Last night I dreamed that I chose not to marry Sean, and to abandon my Rangerhood for a steady position in marine science.
Choosing to leave my position as a park ranger felt like the choice to have an abortion. I found myself in the old position, a marine scientist, trying desperately to justify what I had done. I needed the money, a permanent position, benefits, something steady to be eligible for loans to buy a house, to start a family, a job to justify 8 years of science education – all true, but none of the reasons satisfied my soul. Money could not counter the crushing loss of all I held dear, working as a ranger.
I had lost the sense of joy in coming to work (as a Ranger), daily interaction with a variety of new and interesting people, the responsibility, creativity, and challenge involved in almost every task, and the sense of accomplishment and hope in environmental education. I was confined to dull drudgery, repetitive tasks and toxic material cleanup, cubicle politics and suburbia. Science was still facinating, I was learning new and interesting things every day, was outside half of the time, but it felt... souless. I felt sorry for every shiner perch and gunnel I wrestled onto the ruler, my actions were unnecessary and cruel.
Not marrying Sean left me in a state of shocked horror, bereft of my steady boulder in the river torrent of life. Throughout the dream, every man I’d ever had an interest in, or who had had an interest in me, showed up briefly and then turned away. Sean was there, and I tried to tell him that we were married, but he had no memory of it, thought I was crazy, and left. I was fine on my own, lived in a house with friends, took up a few classes and extreme sports, but couldn’t help feeling that a huge, important chunk of my life was missing.
When I woke to reality, NPR radio declaring a new day, Sean wrapped a warm arm around me. We were in our apartment in Seattle, Fremont (The Center of the Universe), with libraries and natural food stores and parks and kayaking in short walking distance. The alarm was set so that I could make ready to take over the responsibility of the city parks system while my bosses were away, a new challenge I was eager to begin.
Perhaps my dream was a nightmare, but it made me happy. I'd made the right choices.
Life’s current blessings:
New employment: Park Ranger, COB
Yurt trips, snowshoeing, beer and cocoa with friends
Continued education: learning birds, lichens, mandolin, bodhran
Grooving to local Celtic music – invented new dance
First retirement funds socked away
High Tea and pottery with grandmother(s)
Good health, youth
Beginning serious thoughts of procreation
First “hot dish” success
Easy walking distance: parks, libraries, natural foods markets, breweries, sea
Free University talks/seminars/films/conferences
Loving close and extended family
Snowy mountains - summer water
Handwritten letters, sent and replied
Winter camping with good gear
Potato gorgonzola pizza discovery
Relationships are akin to a forest ecosystem, in many ways.
At first, they spring up like early successional species, half-sprung crushes which rise quickly from the earth, but are doomed to a short life cycle. Despite this, they may add nutrients to the fertile soil of your soul, encouraging the growth of hardier, longer-lived species.
A young relationship grows quickly, adding height and girth with each successive date. The diversity may be low, at first, but the vigor of youth and romance more than compensate for any lack of complexity. Everything is fresh and green and growing, basking in the light of your love.
At some point, however, the sweet green forest becomes too crowded with ideals. There needs to be room for both of your egosystems to grow, and that calls for a culling of some of the trees. This usually happens about six months into a relationship, when the sun ray of lust relaxes into an after glow of sunset. You have your first argument, and you learn more about each other.
If all goes well, and you weather your secondary succession, diversity begins to blossom. The forest of your relationship grows stronger, more intricate, the species composition at once reliant on one another and individualistic. With time, your relationship evolves into a calliope of variation and specialization, so that the success of every part is contingent on the health of the whole ecosystem.
A healthy relationship can deal with invasive species. An intruder to the ecosystem may gain ground quickly, if not outcompeted immediately. The blackberry thickets of lies or the scotch broom of temptation can be shaded out by the graceful boughs of love. Harder to eradicate is the shade-tolerant holly of disrespectful argument, or the ivy of vice. These must be carefully dug out by the roots and disposed of properly.
