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Saturday, September 19, 2009

Back from the edge ...

I'm not at all certain when it began to unravel, but somewhere along the way I began to feel just a bit unsteady, physically. That is completely new. A strange sensation that was more than unsettling. I would start to cross the room and my feet would take a circuitous route from here to there as though unhinged from my brain ... not sure what that's about. And, no, I have no known physical ailments and a recent physical gave me a clean bill of health except for a vitamin D deficiency; something fairly common in the later years.

The drive to Mendocino was uneventful and long overdue. Traffic was light and the weather most pleasant. The fall color has not yet begun its annual change and I wondered if I'd see it this year. I'll surely not be driving this way again until well into November, given the state of my calendar. Maybe. I can't imagine missing the vineyards in full dress for autumn, and the golden aspen against the deep evergreens of the pines. The hills are golden but not in the way that they were with wild oats standing tall and undulating so gracefully in the breezes the last time I drove through the Anderson Valley in midsummer. Most of the tall grasses are now bent or flattened against the earth as if resting while waiting patiently for some sign of rain with which to nourish its seeds that will begin to green the pastures immediately after the first scattered drops hit the parched earth. I felt both a little too early and a bit too late for nature's changing of the seasons extravaganza. Couldn't wait to get through the 14 miles of redwood forest and the last 2 mile stretch to Highway one which opens out dramatically to the great expanse of ocean!

I always feel a quickening as I drive up that last stretch to the top, and the dropping away of urbanism and too fastness! Somewhere down deep my inner amoeba takes over; something primal surfaces and I feel the urge to park my car and take off barefoot on the warm sand -- to run beside the breakers and not stop until I fall in my tracks.

But that was last Tuesday and now I've had my two days of peace and am back in the saddle ready for another round. Returned on Thursday to find that little has changed and that the 3rd Annual Home Front Festival looms large on the horizon. That comes up on October 3rd and involves the National Park Service, the Chamber of Commerce, the School District, the Private Industry Council, Corporations, and non-profits. We're having to be pretty inventive this year due to drastic cutbacks in city and state budgets, so no one is sure how these civic celebrations will be effected by the new economic realities.

Though not as noticeable in the San Francisco Bay Area, the threatened closure of the state parks is devastating to Mendocino County where tourism is the major economic engine now that fishing and lumbering are no longer viable industries. There is a sadness and grave uncertainty everywhere in the north counties.

"America's best idea," the 12-hour Ken Burns series on the National Park System comes at a critical time for us. The importance of all of our nearby national parks will become even more obvious in days to come. We will be called upon to fill in for a large segment of the population that will no longer have access to the wonders previously offered by a great resource now closed to them. Visitation will surely increase for us, and our park is one that is still in the process of becoming and not yet fully matured into its mission. This should be a challenging year for Rosie the Riveter WWII/Home Front National Historical Park.

Oh; I should let you know that on September 27th at 6 o'clock I am one of the subjects (9 minutes, I believe) in the local PBS production created to augment the Ken Burns series that opens that same night. I haven't seen the footage, so have no idea what they'll be showing of the several hours of tape they shot. Mine is only one small segment that will feature several other NPS rangers and nearby parks in a variety of brief vignettes that make up the hour-long documentary.

I've accidentally caught myself at least once, briefly, in a promo being aired on the local PBS channels, and I'll tell you there is nothing more disconcerting than seeing your wrinkles in HD-TV! Or having folks walk up to you in the checkout line at the supermarket with, "... hey! I seen you on the Teevee!"

It's a mixed blessing ... .

Monday, September 14, 2009

Burnout! ... or ... why the oldest park ranger on the planet high-tailed it to an ocean retreat and endlessly patient Tom... .

Contrary to common belief -- Betty Reid Soskin, mother of 3, grandmother to 5 and occasional Tilter at Windmills and all-around Shero does occasionally run out of gas. I've been running on fumes for the past week or so and have been dangerously close to a meltdown; or so it appears. For the first time in my park career I stood in the middle of my supervisor's office and wept unashamedly. I was furious! And I wanted to be. I definitely did not want to be consoled. It was clearly a PMS-worthy tantrum, and it felt good once the tension had run its course.

I was reminded of a time when my poor puzzled young husband, Mel, tried to comfort me unsuccessfully. He stood there looking helplessly confused asking, "what is it that you want, Betty?" I screamed back him, "...what I want most in the world is never to have to tell you what I want! Poor guy. It made perfect sense to me. But when a woman gets to that point logic has become irrelevant. Reason is an empty concept. Being furious is its own reward. Crazy? Sure it is. It's cathartic as nothing else could ever be. It's happens to me no more than one or twice in a decade, and is always memorable.

Today I closed the books; logged off from my office computer for the next 36 hours; announced that my work was caught up, and that I would head for Mendocino early tomorrow morning. There will be no sounds of sirens or gunshots. There is no cell phone reception; only the roar of the ocean just 90 feet away and the wind in the gnarled cypresses ... lying on my back in bed watching the wisps of fog drift across the skylights ... and the silence ... oh, the silence ... .

I'm taking along the latest book by Toni Morrison and leaving behind the troubling draft of a book I'd agreed to review for Heyday book publishers. I've gotten partway through it, but given the schedule I've been keeping, the contents added to the stress that I'm now needing desperately to escape. It needs reading, but not by me -- not now -- not when I'm feeling so off-balance. It is an important book entitled, "Wherever There's a Fight," by co-authors, Elaine Elinson and Stan Yogi. Subtitle: How runaway slaves, suffragists, immigrants, strikers, and poets shaped civil liberties in California. Maybe what I need right now is something by Nora Ephron or Sarah Vowell, just until the world slows down a bit.

See you on Thursday.

Betty

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