Snow and Foxes

Yesterday, Ranger Emily took pictures of me while out on the trail with some middle schoolers. The weather was less than great. It rained – poured, actually – all morning here at headquarters and up on the mountain it was snowing, blowing and cold. Conditions which, in part, led to a search and rescue operation for the park, rescuing two Canadian climbers who lost their way and fell into a crevasse. Thankfully, our climbing rangers and local guide services employ rather courageous (in my opinion; some might call them “crazy”) and skilled mountaineers that rescued the two stranded climbers and brought them safely down the mountain.

But back at Paradise, Emily and I were out with some middle schoolers, snowshoeing, learning about winter on the mountain, and watching fox tracks. Here we are, listening like foxes with our big ears:

And look! Who should join us but Mr. Cascade Fox himself!

Emily and I are back at it today on the mountain with another group of sixth graders today.

Tomorrow I’m staying warm and dry in the office. I’ve decided to be a wimpy ranger for the rest of the week. 😉


The hard part of caring for America’s Best Idea

This week was indeed eye-opening. Thursday was Earth Day and the TWoods office folks here at Rainier participated in the annual park clean-up. We take on a stretch of road somewhere in the west side of the park (the east side still is closed, snowed in, and being plowed) and pick up trash, break up illegal campsites, and attempt to erase some of the human-caused damage.

Fawn, Emily and I – the education staff – went out with Ranger Ken on Skate Creek Road along the park’s southern boundary. For those of you who haven’t been here (yet!), Skate Creek is a U.S. Forest Service Road where people can camp legally along the road. There’s less traffic, less noise, and less regulation than in the park. But the Forest Service doesn’t have enough resources to patrol the area very well, make sure people aren’t doing anything illegal or causing damage to the land – much less hurting themselves. Some of the clean-up on areas adjacent to the park fall to park staff and volunteers. Ranger Ken seems to have taken on this area as his pet project, for which I really respect him. And although it was a weekday and we didn’t run into any trouble, I was a bit thankful to have a law enforcement ranger with us – complete with all of his gear.

Keep in mind that Skate Creek Road, while technically not on our property, does affect the park, because the Nisqually River, which runs in tandem with the road for many miles, is the boundary of the park. And when people camp along Skate Creek, trash (among other things) ends up all over – and in the river – and thus on our property. Also keep in mind that this river flows down towards the Puget Sound region, and provides drinking water and hydroelectric power for hundreds of thousands of residents of western Washington. The river starts up on Mount Rainier as meltwater draining from the Nisqually Glacier.

The campsites, trash and mess we found was astounding to me. And everything had been shot up. Literally. Glass bottles in shatters. Engine oil plastic bottles shot up and the oil spilled all over the ground. Beer cans and food containers all sporting holes from bullets. Trash everywhere. The best campsite we found had 2 television sets, one microwave, and hundreds of beer bottles – all that were shattered from being shot at. Bullet casings and shotgun shells littered the ground everywhere.

My first thought: Who actually has time for such activities?! These ^&*%#@! rednecks really need a productive hobby.

Sorry for the harshness, but it really made me (us) mad. And with the two vehicles we brought out, we didn’t have enough space to haul out all of the crap left behind by the drunken ‘fun’ had by these folks, whoever they are. It was disgusting and maddening.

And before I go on and on, I’m just going to post a picture. More are on my Facebook Rainier photo album.

Quite the fashion statement…

The picture is a bit far away, but that’s a badge. Just in case you were curious. 😉 The hat should be coming next week, it’s on order with the rest of my gear. Behind me is the Education Center at Mount Rainier, where I’ve had my office for the past 14 months. I’ll be here until the beginning of June and then I’ll transfer to the other side of the park and be stationed at Ohanapecosh. This is setting up to be a good summer.

Just the facts…

Where to begin?

I started this blog entry and couldn’t figure out where to go with it. There are a few issues facing our public lands and resources right now that are weighing on my mind. They are very polarizing and contentious, depressing, oftentimes political, and worrysome (at least to me).

The first (of many) are the debates and policies of ‘predator control’ in Alaska. Every news story you read gives different ‘facts’ and opinions. Same with people who actually have a stake on the land up there – different opinions, different facts, different values and different reactions.

Some people might focus on the animals themselves and ecosystem processes. Some folks might look at tourism aspects and profitibility. Others might look for political gain or status. And still others might consider their own lifestyle or the subsistence needs of local residents.

The ‘sides’ of the arguement go on and on.

As a park ranger, I’m asked to present multiple sides of each issue to park visitors. Give our visitors as much information as they can process and let them come to their own conclusions. While those ‘predator control’ issues in Alaska may not be directly affecting Rainier at this moment, they are affecting me. At least on some emotional level. I’m struggling to understand the facts of the issue – from more than one perspective.

I’m not a resident of Alaska (obviously), but I have spent more time up there than the average tourist. In fact, I spent my time up there STUDYING the ‘average’ tourist – in three distinct areas of Alaska with three different ‘types’ of tourists. Outside of the research, I loved the little dry cabins that I called ‘home’. I learned that wild blueberries and cranberries taste better than any berry you can buy from any store. I figured out that, at least on some level, I yearn for the subsistence lifestyle. And, although I knew this before spending time up there (my time in Alaska merely reinforced what I already knew to be true), wide open spaces, big animals and the tiniest plants on the arctic tundra can capture your imagination like very few other things in our modern world.

Spring is trying to take hold here at Rainier, despite the fact that we still have 14 feet of snow on the ground at Paradise. It’s been sunny and beautiful here today, and even though I have a few things on the work agenda for today (which I did finish!), my mind has been a thousand plus miles north of here.

PS – Throughout the past 14 months at Rainier, I was classified as an intern/volunteer. As of March 28, I was offered (and accepted) a paid ranger position at Rainier for this 2010 season. Most of my official uniform parts are still on order and haven’t arrived at the park. However, I have the basics and today was my first day in ‘the grey and green’ as they say it. Fawn (the boss) said I wore it well. Pictures tomorrow! (Won’t my mommy be proud?!)

The Absent Ranger

Where have I been lately? What have I been up to?

No where. and Not much.

It’s been a very slow couple of weeks out here. Lots of house-sitting and doggie time, which always brings a smile to my face.

Then our new program intern arrived last weekend. I spent a bit of time this week getting her acquainted with Mount Rainier park operations and personnel. Sadly, we’ve been in the throes of a late-winter storm, so Emily hasn’t even SEEN Mount Rainier, THE mountain. She claims that she’ll believe it exists when she sees empirical evidence.

I’m happy that Emily has a great sense of humor. This is an asset in our line of work.

And now we’re both fighting off a spring cold. I’m hoping the swelling in my sinuses and ears will go down; we have 80+ people snowshoeing with us on Tuesday. I have to be healthy. I don’t have a choice!