About this time I was wrapping up my final few weeks of my last tour as a Park Ranger at Yellowstone. And while I loved the park and, to a certain extent loved the solitude, I would be lying if I said I was looking forward to getting back to Alabama, and to my friends. Still, that summer changed me. Perhaps more than any short period of time in my life before or since.
2002 was, by far, my longest tour of duty in the park. Most of the experience was overwhelmingly positive. I still have a love of "western" and Native American culture. There were some negatives, and one in particular that I don't talk about much. But overall, I came back from Yellowstone in 2002 a different person than when I left. It showed, when I was willing to stop floundering around in my life, start tacking some of the tough decisions and taking responsibility for myself. That next year I really turned things around. Got things right with school, started living [more] on my own, and got a real job.
It was that real job that kept me from returning to Yellowstone in 2003. I had to make a choice - quit my job in Auburn and go to Yellowstone, with no guarantee of what would be waiting when I returned in the Fall, or work through the summer, stay in school and be a semester closer to graduating.
The me prior to 2002 would have hit the road without a second through. The me of 2003 did't. The me of 2003 stayed in Auburn, worked, studied and continued pulling myself out of the tailspin I'd been in. But, even then, I knew I'd probably never go back. The changed me sacrificed any chance to "do it again" because of what I learned about myself.
I try not to dwell on "other paths," but, seeing my cousin's photographs makes me wonder what that other path would have been like. I almost chose that path again in early 2005 when I couldn't find a job out of Auburn. But, just as I was getting my paperwork together go back and considering the possibly going to NPS seasonal law enforcement training at Sylvan, an offer appeared to go work in Huntsville. The rest, they say, is history.
And I haven't been back since.
I still miss the park. I miss the quiet and solitude. I miss the long drive to Jackson, or to Idaho Falls. I miss the wildlife - the moose, the elf and the howls of wolves. And yes, I even miss the annoying tourists.
Although I can't help but smile a little bit. Next time we go, I get to share some of that joy with my daughter.
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