Each of a ranger’s programs in this park is “coached” once near the middle of the season, and again at the end. Last week my informal talk at Upheaval Dome, a crazy 2-mile-wide crater of deformed stone in our park, was coached. It’s a difficult place to interpret as it has no tidy answers, no smoking gun, to explain its formation. I came up with the theme of ‘Mystery’ and assist people via guided questions to form their own conclusions. The coach, Paula, who’s been with the park service six years in multiple parks, sat disguised in visitor clothes about ten feet away; she brought a park map (to look inconspicuous) and a small notebook in which she scribbled incessantly. A stunted pinyon pine gave her a modicum of shade.
The visitors were thoughtful, well-read, and unafraid to take a stand. They asked good and hard questions, which is always a ranger treat. I’ve developed some skills at reading the questions behind their questions, which makes interpretation much more personal. (Ex: “Are there mountain lions in this park?” often means “Am I in danger of a cougar attack?” but they don’t want to say that. Good interpreters should address the unspoken question.) At Upheaval Dome, I encouraged each one to embrace the mystery instead of being in such a hurry to find a solution. That sounds like something my dad would do.
After 65 minutes, Paula put away her water bottle and notebook; that was my cue to pack up and end the shift. As we hiked downhill to the parking lot, she shared her delight at my interpretive style and skill, and said, “You know how in school you sometimes get one of those teachers who ignites your curiosity and fans the flame of learning? How you just hang on their every word and want to learn more? You’re one of those, Kathryn. You’re so good. You belong here.”
I’m putting that in my blog for ME, not for you. When I am weary of applying to jobs and not making the cut, when I ask myself if it’s worth it, when I wonder in mid-winter’s doldrums what I am supposed to be doing, I will have Paula’s statement to re-read. It is a variation on what every previous coach has said. This niche is a wonderful fit for me, and deeply satisfying on every level. I’ve got to chase my dream.