked "How do get to be a ranger?" or "Why did you become a ranger?"

My answers usually mention visiting our magnificent parks as a kid with my family, studying the natural sciences, loving the great outdoors, etc. etc. etc.

But the simple truth is this: I work in these places so that I can live at home.

And in so doing, I hope to convert a few other to the same love and contentment I feel, in the hopes of protecting these resources that nourish life - and, of course, in the hope of protecting my home.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Native Knowledge

This past weekend, I found myself looking through online seed catalogs and thinking towards spring. I sent a note to a friend of mine who has lived in northern Alaska his whole life, asking for advice on gardening up here. I said I was just looking for ideas; I had nothing specific in mind. Jack wrote back with solid ideas and his personal experience. One thing he wrote struck me:

Carrots, beets, lettuce, and other row crops are started once the ground can be worked and the cotton wood trees send out a red catkin bud... that means the temperature is moderated and ground is thawed enough... rule of thumb the old timers used.


It's been a bit of a slow day here at the MSLC. I've been taking advantage of the free time by preparing my upcoming snowshoe walk program and reading through one of the Eppley Interpretation courses. As interpretive rangers, we like to tie concrete, tangible park resources with the bigger picture - their intangible meanings and concepts. Jack did that so well in his note to me. He pointed out how generations before us knew the plants, knew the species and their phenology. They understood not only what the plants themselves were doing, but how those plants (and, by extension, the seasons, weather and growing conditions) could be a sign to us for our daily activities.

It's easy (easier) sometimes to see the Native Knowledge in play up here in Alaska. The state is relatively young; some of the native cultures are still around - although quite altered from where they were 100 years ago. Some of the old ways of doing things are still of interest and still in practice - even if they are, at times, only for entertaining tourists.

One of the examples in the course I'm working through described Peace Pipes used by tribes of the western United States 150+ years ago. The actual pipes might be an interesting artifact, but put in the context of the Sand Creek Massacre (for example), these pipes take on a new meaning. If you're unfamiliar with the Sand Creek Massacre, I'd request you read up on this episode in American History. My point today is not to debate America's Manifest Destiny or Imperialism (I'd be well up for that debate at another time), but merely to wonder what we could have learned from these people that were needlessly slaughtered. They lived well more connected to the natural phenomena that still affect our daily lives: weather, seasons, animals, plants, etc. I'm convinced that we, so-called 'civilized' or modern Americans, have missed out on a great deal of knowledge we were intended to have. Do we pay attention? Do we notice the little things around us?

It's easy for me to think such things. My desk looks right outside into the snow and the stand of spruce and aspen right in front of the MSLC. I can see the tracks made by countless animals as they go about their daily lives. They far out-number me and my coworkers. And they have made a home in this harsh environment. They make me want to learn more.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Wrong Weather

Here at Denali, we're used to cold weather. Last week one day it got down to -26F. But today and tomorrow will see a warm, moist storm roll through. It's hovering around freezing right now - WAY too warm for this time of year around here.

I just thought I'd share the contents of an all-employee email I just received. Not really a laughing matter, but it tickled me.


Road conditions north and south of the park are bad and are likely to get worse. Freezing rain has been reported in Healy. People in Fairbanks have described driving conditions there as "horrendous"! A winter storm warning is out for our area and Fairbanks. Talkeetna and the Mat Valley have been issued an ice storm warning.

If you're planning to drive to Fairbanks or Anchorage in the next couple of days now would be a good time to seriously reconsider.

As for the park road. We have ice edges and chains on a grader and a full sander and sand bay. The road crew will be out blading and sanding as conditions require.

Be careful as you travel for the holiday this week!

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Denali Kennels

One of the common subjects of interest at Denali National Park and Preserve is the Sled Dog Kennels. The park was established in 1917 and the first Superintendent, Harry Karstens, was appointed in 1921. Karstens was already a musher and he brought his dogs with him for patrols. He established the park kennels; sled dogs have been active in the park ever since.

Not only are they more historically accurate for park operations, the dogs provide a means of transportation in the winter here that mechanized transport can't. They are more in keeping with the wilderness of Denali, where mechanized transport doesn't fit.

A team of 8 dogs coming back to the kennels after a short patrol:

The dogs are a favorite of most people around here. People - including park staff - flock to the kennels to meet the dogs, learn about the kennel operations, watch demonstrations, and (staff members) walk the dogs.

I've visited the kennels twice so far. Next week I get my training on walking and feeding the dogs. I'm so excited! A few more pictures:

Aurora and Trout wondering when it will be their turn to run:

Pup Sylvie (about 8 weeks old) trying to eat the current Flat Stanley mailing. The class that gets this picture will love it! Sylvie just came to us from a kennel in Eagle, AK. She's so cute when running around sniffing and chewing on anything that doesn't run away.

Three more pups - this summer's litter. I still don't know all of their names.

Tuya got to lead on this patrol. He looks rather happy; he's ready to run again! These dogs have more energy than any other beings I've seen. ;)

If you'd like to read more about Denali's Kennels and meet the dogs, click here.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

How much light is there on November 10, 2010?

I get a lot of questions about light in Alaska. "Isn't it dark all winter?" or "Is that because there is always so much darkness?" or "How do you see to walk to the bathroom?"

I started a little project today that I hope to continue every few days through the winter. I really don't like the location of my pictures; tomorrow I might try this again, looking in a different direction from the building. The trees and building shadows obscure the light a bit. But either way, you get the idea.

8:45 a.m.

9:45 a.m.

11:00 a.m.

12:15 p.m.

2:30 p.m.

3:45 p.m.

4:20 p.m.

7 hours +/- of good light today? Something like that.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Basket Making with Julia

This morning I got my weekly update from King Salmon, AK... in the form of the weekly letter from Julia (she sends a weekly email everyone at once about what's been going on in her life during the past week).

Some of you know Julia, some have only heard of her from me. Julia was a terrific mentor to me while I was at Mount Rainier National Park. She and I have both moved on for now; we're both up here in Alaska (although several hundred miles apart). She's a good writer and I enjoy getting these letters. Today's letter hit on a key concept: work. How we approach it, how we learn and how we help others to do their best. This is part of what she wrote:

King Salmon may not have many people in it, but it has plenty of infrastructure left over from the heyday of the military presence. This includes a large building housing a branch of the University of Alaska, known as Southwest Alaska Vocational and Education Center (SAVEC). Through grants and tuition, teachers are brought in and housed at SAVEC for a variety of classes.

Southwestern Alaska is famous for grass basketry. Lucy flew with her husband Joe from Togiak to teach us her form of basket-making.

Lucy is a Yupik speaker, and her English is heavily accented with hesitant consonants. She tried to teach us a few words from her language. I found it difficult to duplicate her pronunciation: Yupik has a number of sounds that English lacks. “Quyana,” for instance, the word for “thank you,” is said something like “koo-YA-na,” but with the “koo” deep in the throat and much gentler.