As with a forest, the health of the relationship is enhanced by the occasional disturbance. Winds of fury might be followed by fires of passion, removing dead limbs and cleaning out the undergrowth, so that wildflowers have the strength to bloom.
My only wish is that my relationship(s) have the patience and resiliency to become old growth.
In the backcountry, miles from any other form of electronic entertainment, I happily stirred the solar compost toilet, confident in my enterprise. I had found the hidden Ranger camp, with its hidden box of supplies, figured out how to set up the tent and how to use the water filter - all by myself. My first solo backcountry trip was going well, and the campers coming in from their circuit of the Wonderland Trail were happy to see me. After cleaning up I made my rounds, checking permits, trail conditions, and generally shooting the breeze. I made sure to remind the campers of the Summerland bear, and the importance of using the bear pole to hang their food and toiletries.
A woman with silver hair asked me about the bear activity in the area. I was distracted for a moment when the hoary marmots began to whistle to one another, sounding like a bunch of kindergarteners with 25-cent whistles, blowing with all their off-key might.
“Well, I heard from a couple of hikers earlier in the day that there’s been a bear hanging out in Summerland all summer, right in this area…” And as I waved my hand in demonstration, a black bear came ambling through the wildflowers.
“My goodness, it’s my six o’clock bear sighting!” The marmot whistles spooked the bear into a run. We watched the bear disappear into a small crowd of trees, the other side of which was a steep incline covered with nothing but scree and snow. The camp was placed just below treeline, and there were not many places for a bear to hide.
“Ha! Yeah, good timing. Do you do this sort of thing often?” A man had joined us from another camp site. “Hey honey, come see! I told you there were bears.”
Feeling the need to look like the responsible Ranger, I piped up, “So you can see the need for hanging your food on the bear pole. Even your toothpaste and trail snacks!”
The marmot whistles eventually subsided and the campers dispersed to their camps, but I stayed on watch. The bear had not yet come out of my campsite.
At dusk, the first woman came back with her dinner and sat next to me. She was soloing the Wonderland Trail, all 97 miles, and she had a few extra provisions from her cache at
I could not discern any bear prints in the alpine dust around my tent, but I convinced myself of the scent of bear musk in the air. Whistling and singing, loudly, I hastily prepared and ate my meal, washing the dishes far from my camp and stowing them in the metal box, locked tight. Mummied in a borrowed Ranger sleeping bag, I spent a long and nearly sleepless night, alone, with a bear.
The job description had not mentioned that I would be sleeping with bears. I doubt I would have objected if it had. At nineteen years of age, I was eager to put my book knowledge to work in the great outdoors. Barely two hours drive from Seattle, I did not expect to see a dozen or more bears in a day.
Rising with first light, I was half way up the scree hill when the sun first hit the camp. Pausing to look back, wondering if my happy campers would be joining me on this leg of the trail, I noticed something moving.
A bear was following behind me. It was a black bear, and the morning light made it grow in size, setting its brown highlights aglow. The marmots began to whistle their alarm, echoing my own.
No one in the camp was up, yet. Surrounded by large rocks, there was no where else for me to go but up the trail. There was also no where else for the bear to go. I began to hike more quickly. For some reason the “Bear in Tennis Shoes” song started playing in my head. The scree around me ranged in size from Volkswagen Bug to head sized, then jumped down to pencil-eraser pebble, so there was nothing with which to defend myself except for my Ranger radio. No one would be monitoring the radio for at least another hour.
Ahead of me, as the song goes, I saw a tree, a great big tree, oh gracious me. But it was horizontal, so no jumping to safety in a branch away up high. Somehow the trails crew had dragged in an old growth log to serve as a bridge across the glacial meltwater. This bridge is where I would make my stand. If the bear was tracking me, rather than following me, I would deal with it on this bridge.
Radio in hand, I watched the bear approach. About 50 yards from the bridge, the bear stopped and sniffed the air.
