BERKELEY'S NEWS • OCTOBER 01, 2022

How I accidentally became a park ranger

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ALBERTHERRING | CREATIVE COMMONS

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AUGUST 17, 2022

A couple of days ago, I found myself bent over my electric stove, meticulously chopping up crabapples I’d scavenged from a tree inside the Indiana Dunes National Park. As I measured out sugar and boiled the water, a strange thought occurred to me. “What the hell is a girl born and raised in the suburbs of Southern California doing making crabapple jelly in the middle of the country?” 

Well, it’s a bit of a long story, and unlike most interesting stories, this one starts with a TikTok. 

There I was, sitting in my environmental science lecture, bored out of my mind. No hate intended to the professor or the class, I had just gotten too little sleep that week and wasn’t in the headspace to pay any sort of attention. So I put my iPhone behind my laptop screen and began to mindlessly scroll through TikTok. 

Then, there it was. A video of a young woman reminding her audience that USAjobs had just uploaded a ton of new park ranger positions. Huh, I thought to myself, park rangers get sick hats. So I opened up USAjobs.gov. 

The application process was easy enough that I completed it within the time slot of my fifty minute lecture. You need to upload a resume, cover letter and a transcript, and then just spend a few minutes answering questions about work and education experience. I sent in my application to every parks job I saw. In Kansas? I don’t mind a road trip. Hydrology? Barely know what that is, but sure. Interpretation? I like people well enough, sure. Indiana Dunes National Park? Never heard of it, but that’s fine. 

I didn’t really think anything would come of my application. What national park would want a college freshman, I thought? The rest of the school year passed without any word from the federal government, except for a couple of rejection notices. 

None of the other internships I’d applied to responded, either. I made peace with the idea that I would be back home for the summer, traipsing around my old stomping grounds and taking a couple of community college classes on the side. 

Then, at the end of May, I received a call that would uproot my summer plans. The woman who called had a strong Midwestern accent, something I honestly thought only existed in movies. It was a rather short call — she described the positions, told me that I’d have a tough time finding housing, and then left me to think. As I hung up, I was confused more than anything. She hadn’t asked for an interview, just told me to call her back when I had found somewhere to stay. Had I been offered the job?

I had. I frantically arranged my transportation and housing, and in just about a month I took two suitcases and flew into the Chicago O’Hare airport. 

The job wasn’t glamorous. I spent a lot of my time getting screamed at by visitors in parking lots. It was hot and muggy, and the uniforms weren’t particularly well-ventilated. I got caught in storms and blackouts and my car went over many a pothole. I was the only person of color among the summer seasonal workers, and one of maybe three or four among the entire interpretive division, too, which led to some discomfort. It was sometimes lonely living on my own, away from everyone and everything I knew. But boy, was it an adventure. 

I experienced an entirely different culture there, one of blue-collar industry and Midwestern charm. I ate elephant ears at county fairs and listened to more classic rock than I ever have in my life. I found beauty in the commute to the park, peering up at the brilliant, unbroken skies. I swam in the calm waters of Lake Michigan and took in the natural beauty of the broad swaths of forest in my many post-work hikes. 

And, most importantly, I had the honor of wearing a pretty sick hat. 

 

Contact Lauren von Aspen at 

LAST UPDATED

AUGUST 17, 2022


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