Her manner, too, was gentle—very unlike some of my classmates who rapidly ran her over with their own chatter. The cultural contrast was very marked. It often seems to me that people of my own culture need to constantly tell others about themselves (I am guilty of this myself too often). We are poor listeners on the whole.

There is also a tendency in mainstream Americans to reassure themselves by sticking with what they already know. Conversation ran to raising kids, the local doings at the school and in the community, building houses, the rising cost of electricity and airplane tickets, words in the local dialect (different from Lucy’s Yupik).

Lucy gave us an explanation of basket making while we waited for our grass to soften in warm water, and showed us a number of baskets and other items she had brought. There was a rattle, an “Eskimo yo-yo” (a toy with two balls on the ends of unevenly matched cords, played by making each ball circle in opposite directions), and a small ball in addition to baskets, to show us the variety of things that could be made. The baskets ranged from about the size of a large thimble to larger than a softball, most with lids.

Although we would be learning how to use grass, other materials, from raffia to strips of plastic rice bags, could be used. For colored designs, dyed grass or seal intestine (scraped and dried, translucent, and crackly as paper) are added.

It wasn’t easy to get much instruction with the constant interruptions of the other women in the class. We grasped the basics enough to strip our grass blades and get started. We had Friday evening, 9-5 on Saturday, and 9-2 on Sunday; and quickly discovered that sewing baskets with grass is a time-consuming activity. I finished a small basket and made a lid for it by Saturday afternoon, at least half a day ahead of the rest. By now Lucy was sewing her own basket, and I could sit and watch her.

It was watching Lucy that made me realize I had made my entire first basket incorrectly. Although she had walked around the room looking at our work, all she had ever said was, “Wow! Look at that…” in her soft tones, smiling at each of us. Working on my second basket, taking breaks to watch Lucy more closely, I pondered this lack of correction.

An explanation arrived later in the form of a story. When asked about what her own first basket had looked like, she said that the centers were showing (the strands around which a flattened piece of grass is wound); but that her grandmother said it was wonderful anyway. Ahhh… teaching by encouragement, not by criticism, is a very different style from what most of us are used to. And there is a much greater responsibility placed on the student: to learn well, one must listen well and watch closely.

When I look at my two little baskets now, I remember that lesson: watch, and learn. Model your work after the work you admire. Pay attention.

Pay attention is the same message delivered by the world around us. I try to walk outside every day, and the faster I can empty my head of idle chatter and pointless worry, the more I enjoy the walk and the more I see. Yesterday evening, for example, I went out shortly before dark. The small amount of snow lying on the ground, left for days in the cold without melting, is dry and squeaky. I make such a racket walking through it that I was unable to hear anything but myself. I stopped to examine the view of King Salmon Creek from atop the bluff; and once I was still, heard a surprising amount of noise from below. At first, I thought some large animal was thrashing its way through the brush. Then I realized I was hearing the ice on the creek being moved by the current: snapping, cracking, and gurgling.

Julia always gives me something to think about. Besides the fact that I want to learn basketry.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Another Cabin in Alaska.....

Flashback to 2007....

This was the first cabin. Within the city limits of Fairbanks, and yes, it was dry: no plumbing. See the square blue thing by the front door? We had four of them to bring water into our precious little cabin. I shared this cabin with two other girls who were also in Alaska working at the University. It was such an interesting summer.

Fast-forward 3 years and 2 months.....

This is the cabin I'm in now. You'll notice my little blue truck in front of it. Besides the fact that I love working in our parks, if you're curious about what brought me back to Alaska, you might consider the view from my front porch:

For the next few months, I will be working at Denali National Park and Preserve. I don't have every little detail worked out (I still don't know my mailing address!), but I'm hoping for a good winter.

Not only is this an amazing park, with stunning scenery and natural resources, but it was a place I wanted to explore further. I'm hoping to turn this winter job into a summer job for next year as well. Yes, I'd miss Sunrise and Rainier, but this is ALASKA.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Fall in the Cascades

It's that time of year again... The park traffic has slowed and fall colors are starting to show. We've already had snow in the high country.

At Ohanapecosh, that means MUSHROOMS! The berry crop this year was sad - the season, weather and moisture regimes were really not the average. But there has been some really nice Chanterelles found in the lower forests. Most of the ranger folk around me like to hunt for mushrooms, and I've taken many late afternoon walks looking for these prizes. :)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Trying to Get Back in the Saddle

It's been a long time since I posted an entry in here. It's been a long summer at Sunrise and Ohana. And it's not over for another 2 weeks (for me). Lots of projects need attention, as well as getting ready to move to Colorado for the winter.

I'll post pictures of my summer home soon. And I'll get back to writing in here within the next couple of weeks!

Ranger Jen is alive. ;)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

From One Ranger To Another...

The following text is a note I left for a new coworker after he told us his thoughts on being selected as a seasonal ranger for his first season with the NPS. Note, he's in his 60's, I believe, and retired from his day job...


What you said at the restaurant earlier tonight struck a chord with me. And I wanted to thank you for wearing your heart on your sleeve.

Our amazing parks mean a great deal to me. It seems that I can't remember a time when I didn't love mountains. For a while as an undergrad, I got “distracted”. But if I think back, and be honest with myself, all I ever wanted was a little cabin in the mountains, surrounded by evergreens and wildflowers, tall peaks and tumbling creeks. And a ranger's hat.

I remember, as a kid, going on ranger walks in Rocky Mountain National Park. There was a campfire program every night in Glacier Basin campground – my dad's favorite place to camp. We listened every night. During the day we would walk all of the “family-friendly” trails – around lakes, to nearby waterfalls, through meadows and forests filled with wildflowers. Yes, we even had a meadow that we called our “Frolicking Meadow”! I learned what Bighorn Sheep and Columbine were all about. I remember my dad carrying our cooler down a flight of stone and log stairs to a picnic table beside Glacier Creek. We ate there at least once a summer. There was an old tree, fallen across the creek, that my brother used to climb on. And at that same picnic table, I'd watch dad pull little sweet pickles out of a jar using his pocketknife – the first place I ever ate little sweet pickles. We'd take the walk around Bear Lake, stopping at each bear paw numbered sign and listen as Mom read from the trail guide about that particular stop.

Ten years ago now, I made my first solo trek out to Rocky, well before I got into the PhD program at Colorado State University. I drove for two days from Arkansas, while some of my friends thought I was either going to die... or worse, turn into a complete nature freak. I remember driving my car over Trail Ridge Road – and the Continental Divide – for the first time as an “adult”. (Are we ever really adults in our nation's greatest playgrounds?!) I was at this saddle, with the clouds swirling and floating across the road, so I pulled over and just watched. Driving across open areas of alpine tundra certainly gives one a different perspective on the world below! Later that same trip, I saw in the Harbison Meadows, and then at the Bowen-Baker trailhead, and told myself I didn't have to go back to the midwest – I was home. Finally.

