Friday, November 21, 2008

(4) Serpentine Summers

I was asked to come to Washington, D.C., for a series of interviews.
That was the most scary part for me. Having never been to
Washington, I barely knew my way around. It was a big city,
seemingly a very busy place. The National Parks Service operated
under the aegis of the Department of the Interior. I considered
myself lucky that I actually found the building, much less getting
around all the hallways, and finding my destination. After all this, I
miraculously managed to wangle through my interviews. I seemed
to get friendly nods--so I left Washington somewhat hopeful.

All I had to do was wait and wait and wait. The Federal bureaucracy
is similar to the movement of a glacier. While waiting I did manage
to pull through my last academic year at the university. My parents
came to celebrate my graduation; and following this happy occasion,
we all drove home to Virginia--back to my mountains!

At last I received word that I had been tentatively accepted as a
park ranger with the National Parks Service, assuming I pass a
physical examination. This meant yet another trip to Washington.
Sitting before the doctors, hoping I pass muster, it's a wonder that
my blood pressure didn't go sky-high. So following that last hurdle,
I returned once again to Amherst County. Suddenly, fast, I received
notice that I had been fully accepted as a park ranger.

I was to report to Harper's Ferry in West Virginia for a two-week course
that included pretty much a layout of what would be expected for a
fledgling park ranger. Not too far away, I still had managed to miss
this beautiful little town. Historic, famous for John Brown's raid right
before the Civil War, I never knew that the town was under the
management of the National Parks Service. It was at Harper's Ferry
that I first learned that there were different categories of park rangers.
Some worked in the "field," in wildland management, in fire manage-
ment. Others worked as interpreters, both as naturalists and as
historians. And there was occasion when a park ranger might blend
these categories when it came to his professional activities.

Right off, we new park rangers learned that in our early career that
we would be expected to spend our first few years learning the ropes
in the "field." That excited me, because that was where I wanted to be!

However, most importantly--for all of us fledglings--it was about
where we would be assigned. Somehow I just knew that I would be
sent to work in the Shenandoah National Park. It's located in Virginia
and encompasses the Blue Ridge Mountains--"my" mountains. In the
back of my mind I felt that my vision at the Serpent Mound pointed
exactly to this. Remember--the ancient Indian told me to "return to
your mountains."

Well I was flustered when I received my assignment to the Great
Smokey Mountains National Park. How could this be? But then
I learned that this huge national park, that straddled across parts
of both North Carolina and Tennessee, also borders the far western
part of the Blue Ridge Mountains. My mountains!

I had to make a mental adjustment, if you will. The Smokey Mountains
are a southern part of the Appalachian mountain chain that runs
from Maine to Georgia. "My" mountains suddenly were expanded
into something very much larger.

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