Saturday, September 12, 2015

#253: Park Ranger Joy

Since it is September 11, 2015, I've been thinking about what I was doing 14 years ago.

Here it is:

Yep, I was a Park Ranger in Zion National Park [if you haven't been there, you MUST see it before you die. It is a beautiful, magnificent place]. I collected fees at the entrance stations, worked in the campground and at the 1.1 mile-long tunnel. It was manned during business hours because it had to be reduced to one-way traffic when motorhomes or large cabovers came through.

September 11, 2001 was a Tuesday and I had the early shift at work. I listened to Morning Edition on NPR on my way to work and Bob Edwards reported on the 1st tower getting hit. Very strange, I thought. By the time my 45 minute drive was over I think both towers had been hit. By the time I got inside one was falling down, if I remember correctly. When I got inside headquarters people were huddled around the TV, and I watched the towers fall down for the first and only time in my life. All but "essential" personnel were sent home. As you can imagine, those of us collecting fees and manning the tunnel were not sent home. I had the tunnel during the first half of the day.

Anyone that remembers will recall that lots of news was coming out that morning. Not being by a television or a radio, I relied on the patrons through the park to tell me what was going on. Every time traffic was stopped on my side of the tunnel, I'd walk the line and ask people what was going on. As the morning wore on, I heard about the plane hitting the pentagon, the plane in Pennsylvania going down, and I remember some false information in there, too. One of our own staff members had previously been a flight attendant on the flight into Dulles and knew the crew on board. All air traffic was grounded for a week. There were no planes going across the sky; no loud noises every so often. No helicopters passing by.

What sticks with me the most is the how suddenly we all started being nice to each other. Suddenly, for about 2 weeks, we Americans had what I call perspective. Proper perspective. No one yelled at me about paying 20 dollars to go through the park; no one complained about sitting in line at the tunnel; no foreigners complained about the attitude of Americans. My ex-husband and I went camping that weekend in Bryce Canyon and we experienced more of the same kindness, patriotism and unity with, really, everyone.

I am so proud that I was a park ranger at all, but especially during that time. To see our country pull together and put our differences aside in one of our national treasures was a priceless gift.

As for being a park ranger at all, it was a dream come true. I always always always wanted to be a park ranger so I could wear the hat. And I thought it would be cool. It absolutely lived up to my expectations. I met incredible people. I got to ride in a helicopter over the Grand Tetons. I got to go to the Grand Canyon for two weeks of training for free. I got to go look for space shuttle pieces when another national tragedy happened: the Columbia tragedy. I got to write an article for Ranger Magazine, the Journal for the Association of National Park Rangers (page 7). When I left I received an Arrowhead, a gift bestowed on permanent employees who work for at least a year. The staff signs the back:

And then as a parting gift, my boss got me the Zion poster created by the WPA during the depression:

And, of course, I have two very cool hats.

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