It actually took me a few more years to get through my masters' degree and actually move to Colorado, but when I did, and got hooked up with some other local hikers and park fans, I knew life was going in the right direction.

Despite my disappointments with my time at CSU, it gave me the chance to spend the summer of 2007 in the Alaskan interior – between Denali, Gates of the Arctic and Yukon-Charley National Preserve. I fell in love all over again. I even got two log cabins to call home that summer – one on the outskirts of Fairbanks and one in the foothills of the Brooks Range in Coldfoot. I got to see moose roaming hillsides and the arctic tundra ablaze in red in the fall. It was in Alaska where I got my first taste of real blueberries. And wild cranberries. And I learned to fall asleep to the sounds of sled dogs howling across the “highway” (really a 400-mile stretch of dirt, gravel, and stunning landscapes). My roommate that summer also fell in love with Alaska – her first summer there too. We read through Dick Proenneke's journal exerpts of homesteading at Twin Lakes, now part of Lake Clark National Park. If you have not heard of him, I'll let you borrow my copy of One Man's Wilderness. Turns out, he'd already lived my dream.

Although I really don't remember the day I saw an NPS ranger hat for the first time – I was five years old (ask for my mom's stories!) - it almost seems that this summer in uniform will be a sort of surreal experience. Is this really me? Who knew this could happen?

Here's to making your dreams into reality and protecting America's most beautiful and precious open spaces. As John Muir once said, “The mountains are calling and I must go.”


Tuesday, June 1, 2010

What a Handsome Group!

Too bad we're not all in uniform. ;) This picture was taken this morning, and it includes all of the rangers, interns and volunteers for the Mount Rainier Interp Division, 2010.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

I’m not THAT old, am I?!

I’m a dreamer. I have built my future log cabin in the woods. Built it in my mind, that is. And I know what my little homestead will look like, the amenities it will have, the rooms for my books and crafts, a simple kitchen with a huge pantry. Or maybe a good-sized root cellar. (That’s probably more practical for my life.) Either way, I need to have a space for baking – and a separate area for my knitting and fiber arts, where bits of food can’t bother the wool.

I have dreams for the future and I don’t feel that old. Of course, the surgery last November played with my body a bit. But I’m ok. I need more exercise and sometimes my knees do feel a bit stiff, but that’s the arthritis I’ve had practically since birth. At least I don’t have a lot of pain. Yet. I could stand to loose more than a few pounds, but maybe that will happen this summer when I’m outdoors more often and am more active in general. You all know my feeling towards the rain and blizzards we’ve had in April and so far in May…

I’ve met a portion of my job/career goal – I’ve made it to the seasonal ranger dance with the National Park Service (NPS). It could take decades to get a permanent job. (I have one friend who was a seasonal for 10 years before she got her first permanent position. Another friend, somewhat by choice, is still a seasonal after 22 years – but she’s trying to find a permanent position now.) In other words, I have a long haul before the career is permanent, most likely. The NPS is one of the most beloved and seriously competitive agencies to land a career with, within the entire United States bureaucracy. No matter what you think about our government, Yellowstone is still damn cool. Denali is breathtaking. The National Mall has some great museums and landmarks – including the White House. Yes, the National Park Service may be embroiled in the bureaucracy, but the places we work are just stunning. And those places need us to care. So here I am.

I keep telling myself that when I get one more portion of my current debt load paid off I’ll start looking for a nice little place in the mountains – for that little homestead I mentioned earlier. Some of you know that I’ve been trying to work through the 101 Things in 1001 Days goal program. I’ve met some of those goals…. Most recently, I paid off one portion of my current debt load. It was the smallest of the bills, but still a milestone. The next budget goal involves the final amount due from my surgery. It’s less than $500, and it will be done by August. Hopefully sooner. And I’m closer to my overall debt-reduction goal because of these - even though the surgery temporarily increased my debt.

This is how I think. I see milestones. I try to find a bit of good in things, even though I know I complain way too much. Yes, lately the complaints have been the incessant rain. It's raining again today, by the way.

But back to the goals. I guess I’m like this because I have an eye towards the future. Note, “towards the future” implies I expect there to be a future for me. It isn’t all just in the past.

But since my new roommate moved in about 5 weeks ago, I’ve had to admit that I’m a bit more out of the ‘young’ crowd than I generally think I am. She’s 24 years old. I’ve never heard most of her music – even though it’s always on the radio in the car, so I’m guessing it’s popular. (God, I sound OLD!) I thought NPR’s Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me! was a good show to listen to. I thought it was funny. Apparently, it’s funny for old farts. And I’m one of them.

This past Saturday, I got up in the morning and went through my usual morning routine. Then I drove over to Mika & Tom's house, picked up Mika, and drove into the park to go hiking. Thus the pictures of the blueberry flowers that I posted in my last entry. So we walked, enjoying the sunshine and the birds singing. Even the little froggie. (Toadie? I'm so not a herpatologist.) After our hike, I ran home to get my contribution to our group lunch at Mika & Tom's. My roommate was still in bed. I don't believe she's spent any non-work daylight hours in the park enjoying the trails, animals, etc. It's really kind of sad, at least from my point of view.

Next “old” topic: the internet. Ranger Julia and Ranger Tom got back to Mount Rainier on Sunday afternoon after spending the winter elsewhere (they are seasonal rangers too). I was talking to them about a few projects we’d like to tackle this summer for the park and in our own lives. Julia always has interesting ideas. It was a great conversation. But we didn’t have a computer on at all. We talked while unpacking their apartment stuff. In fact, we talked about spinning (spinning goat hair from the Sunrise area!), weaving, and cooking, among other topics. I mentioned that the roommate spends all her time on the internet. Tom told me it was a factor of age: we grew up in a time before everything was a click away. We had to make our own entertainment. So we had hobbies. We learned skills. And, heaven forbid, we used our imaginations. And I’m only 35!?

My roommate spends every waking moment that she’s at home on her computer. It’s an addiction. If she’s not Skyping, she’s watching videos or chatting – frequently with some of the guys in the next building. (Why doesn’t she just walk the 10 yards to their apartment?) She’s found her way into the lives of a couple of guys in the next building who have satellite TV. I’m glad she’s made friends, but when she’s not online or at the local bar, she’s at the guys’ place watching TV.

She stares at the internet while drinking her breakfast juice – 15 minutes before walking to the office to spend all day on the computer/internet there too. And to think, I’ve lived for the past 14 months without internet at home. (I still don’t have it at home.) I believe she’s good with the kids that visit the park, and she seems to like working with the kids, but outside of those work duties, I can’t imagine how much boredom she must be feeling. If I was in her shoes, I’d be bored.

