I’m sitting on my bed in my room and it’s a Wednesday, which is my “Monday,” and I’ve been here over two weeks already.
Already, the job feels familiar and comfortable. Opening the VC: lights, lights, lights, flag up with a perfect cleat knot on the pole (I’ve noticed I’m the only one who does cleat knots on the flagpole; there are no boaters in the desert), cash register readied, dog bowl filled with water and set outside, auditorium chairs straightened. I suggest hikes and identify cactus blooms with the air of a seasoned local, bend over the counter to shake the hands of newly-inducted junior rangers, send out mailings, fetch brochures, settle into our office to work on new programs, hike the trails in my flat hat with a ready grin for everyone I come across. Close the VC: flag cautiously folded, cash register settled, a green cloth settled over the donations box like I’m putting a parrot to sleep. Rangering is much the same, whether you’re on a remote island in a big lake or on a dry canyon rim.
Sometimes at work, I try to remember the names of everywhere at Isle Royale, all of the places I hiked to or boated to and love: Scoville Point, Lane Cove, Duncan Narrows, the tall metal ladder at Blake Point, the cliffs in Conglomerate Bay. Sometimes my mind will blank and I’ll forget a name and it feels utterly crushing. I have a map over my bed of the island, and those are the images that swim through my head when I fall asleep, scenes I can see perfectly. The long, sunny stretch of Tobin Harbor. Thunderstorms from the Ranger dock. A bit of sunset reflecting off the Franzia bag tucked high in the spruce by our deck. (Still “our” deck in my head, of course.) And I’m still surprised when I wake up in the morning and see a rising sandstone cliff through my window, instead of firs and basalt.
No firs here, or basalt, or moose, but we’ve got gnarly ol’ pinyons and junipers, sandstone that comes incredibly alive when the sun sets, and so many lizards. I am probably going to step on one at some point. Seriously, it’s inevitable, they’re everywhere on the paths, and the prospect worries me. But the sandstone, the light – I drove home yesterday at sunset, in a thunderstorm, and everything was so completely, perfectly beautiful that I pretty much didn’t blink at all for the entire drive, just opened myself up to this swirling sky and shifting rosy colors and that smell of rain in the desert and it was all pink and blue and gray and green, and there was an arcing rainbow, and rivulets of water rushing down the rounded canyon walls, and I rolled down my windows even with the rain coming in and kept my eyes wide.
All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on.