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: http://mms.nps.gov/mora/cam/east.jpg

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.