She teases me about being old. She’s got a very good-natured sense of humor, but I’ve really wanted to tell her that she needs a hobby and maybe a few life skills other than Cloroxing door knobs, drawer pulls and refrigerator handles when she’s got a cold.

Then yesterday, a miracle happened. She asked me how to marinate and cook some cubed chicken to serve over rice. One of the boys was coming over for dinner. The meal turned out well; she said she wanted to learn to cook more things because it tasted so much better than her frozen dinners.

I have yet to tell her she’s growing up. I’ll sit back and enjoy watching this process while I can. It’s cute. Wireless entertainment.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Spring is finally here. (I hope.)

Mika and I walked along West Side Road this morning. It was sunny, with big puffy white clouds and warm temperatures. The perfect day for a walk! We both love to pick berries in the fall so we were eager to see the blueberries setting flowers!

I know this means one less berry in the fall, but we had to open one flower up and look at it's cross-section. Hey, it's what I do.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Thoughts on History

In my blog entry this morning, I mentioned that I'm going to be talking about the park's history and founding legislation next week to a bunch of high schoolers.

No problem, I know the key dates, names and locations. In fact, I probably know a bit more than I'd really need to talk about.

But putting this history in the context of U.S. history is another thing altogether. I'm attempting to set up a mini-debate (case study?) for the students to learn about a few of the major factors / stakeholder groups that affected Mount Rainier's becoming a National Park.

So for the past few hours, I've been reading up on parts of the Civil War, the California Gold Rush (the Klondike Gold Rush - which weighed heavily in this region - hasn't happened yet for the scene I'm trying to set) and the Oregon Trail.

All in one afternoon? Not even possible.

I've come across a few names I know a bit about: Zebulon Pike, Stephen Long, Rocky Mountain Jim, Dred Scott, John Colter, etc. etc. Off the top of my head I could probably name at least one thing each was famous for. But there is so much more. And some of this is just fascinating.

So, this leads me to the question: Why weren't my history classes in high school and college more interesting? Those classes worked better than Benadryl at putting me to sleep. I was a math and science girl. History and English classes bored me to no end.

Thank God I didn't give up on reading and literature. Jane Austen cracks me up today. And I find myself wanting to study history a bit more now.

Busy, busy, busy

It has hit me like a brick wall yesterday and today: we are busier here at the Ed program than I expected we'd be.

We are still snowshoeing. After the new 12+" of snow at Paradise this week, I believe we'll still be snowshoeing with students through mid-June.

We have a variety of programs coming up in the next month, including several visits to schools. This means writing a few new programs. Next week, we will be working with the same students two different days; the first day will be a visit to their school to introduce the park, discuss history and park foundation, etc., and then the next day, those students will be coming here for a snowshoe hike. I'm the lead ranger on this adventure, and I think I've changed my in-school (park history-focused) program about 6 times now.

I've also taken on a small project for my office days: compiling visitor use statistics on the schools that participate in our programs (both in the park and schools we visit). My previous boss either didn't keep such records or didn't leave them here for us when she left last October. However, we really need these types of data and records. (Why did Anne not do this? I'm NOT going to open THAT can of worms.) So Fawn and I are researching, I'm building Excel spreadsheets full of data, and eventually, we will be able to formally report to the superintendent's office and our park non-profit partners about our audience, potential visitors, etc.

The weather here is a bit disappointing this spring. The flowers here at lower elevations are coming out. But winter is still holding on, complete with snow, rain and grey, cloudy skies. I'm ready for sun, warm weather and wildflowers in the subalpine meadows.

Monday, May 3, 2010

More Rain and a Blizzard. Is it really May 3?

Yes, I know I'm living and working in the Pacific Northwest.

But seriously.

I think we've had *maybe* 3 hours of sunny skies in the past two-three weeks. I awoke this morning to yet another gulley-washer. My skin is beginning to mildew.

For a wildflower enthusiast who loves to hike in the mountains, this weather is impossible and rather maddening. I should be out exploring the park. I should be noting which plants are up, which are blooming, how the Rubus sp. and Vaccinium sp. are leafing out and setting flowers. Instead, I'm indoors, being lazy and staring at a computer.

I'm trying to find the good in this, but seriously (yes Bill, there's THAT word!), I WANT SOME SUN!!!!!!!

I did have a productive weekend. I nearly finished the blue cable-knit hoodie that I've been working on since last fall. I just need to seam up the underarms and weave in a few stray ends and it will be wearable.

I've made progress on the red/purple sweater I started during the Olympics in February. Of course, I didn't like the way that project was originally going, so after the Olympics, I ripped out the whole thing and started over. "Progress" here is relative.

And I watched the entire eighth (last) season of Monk. It ended well, and I did shed a tear or two. And then I watched a few episodes of the old standby - Northern Exposure. I love that show!

One thing about I've noticed about seasonal park rangers - they all come with many DVDs. You'd think we all live in the middle of nowhere, without cable/satellite TV and/or internet connectivity. I bet I could easily find 300+ movies and TV show episodes (without duplication) amongst the transient rangers here at Rainier.


Wait! I must go. The sun is trying to break through the clouds. I'm going to go outside and stand in the field for a minute, all the while praying for a sunburn.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Snow and Foxes

Yesterday, Ranger Emily took pictures of me while out on the trail with some middle schoolers. The weather was less than great. It rained - poured, actually - all morning here at headquarters and up on the mountain it was snowing, blowing and cold. Conditions which, in part, led to a search and rescue operation for the park, rescuing two Canadian climbers who lost their way and fell into a crevasse. Thankfully, our climbing rangers and local guide services employ rather courageous (in my opinion; some might call them "crazy") and skilled mountaineers that rescued the two stranded climbers and brought them safely down the mountain.

But back at Paradise, Emily and I were out with some middle schoolers, snowshoeing, learning about winter on the mountain, and watching fox tracks. Here we are, listening like foxes with our big ears:

And look! Who should join us but Mr. Cascade Fox himself!

Emily and I are back at it today on the mountain with another group of sixth graders today.

Tomorrow I'm staying warm and dry in the office. I've decided to be a wimpy ranger for the rest of the week. ;)

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The hard part of caring for America's Best Idea

This week was indeed eye-opening. Thursday was Earth Day and the TWoods office folks here at Rainier participated in the annual park clean-up. We take on a stretch of road somewhere in the west side of the park (the east side still is closed, snowed in, and being plowed) and pick up trash, break up illegal campsites, and attempt to erase some of the human-caused damage.

Fawn, Emily and I - the education staff - went out with Ranger Ken on Skate Creek Road along the park's southern boundary. For those of you who haven't been here (yet!), Skate Creek is a U.S. Forest Service Road where people can camp legally along the road. There's less traffic, less noise, and less regulation than in the park. But the Forest Service doesn't have enough resources to patrol the area very well, make sure people aren't doing anything illegal or causing damage to the land - much less hurting themselves. Some of the clean-up on areas adjacent to the park fall to park staff and volunteers. Ranger Ken seems to have taken on this area as his pet project, for which I really respect him. And although it was a weekday and we didn't run into any trouble, I was a bit thankful to have a law enforcement ranger with us - complete with all of his gear.

