Ranger trails: Summertime blues: Making the switch from the monument 
to classroom

It’s never too cool to see our summers come to an end.

Like most kids whose summer vacation collides with a new school year at this time, bittersweet feelings overwhelm our old prefrontal cortex. Autumn already? Say it isn’t so.

But it is almost. Thus, I recently made time to celebrate the summer of ‘12 at Colorado National Monument in a most unobtrusive (no champagne or party horns) manner. I pitched my old two-man tent on a cool, dry, late-summer night in the very park where I work all summer long.

The evening was so calm that no tent pegs had to be driven into the ground for security, so peaceful that a juniper cone falling to the ground distracted me.

Windless nights usually promise a sound sleep. (Decades ago near Mount of the Holy Cross, relentless gusts would have blown my tent off the mountain like Kleenex if it hadn’t been occupied.)

The tent’s fabric had a musty stench. At least seven years had passed since my last camp-out, an embarrassing stretch of civilized behavior I vow never to repeat.

Worse, shock cords inside the tent poles had lost elasticity and drooped like spaghetti between pole sections. It was impossible to connect the aluminum pole sections at first, but a pocketknife fixed the glitch, and the dome popped up like a charm, a musty charm. I slept like a baby. Peacefully.

Summer spoils people. Sparrows sing us awake before dawn every morning. The sun slips behind the horizon so late at night that our days feel endless. But in between bird songs and sunset, there’s work to do. In my case, I have the good fortune to be a park ranger.

A visitor confronted me on a trail one afternoon: “You just out having yourself a good time, Mr. Ranger, or are you actually working?”

“Yes ma’am.”

A bearded gentleman in a golf shirt suggested we trade salt mines. I asked what he did for a living, figuring he earned a nice living behind a desk somewhere.

“I’m director of a cancer hospital in Chicago,” he said.

He didn’t really want to switch, did he? Nah.

Seasonal rangers are just that, full-time employees of the National Park Service for a season. Summer’s end means it’s time to transition to our regular careers. In my case, I have the good fortune to teach young people.

It’s disconcerting. On an August Friday, we ushered hikers through a stand of sagebrush in search of coyote tracks. On the following Monday, we tried arming a classroom of college students to hunt for Aristotle’s golden mean. It’s easier said than done, but nothing, we admit, like the extraordinary metamorphosis that butterflies experience.

We just do it. But try asking a carpenter to play auto mechanic after he’s been building houses all summer long. Regardless of how skilled he may be at both trades, his brain is likely to need a brief adjustment period to refamiliarize itself with a different toolbox.

Otherwise, he may hammer with a wrench or worse, try sticking a screwdriver in his back pocket and find out too late it’s an acetylene torch instead.

That happened once, but not with a torch. I showed up in the classroom with binoculars in the backpack instead of a textbook. It was a teaching moment all right. Peace out!

Sandstrom is a park ranger at Colorado National Monument and teaches at Colorado Mesa University. If you have an interesting story to share with readers, he can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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