“Hey big bear, how ya doing? Nice day for a hike, huh? Where are you going?” I fell back on the tried-and-true Ranger greetings.
Ignoring me entirely, the bear took a shortcut across the stream, downriver where the water spread out to a thin veneer, and continued on the trial beyond me. He or she did not even glance back.
Curious, I followed. This bear was a quick traveler and made it over the pass long before me. It reminded me of the bear prints they found at 14,000 feet, over the top of Mt Rainier. What would make a bear travel over the top of a mountain?
Descending into the Indian Bar valley, I was welcomed by a large steaming load of bear scat, right in the middle of the trail. The scat was bright purple, made almost entirely of wild blue huckleberries. The huckleberry bushes rose to waist height on either side of the trail, laden with ripe blue berries. Very soon my fingers were stained purple. Along the way I met a man who greeted me with a number.
“92!” He said, with a great purple smile.
“Years old?” I asked, impressed.
“That’s how many berries I can fit in my mouth at once.” And he winked as he walked on.
That day, as I was setting up a new tent in a different secret Ranger camp, I noticed a bear watching me near a large log. I waved, thinking it was my Summerland hiking partner, and the log moved. A mother bear moved her cub to safer pastures, away from crazy young Rangers. In camp, while talking to visitors about the importance of a bear pole, I relived my experience of the night before, but this time with a mother and two cubs of a more brownish hue.
All in all, a dozen bears roamed the valley that night. On my second night alone in the woods I slept well, however, knowing that their bellies were as full as mine with the fruit of the wild huckleberry.
Continuing timeline for the past year:
Continuing timeline for the past year:
August, 2007 – Celebrate our first wedding anniversary, consuming perfectly aged chocolate cake with frozen berries, and traveling to
June, 2007 -- Start a position with the City of
May, 2007 – After much deliberation and stress, decide to discontinue my graduate project, relinquish funding, and pursue a degree in teaching science, just in time for someone else to steal our ideas and publish a paper before us - and I turned 28.
March, 2007 – Present a poster at the Georgia Basin Puget Sound Research Conference, staying on the 37th floor of a swank glass hotel in
February, 2007 – Fly to
December, 2006 – Vow never to fly at Christmas time again, following a series of red-eye flights to the East Coast with delays, weather problems, and semi-inconsiderate hosts
October, 2006 -- Start the best college course I've taken in the past 10 years: Forest Community Ecology, taught by two PhD candidates, with multiple mind-expanding field trips, and excellent classmates
September, 2006 – Spend 22 days in
August, 2006 -- Leave my job as a marine scientist, marry Sean on the 19th, dance with most of my family and friends to the traditional tunes of our own band, and revel in sappiness for an entire month
What major life points have you noted in the past year? No really, tell me.
When Liora was very little, she ate an apple SO big, she had to use two hands to hold it. As she walked across the fields, following her father and grandpa, there came a terrible rumbling towards her.
*Galum, GALUM, GALUMM!!*
A herd of cows surrounded her, their heads as large as Liora! Wet noses, as big as her face, pressed Liora from all sides. Tongues as long as her arm reached for her, and those mighty hooves pawed at the ground, closer and closer, vying for position.
Just then, a strong voice called out, “Co bossy! COHH bossy!!”
Grandpa shouldered his way between the great behemoths and scooped Liora up in his arms. Suddenly Grandpa was ten times bigger than all the cows put together. He pushed their curious noses away, and carried Liora to safety.
Liora looked down at her slimy hands and realized the absence of her apple. Only then did she let out a cry.
And that was the second time Liora brushed shoulders with death.
As part of a storytelling course, we were instructed to tell a 30-second tale to introduce ourselves, using a third-person viewpoint. It’s really a lot better with the sound effects and visuals.
