Monday, October 24, 2011

Finding New Life in the Beginnings of Tradition

Life is pretty uncertain these days and sometimes hardly seems like life at all so much as continued existence with little direction as to the way ahead, but then divine moments remind me that life is all around me if I have the eyes to see it and that there is indeed direction behind it.  Today officially marks the beginning of my final four weeks at Shenandoah National Park. My time here has gone rather quickly. It is hard to believe that I have been here for seven months. Soon I will be leaving, possibly never to return in the capacity of park ranger. My future with the Park Service after November 19 remains completely unknown. I have now sent out 93 applications for different positions with the Park Service since I began here at Shenandoah and have gotten nowhere with any of them. While that is certainly disheartening I also continue to believe that God has a plan and that the right door will open when it needs to. Apparently it is not yet time for me to see that door! The themes discussed in my last email have certainly continued to be true these last two weeks.

The masses of visitors here in the park have only increased, making for some very long days and also some rather interesting conversations with people who fail to grasp some pretty basic concepts such as the difference between left and right or north and south. A particular favorite occurred yesterday when a man came up to the desk and asked me if the bears were still there. I was at a loss as to what he was asking until I realized that he had looked at the sitings log and someone had mentioned seeing bears a few miles up the road earlier in the day. I went on to inform him that I was unaware of the precise position of every bear in the park, but that they usually were not inclined to stay in the same exact location for an extended period of time. He seemed quite out of sorts regarding this response. That is but a single example of a torrent of such visitors that we have faced in these last few weeks.

At the same time it also continues to be true that little nuggets of wonder arise amidst the repetitive collective stupidity. Such nuggets as the conversation I had with a lady this morning about the development of the Park Service and the ideas that lie behind it, or the gentleman who came in to stamp his passport, adding to his collection of National Park sites he has visited, a collection that currently numbers 386 out of 394 National Park units. I feel like I go to National Park sites with some regularity but I currently have just under 100 units that I have visited myself.

In the midst of the many hundreds of people I have spoken to these past two weekends appeared two couples that were particularly special. Both last weekend and this one of my former co-workers on the National Mall and her husband/boyfriend (both of whom I also know) suddenly appeared unexpectedly on the other side of the desk.  It was great fun to see a familiar park service friendly face amidst the sea of needy and demanding visitors.
Though it was certainly fun to see those faces, it was another face appearing in the visitor center that brought a special kind of joy to me last Monday, the face of my fiancé who had come out to the park to visit and continue one of our newly forming fall traditions.

Among the many activities we found ourselves engaged in last fall were three that stood out as ones we wanted to make a point to repeat. We succeeded, not without some difficulty, in doing each of the three again this year. In so doing we have begun to lay the groundwork for traditions in our new life together even before we are actually married. The first special event came on October 1 when we attended the National Apple Festival in Pennsylvania, like last year consuming all sorts of wonderful apple products (apple sausage, apple cider, apple butter, apple sauce, and apple fritters) as well as branching out this year into sweet potato fries and Wild Bill’s old fashioned soda. It was great fun despite rainy skies and missing the tractor square dancing that we witnessed last year.

Sadly the water filled skies, though not stopping us from enjoying the apple festival, did preclude the possibility of us completing the second fall tradition that night, the largest corn maze in the state of Maryland. Not to be deterred we came up with an alternate plan and last Friday I drove from Virginia, Alison drove from DC, and we met in Maryland, successfully completing all 18 checkpoints in the maze after watching the third transformers movie projected on hay bales. It was absurdly muddy so we emerged a little browner than when we began our journey, but it was well worth the dirt and the late arrival back in the park that night.
Then this past Monday Alison arrived in the park and we spent the next few days enjoying the fall color here in Shenandoah, thus fulfilling our third fall tradition for the year. This time we had her VW convertible bug, which we drove all the way to the southern entrance to the park and onto the blue ridge parkway where we stopped for a picnic, a visit to a historic farmsite, and a game of checkers on the front porch of the farmhouse.

 We have decided that we want to continue to take part in each of these three activities every year that we are in the area, one in each of the three nearest states to Washington DC.

Even as we have striven to enjoy fall here in the mid atlantic we have continued to make wedding related plans and decisions and also try and establish what is needed for us to officially began life together on January 14.

By far the most exciting development in that quarter is that we officially have a place to live. We found a basement apartment in McLean, VA, right across the river from DC underneath a beautiful house in a beautiful neighborhood. The attached picture is of that house (the others are of the apple festival). It seems like an ideal situation for us, especially because the rent includes all utilities, internet, and cable, so we know exactly how much we will need to pay each month. I will begin moving things into our new home when we take possession on November 1 and will officially move in when I leave the park next month. Alison will join me when we return from the west coast as a married couple.

So in spite of the unknown and uncertainty we are finding new life amidst the beginnings of traditions that will hopefully last for years to come. 

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