Sometimes it’s assisting visitors to find their campsite, firewood, or good fishing spots, watching a child learn to ride a bike, catch their first fish or wave enthusiastically at the patrol vehicle. It’s the smell of food grilling in the campgrounds, the sounds of laughing children splashing in a swimming pool, and the sight of boats sailing on a lake. It’s closing the entrance gate, as the sun beats down unmercifully. Your voice hoarse from patiently repeating. “I’m sorry the park is at capacity.” It’s meeting people from all over the world, and learning that we’re all very similar. It’s waiting for the summer to be over because you’re stressed from large crowds, but missing them in the cold winter months and happy when spring brings them back.
Sometimes it’s organizing a search for a missing person. Their family has arrived and, with compassion, you explain where the search teams are going, what they’re doing, and what the next course of action will be. Sometimes they pray. Sometimes they cry, and sometimes they lash out from helpless frustration. It’s taking nothing personal and maintaining a professional demeanor. It’s calling your family to say “I’m going to be late. I don’t know when I’ll get home. I’ll call when I can.” Empathy and duty pushes your team throughout the night. Each member wants to find the person alive, give their best effort, and provide closure to the family. It’s looking at your co-workers and knowing words are not needed. We will get through this together.
It’s preparing for the July 4th crowds, organizing gear and checking equipment. It’s placing the American flag atop a freshly washed patrol vehicle, polishing boots, and making sure your uniform has a sharp crease. It’s watching the maintenance staff cut the grass, clerks answering phones, managers working on projects. All working together to ensure the visitors enjoy the holiday. It’s issuing a citation and twenty minutes later bandaging a cut hand. It’s secretly hoping you get home in time to eat with your family and watch the fireworks. It’s sharing experiences with your family, and it’s hearing your son say he’s proud of you.
Sometimes it’s watching the sun set over the lake, seeing a bald eagle circle overhead, or propping a dumpster lid open to free a hungry raccoon. It’s walking the campgrounds at night, or taking advantage of a rainy day to complete reports and administrative duties. It’s seeing other Rangers at training. Hearing their stories. Watching the old Rangers retire, and the new ones graduate, excited to start their careers.
Always knowing tomorrow’s shift will be completely different than today’s, might be the very best part of being a Ranger.