A transistor radio allows for the lone known comfort, NPR Sunday edition, as I take in the morning amid my new environs. Alien birdsong flitters in and out of vivid green plants that remain mostly foreign at this moment. A lingering peculiar sulfur odor often hangs in the air- enough so that it is common to have poor air quality conditions.
At night a mere five minute walk provides an overlook to the “glow” within this remote location. How remote? More than 2500 miles from North America, 3700 miles from Japan, and 1850 miles away from the nearest island neighbor. I speak of the Hawaii chain and the island of Hawaii in particular and that “glow” emanates from Halemaumau crater within the greater Kilauea Caldera which in term is part of larger Mauna Loa, the most active volcano on the planet.
1. one of the four periods of the year (spring, summer, autumn, and winter), beginning astronomically at an equinox or solstice, but geographically at different dates in different climates.
4. a period of the year marked by certain conditions, activities, etc.:
verb (used with object)
9. to heighten or improve the flavor of (food) by adding condiments, spices, herbs, or the like.
verb (used without object)
14. to become seasoned, matured, hardened, or the like.
2.a seasonal product, employee, etc.: to hire seasonals. # A person who works a job(s) that fall within a particular season then seeks future employment elsewhere. Eg lifeguard, firefighter, chair lift operator, Park Ranger
(from dictionary.com # author’s added )
2016 was my first foray with being a Federal employee with the National Park Service (NPS). this serendipitously coincided with the Centennial celebration of the NPS across all 417units Due to few full time positions ever becoming available and the competition when it does happen, most people begin their NPS journey as seasonals. These seasons are often labeled Not to exceed 1039 hours in a year.
Seeking new locations ( my sister always says to write Mark’s address in pencil) and varying responsibilities as I often do, this arrangement fit rather nicely into my mantra. Given my prolonged efforts into entering this agency it was indeed a magical year.
First stop, Joshua Tree National Park as a Visitor Use Assistant- Fee Collection Ranger. Think monkey in the box that takes visitors’ money and throws them a map in the the never ending task of slaying a line of cars from Los Angeles.
Nearly one month into my season, I realized it was time to begin searching for the next gig. Not because I wasn’t enjoying being a monkey in the box. More so, I was more concerned about melting in the box with the impending summer temperatures that often reach over 100 degrees. Additionally, all the cool summer positions for other Parks were being posted or flown in mid February. One thing that I’ve learned as a seasonal for roughly the past 10 years; is one must stay ahead of the game in the constant pursuit of next gainful short term employment.
To my surprise, I received and accepted an offer after only two weeks of applying. (so much for that government inefficiency, although to be honest the time frame for Joshua Tree hiring was excruciatingly long.) With a feather in my cap of knowing my next landing spot, Yosemite National Park, I was truly able to maximize the remaining 2 ½ months in Joshua Tree.
As for Yosemite, I was a Restoration Worker in the Mariposa Grove of ancient Sequoia trees. Restoration is often confused with cabinet and other carpentry work. Not in this case- think Dirt Ranger- (in fact that is what my homemade name tag stated.) Duties included shoveling gravel, collecting seeds, slinging mulch dirt soil dirt magic, and other miscellany.
Note: the author intends to publish more in depth writings of both seasonal gigs- stay tuned
As summer played out its string, the search for the next seasonal job began in earnest. Procuring winter seasonal work has always been a struggle. Lacking interest or skill set in skiing or other fast winter pursuits eliminates many possibilities. Most Park units have a skeleton crew as the visitation drops to a mere trickle.
At one point, I had over 40 applications out with both the NPS and Forest Service across the Southwest covering jobs from Interpretative Ranger, Fee Collection, Maintenance, Biological Science Tech, and few other more random titles. If I were a fisherman, I would have starved.
Many hits as in applications being referred, meaning my 10 page resume passed the mustard. Yet the interviews were not happening. I’d call, leave messages, and never hear from a damn human being. At the last moment, in early November, a mere 10 days before my Yosemite assignment ended and housing disappearing with it I was called by the Gallatin National Forest.
The job was for a Snow Ranger and buried deep in the position description was one sentence mentioning snow mobile operations. Even with two years in Alaska, I never rode on let alone operated a snow machine, the colloquial term up north. During the Knowledge and Skill Assessment section of the application, I lied like all applicants did and embellished my lack of experience with the vehicle.
(** editors note: Federal resumes are tedious and wordy. If one can walk, talk , and chew gum- your resume needs to state that at the highest level of competence. The machine, computer conducting the keyword search, is unemotional and does not infer, make guesses, assume, or basically give a shit about the weary applicant. )
Before the interview, I chatted with my Crew Leader and it turns out that Chad had a similar position with the Sierra National Forest. Chad like me had limited or no experience with snow mobiles but his Supervisor was willing to train him on the job. Thus a glimmer of hope hovered like a false sense of security during the conference call with two district Rangers.