Keep in mind that Skate Creek Road, while technically not on our property, does affect the park, because the Nisqually River, which runs in tandem with the road for many miles, is the boundary of the park. And when people camp along Skate Creek, trash (among other things) ends up all over - and in the river - and thus on our property. Also keep in mind that this river flows down towards the Puget Sound region, and provides drinking water and hydroelectric power for hundreds of thousands of residents of western Washington. The river starts up on Mount Rainier as meltwater draining from the Nisqually Glacier.

The campsites, trash and mess we found was astounding to me. And everything had been shot up. Literally. Glass bottles in shatters. Engine oil plastic bottles shot up and the oil spilled all over the ground. Beer cans and food containers all sporting holes from bullets. Trash everywhere. The best campsite we found had 2 television sets, one microwave, and hundreds of beer bottles - all that were shattered from being shot at. Bullet casings and shotgun shells littered the ground everywhere.

My first thought: Who actually has time for such activities?! These ^&*%#@! rednecks really need a productive hobby.

Sorry for the harshness, but it really made me (us) mad. And with the two vehicles we brought out, we didn't have enough space to haul out all of the crap left behind by the drunken 'fun' had by these folks, whoever they are. It was disgusting and maddening.

And before I go on and on, I'm just going to post a picture. More are on my Facebook Rainier photo album.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Quite the fashion statement...

The picture is a bit far away, but that's a badge. Just in case you were curious. ;) The hat should be coming next week, it's on order with the rest of my gear. Behind me is the Education Center at Mount Rainier, where I've had my office for the past 14 months. I'll be here until the beginning of June and then I'll transfer to the other side of the park and be stationed at Ohanapecosh. This is setting up to be a good summer.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Just the facts...

Where to begin?

I started this blog entry and couldn't figure out where to go with it. There are a few issues facing our public lands and resources right now that are weighing on my mind. They are very polarizing and contentious, depressing, oftentimes political, and worrysome (at least to me).

The first (of many) are the debates and policies of 'predator control' in Alaska. Every news story you read gives different 'facts' and opinions. Same with people who actually have a stake on the land up there - different opinions, different facts, different values and different reactions.

Some people might focus on the animals themselves and ecosystem processes. Some folks might look at tourism aspects and profitibility. Others might look for political gain or status. And still others might consider their own lifestyle or the subsistence needs of local residents.

The 'sides' of the arguement go on and on.

As a park ranger, I'm asked to present multiple sides of each issue to park visitors. Give our visitors as much information as they can process and let them come to their own conclusions. While those 'predator control' issues in Alaska may not be directly affecting Rainier at this moment, they are affecting me. At least on some emotional level. I'm struggling to understand the facts of the issue - from more than one perspective.

I'm not a resident of Alaska (obviously), but I have spent more time up there than the average tourist. In fact, I spent my time up there STUDYING the 'average' tourist - in three distinct areas of Alaska with three different 'types' of tourists. Outside of the research, I loved the little dry cabins that I called 'home'. I learned that wild blueberries and cranberries taste better than any berry you can buy from any store. I figured out that, at least on some level, I yearn for the subsistence lifestyle. And, although I knew this before spending time up there (my time in Alaska merely reinforced what I already knew to be true), wide open spaces, big animals and the tiniest plants on the arctic tundra can capture your imagination like very few other things in our modern world.


Spring is trying to take hold here at Rainier, despite the fact that we still have 14 feet of snow on the ground at Paradise. It's been sunny and beautiful here today, and even though I have a few things on the work agenda for today (which I did finish!), my mind has been a thousand plus miles north of here.

PS - Throughout the past 14 months at Rainier, I was classified as an intern/volunteer. As of March 28, I was offered (and accepted) a paid ranger position at Rainier for this 2010 season. Most of my official uniform parts are still on order and haven't arrived at the park. However, I have the basics and today was my first day in 'the grey and green' as they say it. Fawn (the boss) said I wore it well. Pictures tomorrow! (Won't my mommy be proud?!)

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Absent Ranger

Where have I been lately? What have I been up to?

No where. and Not much.

It's been a very slow couple of weeks out here. Lots of house-sitting and doggie time, which always brings a smile to my face.

Then our new program intern arrived last weekend. I spent a bit of time this week getting her acquainted with Mount Rainier park operations and personnel. Sadly, we've been in the throes of a late-winter storm, so Emily hasn't even SEEN Mount Rainier, THE mountain. She claims that she'll believe it exists when she sees empirical evidence.

I'm happy that Emily has a great sense of humor. This is an asset in our line of work.

And now we're both fighting off a spring cold. I'm hoping the swelling in my sinuses and ears will go down; we have 80+ people snowshoeing with us on Tuesday. I have to be healthy. I don't have a choice!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

It Happens to Us All

Today is the middle of my week, since I'm working Sunday through Thursday this week. Hump day.

I know there is a lot to do. My supervisor is gone this week for Spring Break with her own kids. She left me a detailed To-Do list. Which I actually appreciate, since I know what needs to be done, how to prioritize my time, how to schedule and structure my days. And I love crossing things off the list when I've completed them.

One thing that wasn't on the list (although it's on-going and is assumed) is the student mail we get. I really do enjoy reading some of these letters. Sometimes we get great questions or comments. Today's favorite comment comes from a third grader in Illinois:

"We have to make a visitor center [for our school project], so I need any information, brochures and maps. I think it would be really great if you could send those things to me! I promise that I will take good care of the materials.... Also, could you tell me the favorite part of your job?"

But it's hump day. The biggest 'hurdle' I'm feeling at the moment is lethargy. I really don't want to stand up, go to my work table, and start stuffing envelopes for these students. I really just want to go back to bed.

Even after 2 cups of coffee. I just want to see my pillow. It's just one of those days.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The week in pictures.

Lesson #1 from this week - NEVER, under any circumstances, ever let go of your camera.

Exhibit #1: While judging a science fair at the local elementary school, some fourth graders thought it would be funny to balance a bird on my nose. Of course, my coworkers were near-at-hand with (my) camera.

Monday was my friend Chris' birthday. He's SO old. And Mika's birthday was last Saturday, we had a double birthday party with food and sake on Monday night. Again, Ranger Jim stole my camera and this was the result: Chris and I couldn't stop laughing. I never finished my food.

And here are the birthday kids: Chris and Mika.

And finally, here's a shot of the blue socks that I mentioned earlier this week. The sock is actually nearly done; I just haven't taken new pictures of the project.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Timing is Everything.

I really wanted to share with you all a pair of my current socks that are OTN. I don't usually work with yarns that have a lot of cotton in them, but this yarn was a gift - and a beautiful bright blue. I found a pattern that fit it and it's kept me busy the past few nights.

