Back, at Last, in the Pac Northwest


This first blog post has been difficult to conceive. I’ve been here for barely a month, and the details of my job – that is, the precise tasks that I will be doing regularly – are still being ironed out. My post is an internship with the Volunteer and Youth Program at North Cascades National Park. My supervisor, a beloved figure here, has had me tag along on visits to the many youth and volunteer groups in the park. It’s great to be in the field, especially in a place where iced crags stab the sky and crystal water tumbles down, but I’ve been itching to settle into a more definitive direction with my work. Now that I grasp the scope of groups and projects happening here, I think I have a handle on how I can most valuably contribute. My job is just beginning.<p>I’d like to share with you the story of how I got to be here, in a national park abutting Canada in Washington State. I think you’ll find it compelling.<p>January 2008. Portland, OR, AmeriCorps: It’s the middle of winter in the upper latitudes of the US, but this place still manages to ooze green. I enter a rainforest for the first time and feel a distinct sense of place. Underneath the towering firs, what’s not blanketed by moss and ferns fills up with sodden shrub branches. Snap out of your reverie, I tell myself; there’s work to be done. I plunge my axe-mattock into the ground and pluck out the bulbous root of the Himalayan blackberry.<p>July 9, 2013. Ross Lake, WA, SCA: It’s been almost five years since I’d last been in the Pacific Northwest – the place that changed me. Upon entering the trail down to the lake, old friends emerge. Douglas fir climbs into the sky, its deep-ridged bark imbuing a character of old-age. The black stalks of maidenhair fern cling to waterfall rocks. Oregon grape leaves scatter across the forest floor, threatening to prick. Red huckleberry bushes tempt with unripened fruit. Even after years of absence, everything is fresh and familiar.<p>July 2008. East Marion County, OR, AmeriCorps: I’m not particularly enthused. What am I to do all day as I walk along this stream looking for tiny invasive plants? But that concern quickly dissipates. Emerald-green water carves the dark basalt bedrock. Spires jut skyward. Canyons froth rapids. Falls rumble downward. Arches loop side channels. Flats pool into idyllic swimming holes. I’d no idea nature was such a master sculptor. Wait, aren’t I supposed to be staring at the ground?<p>July 2009. Yellowstone National Park, WY, AmeriCorps:

Grizzly Bear safety talk

Bear spray

√ Camping Backpacks

√ Backpacking stove

√ Water filter

√ Toilet Paper

√ Sleeping Pads<p>Squirrely as they are, they’ve worked hard the previous four weeks and deserve recreation time. All I want to do is provide our Youth Crew with the same transformative experience in nature that I had the year before. But my co-leader and I screwed it up. We checked the water filter at the beginning of the season, and when we left for our backcountry trip, we assumed everything was ok. After an exhausting hike of wrong turns and packs digging into our shoulders, the creek at the campsite beckons our thirst. Upon pulling the pump out of the bag, we discover it’s hollow. There’s no filter inside. Crap, what do we do? How many iodine tablets can we muster? Shoot! Do we have to hike out the next day? Augh! (Don’t worry. All this meant was that our backcountry trip became a front country trip. We ended up camping over by the beautiful Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. Not bad.)

August 1, 2013. Marblemount, WA, SCA: Since I came on a little later in the season, I’m thrust into the middle of the program. No matter, if there’s a kid to be educated about environmental splendors, I’ll do it. Besides, I just have to help out and make sure they stay attentive. We hike not but a quarter mile down the trail, but for these elementary schoolers, it’s as if we’ve entered a fantasy land. Yes, you’re right. That sapling with a drooping head is a hemlock. Yes, those spores on the bottom of sword fern fronds can help ease stinging nettle burns. Yes, that orange-breasted bird is a robin. Yes, that mushroom is decomposing that dead log. Good. They’ve learned. I might not have been the one to teach them specifically, but I’m glad I can assist.<p>April 2013. Austin, TX: It’s been great to be back in my home state for a year. In fact, I even had a valuable internship in the career I desire (journalism). But since that ended over eight months ago, I’m feeling underutilized and unfulfilled. My current service industry job is wearing me down and making me bitter. Jobs in desired fields are few and far between. Why not return to doing something I value: connecting people with the transformative power of wilderness? Maybe SCA has some cool things I can do. Let’s take a look. I haven’t been to the Southwest. I’ll mark those. But there’s also this cool position in Washington State that lets me work with volunteers and school groups. Maybe it’ll be nice to go back to the region where it all began.