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?