Alas, park terminal servers being what they are, I can't get my machine to load pictures from a thumb drive. So the pictures of my beautiful blue in-progress socks are going to have to wait.

This weekend, I'm babysitting the doggies again. I've been told that Ivar has an owie on his paw and will get to sleep inside to stay dry. Ivar is the 90-lb. husky that is the size of a small horse. But he will feel very special. :)


Besides the general ramblings above, what really is on my mind? Jobs. Duh.

Today is supposed to be my day off. But I went in to pick up my reimbursement check and read my email.

And the east district ranger here, Christine (whose kitty I took of last week), asked if I was interrested in staying here at Rainier for the summer. She's made it through her hiring cert, through all of the vets at that out-scored me (veterans get extra points - and offered jobs first, which many decline) and if I was interested, she'd offer me one of the east district interp positions.

So. The decision was basically made for me. Fawn is going to turn my internship to a regular GS5 position as of next Monday (3/29). Fawn's seasonal (a vet) took the original job offer and then rejected it a few days later, so Fawn was stuck (once again) without a replacement for me. I will continue to work out of this office until the end of May, to help her out at a time when short-staffing is a serious problem. June 1, I will transfer duty stations to the East District and Ohanapecosh. I will be working with Rangers Tom and Bev over there. And rumor has it that Ranger Julia will be asked back to the GS7 position at Sunrise - or so we're all hoping. :) The team is shaping up. And I'll be picking raspberries, blueberries and chanterelles again this summer and fall. :)

Whew. Timing really is everything.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Job Hunt Update

It can be said that National Park rangers migrate more than the animals we protect in our parks. My internship is complete here at Rainier, and I'm volunteering until:

1) My replacements are trained, and
2) I figure out where I'm going next.

So where am I going next? Good questions. Here's the stats so far. I have interviewed so far for positions at:
  • Yosemite NP
  • Katmai NP

I have interviews in the next week for:

  • Great Basin NP
  • Grand Canyon NP
  • Western Arctic NP (region served by office in Kotzebue - Noatak, Kobuk Valley, etc.) - 2 positions
  • Curecanti NRA
  • Sequoia & Kings Canyon NPs - 2 positions

Yesterday, I was offered the campground ranger job at Yosemite. I accepted the offer, pending my other interviews. I also have to go through a second federal background check for the Yosemite job since I would be handling lots of $$$. So that will take a few weeks most likely. In the mean time, I'm going to see what the other parks offer me. The Yosemite job is a GS4, which is a grade lower than Katmai, Great Basin and Grand Canyon, and three grades lower than Sequoia-Kings Canyon. Plus it's not really interp, which is what I really want (all the other jobs are interp-related).

Monday, March 22, 2010

How to Lose a "Conversation" with a Ranger

Yesterday was one of those days.

It was snowing at Paradise - and in the 30's - and people were showing up to snowshoe in shorts and flip-flops.

I led the first showshoe hike. It was a good group, engaged and having a good time. And we had some good questions/comments at the desk in the JVC.

Until the late-ish afternoon.

I was cornered by a gentleman in his 60's who needed to talk to someone. Generally, I love hearing people's stories, adventures, and what keeps bringing them back to the park.

But not this guy. Because he said he hated hiking, hated camping, hated skiing and snowshoeing. In fact, he hated snow itself. But because he was active in the military, he "had" to bring his guys up here frequently over the past 20+ years for hikes and runs that were "incentives" for doing good. What a sucky job.

Of course, he was up here on this day being a tour guide for some friends for Texas - who were very nice - and fascinated by the snow. But he was determined to NOT enjoy himself.

Ok, so why wasn't he talking to his friends? I've got a pretty good idea why.

He sidled up to the desk - which I was staffing alone at the time - and decided to tell me his career history, rank (etc.) in the military, and why he was a hiking expert for Mount Rainier. He knew which trail was the worst experience.

Now, those of you that have had any sort of customer service job know how this goes. You get to smile, nod, and be a captive audience.

But it gets worse.

It all started when he looked at me full-on and declared that I was 1/3 of his age. I laughed and said that, if that were true, he would be at least 105 years old. He rolled his eyes and continued the patronizing. He decided to tell me which trails to hike.

I think I was starting to lose it by this point. In my best-controlled authoritarian voice, I said roughly the following: "Sir, why do you think I haven't hiked any of the trails in this park?"

He paused and looked at me sideways, didn't answer, and kept on his lecture.

So I repeated my question.

This got him. He described how seasonal park employees get assigned to one small quadrant of the park and they never leave that quadrant. When they roves trails, they hike the same one mile stretch over and over, and then sit in an office the rest of the time.

At which point I told him that I wasn't a seasonal employee.

Regardless of his inaccurate stereotype of seasonal rangers, he assumed things about me. Things that were not correct. I did NOT tell him I was an intern. I simply told the gentleman that I have been working in this park for more than a year.

He acted shocked and asked me what I do to keep myself busy at work.

I told him that, during the school year, my main duties involve working with schools, students and children that visit the park. I also substitute for the interpretive operations as they need people. In the summer, I work with our curriculum development projects and also interpretive operations.

"What's interp? Oh, you mean the rangers that work in visitor centers." Yeah, that's it.

"So where do the seasonals work?"

"Right here, sir. You see, in the summer time, we have far more people visiting the park. In fact, the entire park is accessible (as opposed to winter time when some of the roads aren't plowed and the east side of the park is basically closed and/or inaccessible). So we have a much larger park staff in the summer."

"So what do the seasonals do in the winter?"

"Sir, they only work during the busy season. They aren't here in the winter. That's why they're called seasonals."

At this point, a co-worker returned to the desk and about snorted out his coffee.

After a few more minutes of this, the phone rang. Ranger Casey purposely didn't answer it and walked away, so I could hopefully answer it, thus getting away from my special park visitor.

Well, clearly, this man wasn't mad at my responses. He kept coming back for more. Through three more phone calls.

He also tried to tell me how to out-run bears.

The problem was that he described running away from brown bears in Alaska (where he was apparently stationed for several years). Given that brown bears can run 30-35 miles per hour, I think the man was slightly off-balance. Can YOU run a 2-minute mile?

He then told me more stories that clearly showed me he didn't know how to behave around our country's large mammals.

Word to the Wise: Just don't tell rangers things like that. And please, don't tell us about your perfect knowledge of bear biology when you can't tell the difference between black and brown bears.

Rangers remember things like this. It's where we get the stories that go into books like this.


At the end of the day, as we were driving back down the hill, Casey said that he was glad I had to deal with the special 3-star general. Casey is ex-military himself, and suggested this man needed someone to stand up to him. Mr. General was used to only getting "Yes sir!"s and "How high must I jump, sir?!"s. And to have it be a woman to stand up to him was even better for him. Casey would have told him where to go.

