It been a week since I’ve been off work. Opposite of a teacher’s schedule, the majority of park rangering happens in the summer. Following that typical schedule, I just finished up my tenth season with the Park Service. The ringing in my head, spurred by the hum of thousands of voices, has finally dissipated. My neglected to do list is getting a little bit of attention and I can focus enough to tune into NPR again.
Oddly, it seems that there is a decently high occurrence of “introverts” that find themselves in rangering boots. Unlike the stereotype suggests, most rangers aren’t out in the wilderness, soaking in solitude and sunsets. They are in busy visitor centers or at well-used trailheads. They are acting as a translator, attempting to spin some fibers of understanding about the natural world to the general populace. Sometimes, it is a tough place to stand, attempting to blend the world of science with people’s assumptions. All sorts of stuff, as it were, gets lost in translation.
It has been a journey, going from an extremely shy person in high school (my mom made me call radio stations to check school closures just so I would just talk to someone, anyone) to someone who is not as shy? Older? Jaded? Ha! Whatever it was, this season I feel like I have grown in some areas-professionally and a few others, but more importantly, I seem to have broken through some jade-colored, gloomy fog. I think in part, I have been able to recognize the trappings of labels. ‘Introvert,’ ‘woman,’ ‘ranger,’ ‘Californian,’ although all lacking any real, concrete meaning, all come with their own parameters of what people expect from you, which in turn might lead to modifications in behavior. After talking with a friend who is taking in stride her career crossroads by stating that people rely too hard to their job or chosen activity to define them, I have started to more critically examine how these labels can be influencers, even limiters. I feel like there are so many other sources of limitation that we have in our lives, why let labels limit opportunities? Why label other people and why label yourself? Although I’ve labeled this moment in time as the end, it definitely isn’t. It’s something new, unlabeled, and yet to be defined.
…if a retention pond next to Humboldt Bay counts as the sea…
Greenery along the Redwood Creek Trail in Redwood National Park. Not the place to find large redwoods, but a mighty rough-skinned newt made an appearance. Being experts in chemical warfare, these fellows produce a potent neurotoxin.
Took a hike on the Salmon Summit Trail sometime this summer. Aside from the wildfire smoke in the air (and the sinus ache), it was a nice stroll through the ‘green’ part of the Trinity Wilderness (there are also white and red parts, in order just like the Italian flag).
There appeared to be an old fire line at the top of the ridge, with a couple ridge top trees showing assumed heat damage.
Walking through the Douglas-fir forest was a nice contrast to the summer spent in the dense redwood forest. I get a little snap happy when I can see more than 10 feet down a trail.
During my first few years working in the redwoods, I would return home to Indiana (albeit in the dead of winter) and scoff at the barren brown landscape. I even went to a patch of Indiana’s coveted old growth with my jaded eyes and wasn’t awed. But after spending six seasons working in the redwoods, and returning to Indiana when it had leaves, I found an appreciation for less dense forests–ones you can actually stroll through without fear of being swallowed by sword ferns or having to climb over or walk around a log 12 feet tall.
After the subsidence of my forest snobbery, I still grapple with the notion of ‘touched’ versus ‘untouched,’ with the sinking feeling deep in my stomach that there are very few places left that a modern-soled boot hasn’t touched. It is often hard to refrain from judging a place’s ecological degradation, having a human brain that dwells on comparisons. But as Aldo Leopold scribed:
“One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen. An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise.”
…okay, I’m not fully that cynical, yet. My outlook has brightened up a little since a black bear has returned to southern Indiana and has not yet been shot (I had a professor in college claim bears would return in 10 years…10 years ago!). A wolf pack has also started to form in northeastern California without casualties. It also seems as if the forest understory in Brown County State Park has recovered some from deer overbrowsing.
I suppose there might be hope yet…
Brown County State Park, Nashville, Indiana