All systems were go and then the question that I knew was coming, “ Please explain your experience operating trucks with trailers and snow mobiles.” The trucks and trailers was easy and I even mentioned my recent trip to the Valley with a skid steer en tow. Lightning, bears, rattlesnakes, rockfall, and fire are all over rated risks in Yosemite. The most dangerous risk factor is a visitor driving a rental RV and I probably encountered at least 5 of them during said trip.
My response for snow mobile operations was – “ as far as snow machines (note- I was trying to impress them with my colloquial knowledge) I don’t have any.” Crickets there were crickets on both connections of the conference call for 10 hard seconds and then the interview proceed.
Miraculously, the powers that be were still interested in possibly hiring me. The glimmer of hope lit from the conversation with Chad kept the dream alive. I was going to be a Snow Ranger in the National Forest to the north of Yellowstone. One hangup remained, the trio of district Rangers wanted to check in a final time to elicit the opinion of my would be partner.
Living as a dirt bag for roughly the last 10 years, I try to always have a plan Z. Plan B simply doesn’t allow for enough comfort to set aside the mysterious ways of circumstance.
(expanded definition of seasonal: synonyms for seasonals: rambler, hustler, dirt bag, etc. Dirt bag is sometimes interchangeable with a dirty hippie or climber. Climbers don’t have jobs and live in broken down vans. I’m neither a mechanic nor a climber despite living in Joshua Tree and Yosemite within the same calendar year. These two destinations are some of the worlds’ premiere climbing locales. With my college degree I would be considered a professional dirt bag.)
Plan Z was a venture into the murky content of Texas A&M job board which serves as a clearing house of various field jobs based around the world. Many are geared towards graduate students while others are volunteer positions. One particular position was an intern (what a terrible name for a job title) as a Volunteer in Park ,VIP, at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, HAVO,.
The work was, is, equivalent to that of GS-5 Biological Science Technician. Provided housing in the Park and the poor bastards even get $10 for each work , volunteer, day in way of a food stipend. – an aside- this does not buy much in the way of SPAM. Well the location seemed right and the work experience was something I was seeking in the continuing effort to make me a more well rounded candidate in this viscous cycle of seasonal employment.
I swallowed my pride just before hitting the send button while simultaneously began dreaming of living on a volcano.
Meanwhile, at one of the few spots in Death Valley with cell coverage, *** the Gallatin National Forest rechecked my interest in the Snow Ranger position. My interest remained high despite some personal skepticism. The relayed message boiled down to this: expect a phone call next week with a job offer.
*** the author was in the midst of an impromptu road trip with friends gallivanting across the desert in route to his second gear cache in Phoenix.
The next week arrived and with it my first interaction with Jim, my would be partner. Jim wanted to review my experience. It turns out that in all of North America the most dangerous place for snow snowmobiling , I was no longer trying to impress him with colloquial knowledge, was in the Gallatin. In fact, Cooke City MT has the highest death rate per capita involving snow mobile accidents. Jim shared stories of Search and Rescue missions at 1 am 20 miles into the Backcountry. This would be part of my job and he reiterated that this was no place for a novice like myself. I told him that the job description failed to emphasis this skill set and I would have never applied if it had. Weighing the risks of the steep learning curve, I withdrew my candidacy.
A week later, Plan Z became Plan A as I accepted the VIP position at HAVO. Figured I’d give myself till the end of 2016 until purchasing a plane ticket, allowing for the unlikely event of lingering applications turning into paying offers. It turns out that I turned down two such offers: one was a part time Visitor Services Information Assistant in Mendocino National Forest, one of my favorite California Forests. The housing arrangement was messy so I turned it down. On Martin Luther King day, I received a phone call from Zion National Park. It was probably an offer for a Fee Collection position which I had reluctantly applied for the previous week. ( a seasonal must apply for numerous positions to put oneself into job predicaments. The applicant then needs to make a decision. At least that is my MO.) It wasn’t until the actual interview did I realize this position was to bleed into the long hot summer. This was not in the cards as I was and still am intending to head back to Yosemite in some capacity this summer.
The recent Federal hiring freeze has thrown a wrench into the works for myself and 1000’s more across the country. Many veterans that the midnight tweeter pretends to give a damn about have been screwed. ******( note: The opinions expressed in this blog belong to the author and do not represent any of the agencies mentioned by name or inferred. Besides those agencies have been silenced until further notice. )
So two weeks in and I’ve seen lava at Halemaumau Crater, learned 10-15 native plants, and monitored out plantings of Threatened and Endangered species. Tomorrow the crew overnights in a restricted area in the Kahuku unit
the new HAVO heli pilot delivers the rain catchment system to the remote Kahuku Unit. TC would have been proud.
As far as the next Plan Z goes, well it is too early to tell.