God I'm good. ;)

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Day At The Museum

Thankfully, our Charlie the Cougar hasn't come to life like in the movie Night at the Museum. That's all I would need! LOL

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


I wrote earlier about my 'blankie'. (Hey, I work around kids a lot. They rub off.)

Anyway, I just read this article from the National Parks Traveler website:

Reader Participation Day: If Cost Were No Object, Which National Park Would You Visit?

Notice anything about the answers? Yes indeed, a large portion of the comments include a park in Alaska. Would I be crazy NOT to take a job offer from Katmai?!

I asked for, and got a response about, a typical day's schedule for the rangers up at Brooks Camp. It really wasn't as bad as I expected. I would get more exercise up there than I do here (and thus hopefully lose a bit of weight :) ). But it doesn't sound terrible. Hectic, but not impossible. I feel a bit better about the job now. The remoteness is still a hang-up though.

Knitting Like a Blankie

No, I'm not knitting a blankie.

Everyone has some material thing that comforts them. Some people have their favorite coffee mug (mine says "Knit Happens") that welcomes them to their office in the morning. Other people have a favorite sweater to keep them warm or a stuffed animal sitting on their dresser, reminding them of happy childhood memories.

Now that I think about it, I have all three of those listed above.

But I also have the proverbial 'blankie' - although it's not actually a blanket. Those of you out there who are knitters will understand. My knitting goes with me whereever. I've knit at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. I've knit at coffee shops in Columbia, Missouri. I've knit in a hotel room in Gunnison, Colorado. And I've knit at Milepost 275 along the Dalton Highway in northern Alaska.

So it's not surprising that I'm trying to figure out how to bring along some knitting for this summer.

Yesterday afternoon, I interviewed for a 2010 seasonal job at Brooks Camp in Katmai National Park and Preserve. Now, this place is WAY more out there than the locations I worked at in 2007. Even though I was often hundreds of miles from a big 'city', I had a road corridor and my fellow travelers and locals to keep me company.

But this job in Katmai might require more of me than just my comfort zone of knitting. There is ONE phone (put in during the 2009 season - LAST YEAR!!) to be shared by 30+ employees, for both work and personal calls. 3-4 computers with 'sporadic' internet access to be shared by that same group of folks. Needless to say, there is no wireless or cell phone coverage.

I don't have a job offer yet; the district ranger had a few other people to interview and then references to check. I don't think most of the duties of job are that out-of-the-ordinary, except that you're pretty much cut off from the world for more than 4 months - and you're living in close proximity with100+ brown bears.

Oh my. What to do? What to do?

(I am actually working on a scrap afghan, but that's another story for another time. )

Monday, March 15, 2010

Tracks - One of a Ranger's Favorite Things

So... Anyone know what little critter made these? First correct answer will get my undying admiration.

(Hey, I'm a ranger, not a billionaire. Prizes come in many shapes and forms.)

Busy Week Ahead

Lots on the agenda for the next two weeks, including working next weekend at Longmire and the JVC. In the meantime, I'm working on a training manual for my replacements, website improvements, and a few other things.

But what is my mind really on?

I have a job interview tomorrow afternoon for a position at Katmai National Park and Preserve up in Alaska for this coming summer. Katmai is one of the parks I've not been to yet. It's famous for its bears and the Novarupta volcano that wreaked havoc on southern Alaska in 1912.

Wish me luck!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

See What's Missing?!

Look carefully.

All of the pointy things, sticking up roughly from the ends of branches. No, not the needles, the longer brown things. Those are the remains of subalpine fir cones, still on the tree, after the squirrels have removed the scales and eaten their fill of the seeds. You can see some partial cones still in tact.

Just another sign of animal activity in the subalpine parkland at Mount Rainier.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Ranger Nerds

I just got done telling my division chief that Microsoft Excel was my friend.

THEN, I came across this website (thanks to Yosemite's wildflower webpages, I swear this is not my fault):

I typed in a couple of genus' names which I knew to be debated among taxonomists... And found myself smiling as I read.

God help me.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Little Office Project

When people think of park rangers, they picture us standing in front of geysers; talking about bears, elk, and bison; maybe standing around a campfire talking to campers.

One thing that I bet does not come to mind is park mail. Even in this day of websites and technology, we get lots of mail. Especially in my office for the Education Program. We get actual paper letters - several a week, usually - from students all over the country, requesting information, maps and pictures of the park to use in school projects.

My former boss was not in the habit of responding to these letters. But Fawn (the current Education Specialist) and I feel that it's important to respond to these kids/students. When I first got here, Fawn suggested a set of park handouts to be sent in response to these requests. She also suggested I find a way to keep track of our mail - in case we had to prove to Anne (former boss) or other park folks just how much mail we get.

So, like with many projects in my life (don't ask!), I created a database in Excel. Since the beginning of December, 2008, we have received and answered nearly 270 letters. Yes, the pile is sitting next to my computer on my desk! I also have 5 letters that I have not yet responded to - 3 of which will be taken care of tomorrow (the other 2 need a bit of work). We've also received many thank-you notes from the kids that sent us their original requests!

If I can say one thing about this set of tasks, it's that this is an important way to get the word out. These kids are our future. Hollywood knows how to market to kids - and gets lots of support from kids, in many ways.

The National Park Service is trying to find ways to reach today's youth - especially those living in urban areas that might not get to visit too many natural parks. When we have 'city kids' visit us through school field trips, they usually leave happier - but more tired! - than when they arrived. The outdoors is good for kids. And for us.

We need to encourage these kids to appreciate this country's natural resources. I'm attempting to do my part, because these kids will be voters in the future and the parks belong to us all.

What can you do?

A New Week

It's Monday again. Time to fire up the old Mr. Coffee at the office and get back to it.


The weather is intriguing today. We have a partly cloudy, partly sunny day today. The clouds are big and puffy here at HQ. The sunlight is lighting the trees beautifully.

What's so unusual then?

It's snowing.

Yes, it is snowing. So heavily, in fact, that it looks a bit fuzzy outside. Or if I was watching an old black-and-white movie, it would be the fuzz/interferrence on the TV screen. Interesting effect with the sunshine.

Of course, it's not sticking at all - merely making the roads wet - because it's well above freezing today. And Paradise isn't getting too much of this snow. Check the parking lot webcam:

I hope this is a sign of an interesting week ahead...

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Fun With Doggies

Most of the last week I spent house- and dog-sitting for some coworkers from the park. These folks used to work up at Denali National Park in Alaska, and ran a team of huskies as a means of winter transportation. But these huskies are more than just work animals - they are Mary and Jeff's kids - 9 kids, to be exact! Four of these dogs are permanently retired now, due to age and/or health. Five could still run and pull... if we had enough snow. (Don't get me started on THAT subject.)

Here's Ivar - the biggest of the dogs, being lazy, watching me watch a movie.

