Saturday, November 22, 2008

(4) The Patriarchs

Following a number of years spent at Zion, I finally got my nerve up
to spend a day whitewater rafting with one of the outfitters along the
Virgin River. A tributary of the Colorado River, the Virgin River
flows through the park. It is mainly responsible for the erosion
that built the canyons in Zion. It drops 70 feet a minute, 10 times
faster than that of the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon.

Anyway, years back when I first joined the National Park Service,
I had spent a day whitewater rafting on the Shenandoah River
near Harper's Ferry where I was taking an introductory course.
So armed with this limited experience, I felt some confidence
embarking out into the Virgin River. Sometimes our thought
processes aren't working, and somehow I ignored the velocity
of this river. In spite being a professional park ranger, I somehow
was acting like an "innocent abroad."

Swinging out into the river, we were suddenly swept away at a
breathtaking speed. Wearing a bulky lifesaving vest, I wondered
if it would even do any good if we were catapulted into the river
itself. Others in the raft were obviously tourists, and obviously as
frightened as I was! One fellow--a tourist--lost control of himself
and became hysterical. Evidently not thinking straight, he literally
was trying to climb out of the raft. The outfitter guide yelled to
throw him spread-eagle down into the middle of the raft. This
helped balance the raft, thank heavens!

We spent the rest of the trip listening to the screaming and
whimpering of this fellow laying down in the midst of our feet.
Need I say, it made for a terrifying journey. No fun this, not at
all. Eventually we made land, and I wobbled gratefully onto
the shore. At this point I held such a respect for the Virgin River
that I decided I would never "ride" her again!

Wet, worn, and still shaking, I wandered off by myself before
heading for my car. I needed a quiet moment to calm down.
Sitting on a log, in a nearby meadow of swaying Cottonwood
trees, I raised my head and gasped. Walking towards me was
my ancient Indian guide. Speaking to me, he said "pause by
pacific waters." After he disappeared, I had to smile. He had
said the obvious. Henceforth, I would stay put *only* along
side placid waters. No more whitewater rafting for me!

Of course by this time I knew that I was in for a change. So
once again I flipped through the job announcements. In due
course I found an opening that caught my eye. It was for a
ranger naturalist at the Cabrillo National Monument, located
in San Diego. It was situated at the very tip of a peninsula
that looked out upon the vast Pacific Ocean.

With only a few years away from retirement, I felt that--yes--
this assignment would provide the perfect "pause" for me.
After the complex duties I held at Zion, I wasn't really looking
for any more demanding work. This small national park facility
seemed to fit the bill, so to speak.

Not surprised, after applying, I got the job at Cabrillo.
Packing, I was soon heading back to California.

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