Friday, November 28, 2014

On becoming a Park Ranger

The vessel I worked on for 3 months in Alaska.
Throughout my life I have pursued my interests and passions. Aside from listening to what I like to call my guides, it's the only way I know how to guide the direction of my life while maintaining integrity and staying true to my inner voice. At some point, often amide a spell of loneliness or financial hardship, you look back an try to make sense of all it, wondering if that voice was the right one to listen to. Or if it there was even a voice at all. I have been a dishwasher, a sign maker, a landscaper, a carpenter, a tree climber, a commercial fisherman in Alaska, and a field biologist. I once moved across the country after opening a fortune cookie that said "pleasure awaits you by the seashore". I had been contemplating the move but it pushed me over the edge. It was right. I spent 8 wonderful years in Western Washington. I found myself there.

What we do for work is not necessarily who we are, nor should it ever be completely who you are, but if we are to be happy and good at what we do it should be a strong reflection.

Me tracking Sage Grouse in NE Nevada.
My time came in my late 20's. I had graduated recently from a college recently designated "the most liberal college in the country" and was working as a seasonal field biologist. I studied birds. I liked the job but I was missing something I desperately needed. I became a biologist because I wanted to make a difference in the world around me. Studying and observing birds became something I loved but it had become a selfish pursuit. I felt the only difference I was making was among academics. Even that was negligible.

I looked back on my life and could see only random bits, different skills and experiences I had acquired. I found no common thread. What I knew to be true was that when I found what I was supposed to be doing it would all come together and I would see each portion of my life as the necessary step to bring me to that moment. In writing this I can see deep within me a strong belief that my life has purpose and faith that there is a great spirit guiding me. It has been there most my life. It was born among the forest and desert I freely roamed as a child. There I learned the value of listening and observing.

And so I went back.

I asked myself if money was no thing and there were no limits, what would I want to do with my life? And it dawned on me, a childhood dream I had long forgotten, maybe someone had told me I couldn't, or maybe I had told myself that. Either way I stored the dream away and forgot it but I now had the wisdom and confidence to know that I could do anything. I would be a National Park Ranger. There was no second thought, there was no doubt in my mind or heart it was right.

In late August, 2012 I received a phone call. It was the director of one of the National Park Service Seasonal Law Enforcement Training Programs (SLETP). After a short interview he offered me a position in the upcoming academy class. Attending the SLETP is the first step to becoming a law enforcement park ranger. It is a full-time 14 week law enforcement academy. I had my reservations about becoming a police officer but that is just one aspect of what law enforcement rangers do. They are police, EMT's, paramedics, firefighters, naturalists, and search and rescue. Think of any emergency that may come up in a national park and they respond to it. Most parks or areas of parks are so remote that they are it. I don't believe the public truly understands what they are or what is expected of them. They are the life line. When the shit hits the fan backup is either an hour out or there is none. They must be self reliant problem solvers who are quick on their feet. They are called out in the worst of conditions often in the middle of the night to help stranded, injured, and dieing people. They have to be able to go from arresting someone for DUI after wrestling them into cuffs to dawning their turnouts and fighting a fire to putting on a harness and rappelling over the edge to rescue a fallen climber to giving a foreign visitor driving directions. Possibly all in the same shift. They do it all. Not only that, they do it well. I wanted to be that. 

April 29th, 2013 I graduated from the National Park Service Seasonal Law Enforcement Training Program top of my class. I maintained a 99% GPA, won the sharpshooter award, tied for top in academics, and was voted by my class as the "most likely to out-drive the criminal". I was awarded the "McGinn and Axelson Scholarship", a scholarship given in honor of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area Chief Ranger Brent McGinn and Ranger Laurie Axelson who died in an off-duty plane crash in 2010. It was undoubtedly one of the proudest moment in my life and the greatest honor. I had never done so well in school in my entire life.

My technical rescue class.
Government sequestration was on the horizon. Federal jobs were hard to come by so after doing another season as a field biologist I took an internship with the National Park Service Investigative Services Branch (ISB) at the Grand Canyon Field Office. There are a lot of people who want to be a park ranger many of whom are very qualified. I had to set myself apart. Graduating top of my class was not enough. I enrolled in an EMT program in Flagstaff, volunteered to staff the park ambulance, respond to trail calls, and take care of the patrol horses. I attended all the trainings they would let me go to. When the chance to attend the National Park Service Technical Rescue Class at Canyonlands National Park in Utah came up, I begged for them to send me. When you know what you want you can't just expect the world to make it happen. You have to have the fortitude to make it happen.

First week on patrol.

It all paid off. After volunteering for over 6 months at Grand Canyon National Park I was offered a
seasonal law enforcement park ranger position at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area on the Arizona Utah border. On May 5th, 2014 I became a United Stated Park Ranger. I put on the iconic flat hat and green and gray for the first time. And the best part of all, I could see how each portion of my life had brought me to this moment. It made sense. I had been waiting my entire life.

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