And Ritz, trying to eat my dinner.

Gouda and Ritz, posing with Flat Stanley and Mary. Aren't they sweet doggies?

Friday, March 5, 2010


I just got back from hiking with a group of highschoolers. It is sunny today (surprise, surprise!) and I think I might have just gotten sunburnt. Goodness this feels nice!!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Down Time

I guess everyone needs some down time. Relax, recharge. Since my down time in November, it seems that time has gone by quickly. The past month or so, I felt more like my normal self, with my normal appetite and all. In fact, I feel like I've been eating everything in sight. For 2-3 months, I didn't eat a whole lot. And what I did eat (mostly) was beans, rice, and veggies. But lately, I seem to be back to my old addictions of coffee and chocolate. ;)

This week I'm house and doggie-sitting for the Wysong 'kids' again. I had Ritz and Gouda in the house with me to watch a movie last night - those girls are just too sweet! Tonight it will be Ivar and Ponzi - maybe we'll watch Disney's Snow Dogs. ;)

Not much knitting gets done; the doggies are good at getting petted. ;) And I'm fending off a cold. It's just me for a field trip with high schoolers tomorrow, so I can't be sick.

Anyway, if you're having a slow time right now, relax and make the most of it!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Train Trip!

The Olympia/Lacey station

This past Saturday, I went down to Portland, OR, with a few friends via Amtrak. For those of you that have never traveled by train, you really should. I rode several trains as a kid. And in 2007, I LOVED the train trip from Anchorage to Fairbanks (and back). Trains really are the way to travel. Americans should embrace this more!

The engine of our train sitting in the station at Portland

Me with my morning coffee (Mika took this one!)

Once you get to the station, you have the whole day to enjoy with your friends. You have the freedom to sit back and enjoy the scenery while someone else does the driving. You can share snacks, read a book, knit on a sweater (as I did) all while enjoying the view. And poof! A couple of hours later you're at your destination. The round trip cost me just $50.

Once in Portland, we walked around the downtown, window shopping as we found our way to our lunch destination. We ate at Jake's and had seafood. I had an AMAZING dish they called 'Salmon Saute'. I should have taken a picture of it. Salmon and shitake mushrooms. Fine food - so good in fact that Ranger Jim kept trying to eat off my plate. We all shared our food around the table. ;) Oh, and the sourdough bread at Jake's is great too. I'd go back there for dinner in a heartbeat. Note though that the menu changes daily, depending on what seafood they can get in - but I'd bet anything you had there was good.

Tom and Mika... playing with their food :)

After lunch, we went for a walk. Ok, so the walk was long and uphill (sometimes fairly steeply uphill!). We went to the Japanese Garden at Washington Park. Beautiful gardens! The cherry trees were blooming. In another month or so, the azaleas will be beautiful!

We headed back downtown and to Powell's book store. More like book warehouse. Every title known to man and then some. They call themselves a "City of books". Check out the store map - you need the map or you may never find your way out! I love book stores; I could get a coffee and look for hours. But this one seriously overwhelmed me. Don't go there if you can't spend the entire day.

About 5 p.m., we decided to head out and walk a bit more. Window shopping on the way to the train station. We got to the station a bit early and had a bit of refreshment at the pub. About this time, Mika and I decided we were a bit tired. ;)

Union Station at Portland

The trip back to Olympia/Lacey was nice. Lots of chatting, snacks and relaxing after a full day of walking and sightseeing in Portland!

Trains are definitely the way to go. Hopefully I'll get to ride the Alaska RR again this summer. ;)

Monday, March 1, 2010

Slow Monday

I'm really moving slowly today. I've been at work for over 4 hours, and I can't remember anything I've done. I know I met with my boss (Fawn) already, to go over what she missed last week while out of town for training, and what I've been working on. And I finished a set of Plant Cards - visual aides for use while leading hikes (and a good training tool, if my replacement isn't familiar with the plants he/she will need to know here at Rainier).

I had a good weekend, but I didn't get enough sleep. I think that's it.

I must need coffee. ;)


Ok a couple of hours have passed since I wrote that...

I think I'm also feeling a bit overwhelmed. I just received a thank-you email from one of our park staff, thanking me for helping them last week while they were using one of the classrooms in our building. (I helped them set up all of their computers and made sure the network ports were working our building... a typical task for me. I sometimes feel like the local tech nerd, but still happy to help.)

Anyway, after the note, her email signature section contained this phrase:

Preservation and Enjoyment -- A Mountain of a Job

I think I'm going to notate that as Universal Truth #215.

One of our on-going projects here at the Education Center is a revamping of our whole operation. How we operate, logistics, program offerings, outreach opportunties on our part, website contents, etc. etc. etc. Anything that you can think of, basically like reviewing and updating our business model and products (to steal terms from the corporate world), is on-going these days since our former boss left. There were a lot of messes to clean up in her wake, but overall, I believe this program is better off now than it was before.

Nearly every day, Fawn or I come up with something that we (read: "the Education Center") should have been doing for the past 10 years or so. These involve:
  • training materials for new staff
  • process for teachers reserving dates/locations for their field trips
  • the types of programs we offer for field trips
  • processes for park staff to use our building/materials (second priority to classes visiting us)
  • outreach to local schools (many of which were hurt by said former boss)
  • materials for use in classrooms - bringing Rainier TO school children instead of the other way around
  • website resources (which we get requests for, but are somewhat unable to provide at this time)
  • materials to be used by rangers with students on hikes or inside Ed center (on days of bad weather)

I have 4-5 on-going projects at the present time, related to those things listed above. And every day, I come up with a few more things that would be useful/helpful. As I mentioned earlier today, I finished a set of plant ID cards to be used in the field. One of my next *small* tasks will be to put together the type of PDF/handout that we can email to teachers/students who request information for school projects. We will still send out the standard park brochures to students who send us regular paper requests (snail mail!) but for those that email, we'd like to have a set of links ready to go. I'm going to cheat and model ours after Yosemite's Cheat Sheet. In the near future, I will start putting together a training manual for those that come after me - something I wish I'd had when I came here (but, of course, the boss at the time didn't provide any training herself, so my fellow interps trained me as best they could - thanks Julia!!!).

Back to the phrase above.... It is a mountain of a job. Besides preservation and enjoyment, add to the list "education". Because that's what we focus on here in my office.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Day #15... No End In Sight.

You'll notice that the sweater has MOST of its body and 1 2/3 sleeves. That's how it stands. I'm not going to meet the Ravelympics deadline on Sunday night.


Meanwhile, I keep having computer problems. My laptop is the most expensive paperweight I've ever owned. I find myself listing off reasons why we need computers.

1. They help with health care.
2. They help me communicate with family and friends around the world.

And the best reason yet:

3. They are teaching me inordinate amounts of patience.

Or maybe they have just worn me down and I have given in. I will no longer fight. I will let them control my universe. I am a weak person.