What Do Rangers Do…?

…In the off-season? Well, if you’ve ever wondered how park rangers hibernate, here’s your all-inclusive, tongue-in-cheek guide to the secret life of a park ranger in the off-season!

Usually, this question comes after a string of questions starting with the basic directional inquiries, like “Where do I go from here?” or “Where do I go to see ____?”  From there, the questions turn more personal: “Where are you from? – How long have you been stationed here?” These questions usually lead into the topic of working seasonally, since a permanent job is as rare as a black-footed ferret.

And then it comes. “What do you do in the off-season?” Uh…well….

It’s as awkward as asking what someone does when they get home from work. It’s personal. It has nothing to do with the surrounding beauty. Did I mention it’s personal?

Since it is a personal question, it, of course, varies from person to person. Some rangers head to a “winter park”–a park that has high enough visitation to warrant people to work in the winter months. Others, if their park can manage it, work for a different division or unit. And some rangers just go home.

I feel lucky that my home is now only 30 miles south of my current park. At one point, home was 1,300 miles away. Another time it was just a less intimidating 600 miles away. [Imagine the headache every time you work at a new park, you have to fill out a new background check. That requires listing the places you’ve lived for the last 7 years–with no breaks and someone as a reference to verify! That’s been at least 11 moves in 8 states for me! I can’t imagine what back-to-back seasonals have to list!]

I know some rangers travel a lot in the off-season. Others go back to school. Some work as teachers, find other jobs to fill the financial gap, or volunteer.

Usually, at the end of every season, I have the custom of making a mental ‘To-Do’ list of things I’d love to accomplish in the off-season. I look forward to all the extra time, the clean house, and the mountain of finished projects. And then at the start of every season, I wonder where in the world all that time went!

In the first off-season here [or was it the second? –It was the second, the first I was still trying online grad school!], I was so antsy to find and train a dog. I imagined visions of grandeur as the dog would complete agility courses and catch frisbees jumping off my back. Eventually, we found an old Pyrenees [look up their trainability-ha!]…That pile of fluff squished those dreams. We took three hour long walks together. She is now perfectly camera trained [I couldn’t ask for a better camera/walking buddy. I lift my camera, she stops, ready for 10 minutes of photographing one flower].

The next off-season, I planned to be domestic apparently, hoping to learn knitting, to finish a couple crochet projects that have been around for years, and to have a full-blown photography business. I managed to partly do the photo business and hike most of the 70 miles of trails in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. I haven’t touched my crochet hooks in two years! I did manage to knit a small square, though. And I did a few paintings in acrylics.

This off-season, I was hoping to volunteer at a local wildlife area. Three months, two background checks and counting…maybe I’ll volunteer once before I go back to work! I randomly attend natural history talks and astronomy club gatherings. I enrolled in a class to catch up on the digital media software world. I am preparing for an upcoming talk in April between bouts of homework. Essentially, I gave up on planning anything for this off-season. It’s no use! Fighting reality with my arbitrary goals seems useless – better to just go with the flow, I suppose.

So, how to answer that question, “What do you do in the off-season?,” as you can see, is harder than describing geologic formations, how trees grow, where the ‘buffalo’ roam. I can tell you how many old-growth redwood trees in one acre it takes to make an “old-growth redwood forest”, but I can’t tell you what I’ll be doing next week.

Since, as demonstrated through this case study, predicting what rangers do in their off-season alludes to no set trends or patterns, perhaps guidelines on how to spot an off-season ranger in captivity might be more appropriate.  Off-season rangers will either be reading nature- or history-related books, bird-watching, exploring for the sake of exploring, spending countless hours on USAjobs.gov, outdoor gear-shopping, or talking to random strangers about the natural or cultural significance of the surroundings. One or more of these behaviors observed together indicates a high likelihood that you have an off-season ranger in your midst.

This concludes this segment of “What Do Rangers Do In the Off-Season”. Stay tuned next April or May for the sequel, “Where DID the Time Go?!”

Did I mention, I fuss about light pollution, too?

14 thoughts on “What Do Rangers Do…?

  1. Wow! That’s a pretty graphic example of light pollution! Love it! Your off-season life sounds like my retirement. It’s quite lovely to pretty much go wherever my enthusiasm takes me.

  2. “Exploring for the sake of exploring.” I must be part ranger.

    Very glad you decided against fancy tricks with your dog; it would be ill-advised to have a Pyrenees jumping onto and off your back. She sounds ideal for those hilly strolls, though!

  3. Loved reading your blog…hilarious!!! I am nearing the end of my 1st season and can relate to the endless hours of looking for another park on USAjobs and talking with strangers about the park and significance lol.

  4. You are such an engaging writer. Loved it. With you on the light pollution although city-bound as I am I fixate on noise. Surely there should be a fine for excessively noisy engines? I’ll look forward to the next post.

    • Thank you!

      My childhood hometown just issued a controversial noise ordinance aimed at Harleys while just north of town a place has hosted a large Harley rally for years. Yikes! But I completely agree, noise pollution is disturbing at the least. We definitely need more people in this world to preserve both sound- and light-scapes!

      • I’d love to hear how the new ordinance mixes with the ‘old’ Harley fanatics. Perhaps that can be an installment for the off-season category? :-)

  5. Haha, you nailed it!! I’m on my off-season right now, & you pretty much just described it. I spent a bewildered 1st two weeks of freedom browsing books on embroidery and cross-stitch, researching the town’s soccer, choir, & yoga opportunities, and yes, spending way too much time on the federal job boards :)

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