I spent what felt like half of my childhood in a pop-up camper with my family camping each summer in every state we could reach via minivan. On each of these highly-stressful, month-long adventures, my parents would pull out their beloved atlas and traverse America the way it was intended: with an abundance of tuna helper and a travel-sized television for hours of Land Before Time entertainment for the three girls in the back.
Ten-hour drive days made for equally long arguments with my sisters on which Disney movie to play next. But our destination at the end of those thousands of miles on the road were worth any dispute or hair lost in an attempted new hairstyle.
On these adventures, I discovered my love for the Harry Potter book series but more importantly — the National Park Service. Every rock, stick, river was loved. I reveled at the bison in Yellowstone and climbed the strange structures in the Badlands. I cried when I got out of the car in Alaska out of fear of being carried away by mosquitos, and I talked to a lot of rangers along the way. I eventually overcame my fear of pooping in the woods, and I learned how to clean myself without water.
These important skills weren’t wasted, as I grew older. I still appreciated the sound of cicadas and lacked important makeup skills. For some reason though even with my collection of memories and Junior Ranger badges, I never gave thought to a career in the National Park Service.
At least until that opportunity fell in my lap. Needless to say, one successful summer internship in my favorite national park later, I was in love. The National Park Service was everything I wanted and needed in life. I went to school in the fall completely dead-set on taking every class and working or volunteering every summer to squeeze my way into the federal government.
And by golly, I did it. Luck was legitimately on my side, and I’d like to think my perseverance and dedication to cover letters and my obnoxious six-page resume also played a role. But seriously though, I had a fantastic supervisor for my internship that saw me all the way through and equally matched my effort and passion with solid advice.
At the age of 20, I earned the Stetson and the official title of “Park Ranger.” For every summer of college, I ironed my uniform and filled my head with knowledge about bats and bears and lichen. I repacked my first aid kit again and again.
My love life was not quite as steady as the National Park Service. Boys constantly came and went. And to me, that was fine. I still had visitors to make happy.
The school year was filled with interesting classes and a silly newspaper to fix my people-person void. Starting in November, I obsessed over USA Jobs for my May graduation by applying to literally everything I qualified for and even then some in hopes I made it through to the hiring official anyway. Hundreds upon hundreds of national parks received my now ten-page resume highlighting important skills like my ability to catch salamanders and make visitors of all ages and ethnicities smile.
And then I met someone. This guy wasn’t like any of the other fellows I dated. I never felt the need to apologize for my constant state of excitement or for my drunk, obnoxious lectures on the effects of White Nose Syndrome in local bat populations.
He accepted me. And more importantly, he accepted our fate. He knew my love for the National Park Service outweighed anything he could provide. He knew that when graduation came, I was packing up and shipping out to some far-away mountain or desert or hole-in-the-ground to call home for six months only to move again, and that was that.
And then we professed our love for each other in a Taco Bell drive-through at two in the morning two months into our kind-of-but-not-really-relationship, but that couldn’t even stop my dream of going west. Sure enough, May came and eventually I moved to California to work as a ranger. Far away from our Tennessee and his new job in the Midwest.
Several weeks passed. Skype calls became more frequent. A fantastic rendezvous in LA. I fell asleep with a smile every night even though I slept in a canvas tent in the Sierras because I knew a few thousand miles away a boy thought of me, too.
By the grace of God, I snagged a position working in another NPS site considerably closer to him. I quit my gig in California and hopped on a plane bound for the flatlands. Now only 45 minutes away and with constant cell reception, happiness is even more constant.
I have no idea what the future will hold, but I do know that November is right around the corner — as is my hunt of summer jobs at other national parks. But seeing as the government is shut down and there’s a freeze on federal hiring, I might as well enjoy the fact I’m here and with the person I love and not in a tent in 18 degree weather.
For years of I’ve dreamed of moving every four to six months until I’m well into my 30s with a permanent job and a collection of dogs, but I’m starting to see stability isn’t always the enemy.