It’s been forty-eight years since my last college summer. I spent that season as a life guard at a church camp. (There is precious little need for a life guard at a camp on a cold lake in western Washington; which may explain why, when I got the last minute offer, they didn’t seem to be concerned that my Red Cross certification was lapsed.) Other summers I worked as a nurses’ aide at a nursing home and an unusual job surveying city blocks in Ann Arbor, Michigan, living with my sister. (I didn’t have a job my first summer.) Whether it occurred to me back then to apply for jobs in a national park, I don’t recall. But I have long been sorry I didn’t before life happened and the opportunity passed.
I have loved all my decade birthdays. Which is not to say my decades began well, but as a gateway, they have excited me. Never have I dwelled on the fact of the ten years passage of time since the previous one. This one is no different. In fact, it is the first entry into a decade that feels completely unencumbered and wholly up to me how I spend it. It’s heady stuff, and I am putting some pressure on myself to do it well. That legacy thing talking, I suppose.
My Summer of 70 will culminate with the publication of my memoir. Having a book in the world is a long-time dream. Serendipitously, my official “pub day” is on the forty-seventh anniversary of the day I was married. Though the marriage essentially ended as I entered the decade of my forties, October 18, 1975 was a happy day, and I am glad to be repurposing a good date. I have been, and will continue to be, working hard to give this “baby” the launch into the world it deserves. I am also determined not to let “marketing” be my word for the summer. Like raising children, you can’t just leave the outcome to chance, I need to give it its best shot. But there also comes a point when children have to fly on their own.
And so, I have other goals too. One of them is to resurrect that desire to work in a national park. Saturday, on the 106th anniversary of my mother’s birth, I attended the first training session to be a Meadow Rover at Mt. Rainier National Park’s (MRNP) Paradise. Spending the summer in Paradise doesn’t sound half bad, actually.
Fun fact: MRNP is the fifth oldest national park in the country, designated such in 1899, seventeen years before the National Park Service came into being—in 1916, the year my mother was born.
A Meadow Rover—a program that began in 1990—is an ambassador for the Park. A volunteer ranger, in a sense, because the paid ones can’t be everywhere. They (I guess I could say “we”) walk the trails, being friendly to the many visitors from all over the country and the world. If you know me at all, you know my hikes are carefully chosen and hiked early in the day and never on weekends to avoid crowds. Except for Paradise. I still avoid weekends, but I accept there will be hoards of people for company. I love hearing the many foreign languages as I hike the partially paved trails. And all those people visiting the iconic Washington landmark deserve a good experience. And someone has to protect the fragile meadows and the wildlife from them.
Fun fact: The most dangerous animal in the Park is the chipmunk.
(Two women in the front row eagerly raised their hands to answer every question. What are we, twelve? They did not correctly guess the chipmunk one.)
After two Covid summers of low attendance in national parks, last summer MRNP logged more visitors than any summer in the past fifty. Two hundred fifty people applied to be Meadow Rovers on the two sides of Rainier this summer, more trainees than there were working last summer. I will be in good company. I expect there are dropouts, but as far as I know they take everyone who sticks with it. (There were about fifty in the group on Saturday, evenly divided between men and women, maybe three quarters of us “post-retirement” age.)
I have new hiking pants, new boot insoles, a new hat, and new poles. I will be issued a shirt (and a ball cap if I want one), a walkie-talkie, and a CLICKER to record my interactions. So exciting. What am I, twelve? My one-on-one (or due to the large numbers, likely one-on-two) training is scheduled for July 25 (the week after my camping trip to Takhlakh Lake at Mt. Adams). It’s a short season on the mountain, there are currently ten-and-a-half feet of snow at the edge of the Paradise parking lot, and melt is two-and-a-half weeks behind schedule. Some rovers will work in snow, I will not. The season ends October 10, Indigenous People’s Day. Between those dates, I need to get at least twenty-four hours of roving in.
Fun fact: Rovers are federal employees, volunteer status not-withstanding.
(And, as such, I don’t need first aid certification, because I can’t even apply a Band-Aid without permission from dispatch via the walkie-talkie.)
Other than being friendly and answering questions, Rovers’ primary responsibility is to educate. That is code for telling people to stay on the trail (and why), they can’t bring their dog (and why), they can’t fly a drone (and why), not to feed the chipmunks (and why). And to suggest that they do wear sunscreen and not wear flip flops beyond the paved path and do carry water and not go farther than they physically can because they will still have to come back, and they need to be off the mountain before the (“did you know?”) forecasted afternoon thunderstorm arrives. In other words, emergency prevention.
So that’s my big secret Summer of 70 plan, along with hiking 101 miles (one for each summer of my mother’s life, and seven new trails. I need to get a move on those goals; it’s been raining.
I read that my favorite candle company is struggling, so I ordered the perfect one, and with my favorite scent: Take a Hike.
And then there is my book to advocate for. Watch for details, and read fun stuff under the “Book” and “Blog” tabs at GretchenStaebler.com. You can subscribe to my e-letter there and get monthly updates on what’s new, so you don’t have to remember to check the site. You can also follow my adventuring blog for stories and photos about meadow roving and my 101 miles of trails hiked at Writing Down the Story.
See you on the trail! That’s where I’ll be. There is no expiration date on a dream.
P.S. I just saw, for the first time, the slide the cover shot is taken from and learned from the label (with Rainier misspelled) my family was hiking to the Rainier ice caves (1958), which are no longer there, of course.