Start with a three-story Victorian house, possibly haunted, and populate its rooms with nine strangers, all recently broken-hearted, and a dog, perpetually heart-full. The house on
Page 5, article number 42:
There shall be no fires on the premises. This statement includes candles, lighters, matches, or any other readily-combustible materials anywhere on the property. The fireplace is non-functional. Any violation by tenants or guests will terminate this lease agreement.
“One time I came to the house to find a couch on fire in the front yard. Eric, the tenant downstairs, you’ll meet him, this is the kind of guy he is, and I say, ‘Eric, there’s a fire!’ And he picks up a beer bottle, empties it on the couch and says, ‘Don’t worry, Aaron, I’ve got it handled.’ And walks away, a cigarette about to fall out of his mouth. So I say, new rule, no fires.”
Aaron likes to prepare for any eventuality, legally. He also likes to drop by, unannounced, though he never caught his tenants breaking pretty much every article in the lease agreement throughout the following year. A TV box full of his mother’s biscotti soothed somewhat the fact that he had let a troll move in to our basement.
Every house should have a dungeon monster to keep its residents from going stale with comfort. For the first few months, Eric had a keeper, a wrinkled angel called Sherri. He basked in her baked goods, warm cackle, and handy-man dreams. The couple moved in together after one doozy of a party, and had wrangled a deal with the landlord: for $100 per month, they got to live in the basement while converting it to an apartment. Eric had a mild
To keep her, he started digging a ditch around the house, 6 feet deep, to fit a drainage pipe. Our dungeon monster built his own moat. Working on the pit for seven months, through frozen ground and sheets of mud, he proceeded to bury or break every cup, plate, and bowl we originally brought into the house. After three months of slogging around in knee boots in the dark, her only dry things piled atop their brass bed, Sherri left for
Eric began to brood. Upon finding the coffee pot boiled dry, and the last cooking pot glowing red, full of the burnt husks of canned beans - again - I made the mistake of asking him what was on his mind.
“Ah yeah, that. I took some things, and, like, I was staring at the paint on the wall, you know, downstairs, and the paint, it looked… I was sitting there staring at the blue wall, and I saw, you know – it was Sherri! It was her. And she was looking so sweet, Sherri and the baby, all in her arms, and I thought, wow, aw man. Right there. Right on. Heh-heh…” He trailed off, staring at the one undecorated wall in our living room.
We created a mass-collage, wallpapering the living room with cutouts from free magazines via the public library. Three walls held National Geographic beasts, tributes to Madonna, 50’s mystery spy stories, graphic comics and odd advertisements. The dining room was lined with butcher paper and every visitor was encouraged to leave a drawing. With no television, we spent our hours creatively.
Scott posted four-word poetry, each 8 x 11 inch sheet of paper saying profound things like, “Santa once ate reindeer.” An 80’s DJ with the eyes of a fox, Scott was the catalyst of most of our adventure. Arrayed on disparate, mouse-fed couches, clipping at magazines, he challenged us with a game of questions. The loser was the one who refused to answer.
“What is your passion?” Was a favorite starter question, interpreted in multiple ways depending on the mood of the crowd.
“What was the most embarrassing thing to ever happen to you? What’s the most shameful thing you’ve ever done?” Scott never stepped away from a question, and you soon learned to be careful who was playing and how much you really wanted to know about each other.
Nathan and Laura, students at 21 and 19, had so far lived simple, easy lives, and were therefore spoilers for the game. He had been raised in a hippie commune in
Sam, a storm of energy, rolled his skateboard through the living room. Four days per week he looked after an elderly repeat child molester on house arrest. That time of pent-up frustration and boredom exploded in the Myrtle house. Never still, Sam blushed a brilliant red and gave halting answers to questions punctuated by skateboard ali’s.
Bright Miley, distracted by her first baby, a yellow lab named Phoebe, decided on a change of venue. She steered us downtown to a coffee shop with the lure of two drugs: caffeine and live jazz. The press of bodies, conversation, and snare drum stifled our game until Scott discovered a window. Climbing onto the roof next door, we watched the stars and discovered each other.