The Mountain Valley Home

Looking out over the same mountain valley I have seen a thousand times before, the sunlight sparkles off the snowflakes in the air, seemingly held aloft by an unseen breeze. The valley stretches ahead of me, dotted with the occasional pine tree or boulder, criss-crossed by a small cold stream. The pines and spruces create a patchwork of deep green against the snow white backdrop on the slopes around me. This valley is protected on all sides by distant mountain spires. Those peaks seem to grow taller the nearer I move.

A grand orchestra resounds all around me. The present concert involves the trilling of birds in the trees and the rustle of the winds as it hurries through dried grasses, all set to the tempo of my footsteps as I walk through the snow on this blustery morning.

I am lucky to be here. And I try to be present in this moment. I don’t want to be anywhere else. I have spent time in many mountain wonderlands across North America, but I always come back here. This mountain valley is home.

Every time I come back, some things are different: the seasons, the color of the grasses and wildflowers, the activity of the wildlife, the wind, temperature and snow.

But some things stay the same: the feeling of peace and calm. The excitement of the challenge (for all trails, no matter how simple they may seem, present a challenge). Same too is the realness of the living world around me–something I certainly don’t get from my computer and office in the city.

I just need to be up in this mountain park where the trees dance to their own music.


The Truth About Texas

Read: The Truth about my time in Texas.

Here are a few facts I want to lay out first:

  1. The units of the National Park Service that I worked at were not ‘bad’, and the history at Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument is fascinating – both in terms of human history and geological history. The sites protected here help build our understanding of the development of civilization on the southern High Plains and the desert southwest. And I learned flintknapping from VIP Jimmy. That was fun. 🙂
  2. I didn’t mind living away from the big city. In fact, the lack of traffic was quite refreshing after working in Denver for 13 months.
  3. I did miss having a grocery store with lots of fresh fruit and vegetable options. Even United, the best (in my opinion) of the chain stores didn’t have quite the produce selection I’m used to. Even in small towns by other parks, I’m used to finding produce stands or farmers’ markets – I really couldn’t find much along these lines in Texas, and that was a bummer.
  4. Thanks to two classes I went to during my 14 months there, I made some new friends all over the country, particularly two ladies, one in Utah and one in Oklahoma. I will miss chatting and sharing ideas with these folks.

But here’s the thing. And I know it’s the thing for a lot of other parkies.

The management sucks.

There is a definite, complicated reason that the National Park Service CONSISTENTLY scores so low on the Federal Employees Viewpoint Survey. (Read the 2015 results here.)

At the risk of being black-listed for the rest of my life and never getting another NPS job, I documented poor behavior, unfair practices, and policy violations for almost a year. I tried several times (documenting those times as well) to request mediation, help, or ANYTHING that would improve the situation. But the management was so entrenched. My requests – even in writing – fell on deaf ears and never went anywhere. I was the evil non-team member who caused trouble.

My only feeling of justification came in the fact that another female employee who, having more years in service than me, was completely unhappy with the way things “ran” at this park. In fact, she stayed for a shorter time period than I did. I worked there about 14 months, whereas she only stayed 9 months. We both left for greener pastures, hoping to never look back. Thankfully, she got a new position – with some power – at another park. Her years in service and grade paid off, and I’m happy for her. I’m lucky, too, that there was a vacancy at my former office and my supervisor at that job was happy to have me transfer back. My new position came with a raise and way more promotion potential than my NPS job could have offered.

The good ol’ boys club in Texas was so powerful. And after all, I was just a GS5. I was told that I was being insubordinate. I was told I was expendable and I should mind my manners if I wanted to stay employed. Our supervisor barely spoke to this other employee, so clearly, she was equally expendable. (How would she know?)

Expendable, that is, until we handed in our notices and then the ‘assignment’ list I was given grew and grew and grew. And what I didn’t get done, this other employee had to work on (she left two weeks after I left, so there was a pay period where she had to work alone – although she wrote me a couple of times asking for my help). You see, this other employee and I were actually prepared for our jobs, had the specialized skills to do specific tasks – no other employee on the staff could do these tasks, including our supervisor.

So when we left, the shit hit the fan. There are specific tasks revolving around the National Park Service’s 2016 Centennial that will not be accomplished now without outside help. The tasks can’t be done in house because no one is prepared. (Incidentally, one of my good friends who does these tasks at an NPS unit in a neighboring state has already been contacted to do the tasks.)

Related to poor management, but not my immediate job, a week before I left it came to light that the Chief of Maintenance had moved $15,000 from an account for my division (department) to his division. My division’s chief – my inept now-former supervisor – didn’t even catch that his funds were gone. When I asked a coworker why this was allowed to happen, she replied, “[Division Chief] is a bully and no one will stand up to him.” She shrugged and walked away, like this was accepted behavior.

If it wasn’t so pathetic, I would laugh.

I am heartbroken. I sincerely believe (somewhat naively, I’m sure) that our public lands deserve better. These are the places that are supposed to exemplify the best our country has to offer – and teach us about our collective history. And yet, they are abused and degraded from the inside and the outside.

I can’t work for a manager like this. I believe I have the skills to do a lot of good for the public trust. But I just can’t sign my name to a system like I experienced in Texas. So it’s back to the office job in Denver for me.

My supervisor here is nice and cares and actually does her job.



Back at the Office

After a few hectic weeks, I’ve settled back into my old routine at the office. I moved back to Denver, back to my former job at the U.S. Department of the Interior, and back to a place that is far happier and healthier than where I spent all of 2015.

I tried to make a quiet transition, but my coworkers had other ideas. I am very lucky to have office mates who welcome me back like this:


In other events that day, my office mates – and my supervisor – wore jeans, cowboy boots and hats, and lots of plaid flannel, just to make me feel at home. “Yee-haw!” was their chosen greeting for me that day.

I had to remind them that I left Texas for a reason.

And they reminded me again as to just how happy they were to have me back: they piled my desk full of audits and projects.

Can’t you feel the love?