Monday, February 14, 2011

Early Dawn and New Beginnings

It’s early dawn and the high jagged domes of the Teton Mountains are covered in a blanket of indigo sky. The air is frigid, and the lack of warm winter gear makes the cold even more bone-chilling. Shuffling quickly through the darkness I remind myself:

“ In 14 hours it will be 100 degrees warmer“.

Twenty-four hours later the sun is rising 2500 miles away from Yellowstone. In white linen pants and a loose fitting sleeveless shirt I discover that I am still sweating despite my well planned "warm weather" clothing. My mom and I leisurely stroll along the boardwalk which guides us over a watery grassland filled with turtles, coots, hawks and delicately shaped herons. We stop under a shaded gazebo and take in the sultry morning while enjoying our morning café con leche and guava and cheese pastelitos. The sounds of exotic birds fill the air. I am a long way from Yellowstone, both physically and mentally.

The next day I head a little further south to the world famous South Beach, Miami. The dawn of a new day begins once again and I am exiting a small apartment only three block from the beach. I have come and gone from this apartment more than a thousand times and it has become my home away from home. Walking down the stairs I find myself suddenly choked up. Tears well up in my eyes as I silently think to myself that this might be the last time I walk down these stairs and get my morning café at the local Cuban bakery. I push back the tears and swallow the choking feeling in my throat- after all, the only constant in the world is change. I elect to enjoy what might be my last visit to South Beach for some time. Another wonderful bike ride with my dad down to 1st street, followed by an afternoon swimming at the beach. Mentally, we were both in the same state; no words needed, just a mutual understanding that this exact moment in time was indeed special.

It’s early sunrise. I take a deep breathe in and this time it is cold air that fills my lungs. Exhaling, I instantly steam up my glasses. The backdrop has once again changed, and as I round the corner in search of something comparable to cafe con leche I turn to the right to suddenly notice the capital building with a myriad of orange and pink colors behind it. It’s beautiful, but in a completely different and incomparable way to the early sunrise of Yellowstone. The city is still quiet; the streets sleepy, and for a moment the city is mine. I stop to admire the perfect white dome supported by great Romanesque columns. I am injected with an instant shot of good Ol’ American Pride. I soon discover an amazing French Bakery named Vie en France and indulge in an Almond Chocolate Croissant. I wonder what our founding fathers would think about me finding pride and glory through eating a French Croissant whilst admiring the Capital Building.

For the next four days I reconnect with my National Park Service Fundamentals classmates. It’s been one year since we all joined together for a two week training at Grand Canyon. This week marks the last stage of a 5 part class designed to help us better understand the National Park Service, ourselves and others. My classmates reign from all over the country: North Cascades, Saguaro, Channel Islands, Mount Rushmore, Yosemite and so on. Each person as different and as similar as the national park units themselves. We spend the week learning about our leadership capabilities and how to accept others, embrace differences and collaborate by drawing on each of our strengths. We visit museums, monuments and the offices of our leaders. We humbly walk in the shadows of our past great leaders: Lincoln, Washington, Martin Luther King Jr. and our war veterans. 

Standing on the same spot that Martin Luther King Jr. stood while giving his “I have a dream" speech, it is impossible to not be filled with ambition and courage. Change is inevitable but how we act in light of that change makes all the difference. With Lincoln to my back, and Washington ahead of me I vowed to make my existence meaningful. To face life with open eyes and without fear. Standing there, I recalled a photo of King giving his speech. In this photo there is a park ranger standing next to this great leader. Why was the park ranger in the photo? Because Park Rangers protect America's heritage and treasures; from Yellowstone to the Lincoln Memorial, and the Statue of Liberty to Hawaii Volcanos. It is a Park Ranger that you will see at each of these sites, standing tall in their green and grey uniform and flat hat. It is the Park Ranger that raise the flag each morning, greets each visitor with a smile and protects and preserves our American culture.  

At the end of the four days we meet at the Department of the Interior building for our graduation. Our instructor/mentor stands in front of the class ready to present us with our certificate. She is close to retirement from the National Park Service and has spent the week sharing her wisdom and experiences with us. She gives us one final speech before we head back to our home parks. With teary eyes she stands in front of us and expresses that she is honestly and truly proud to call us the future leaders of the National Park Service. And so, I return to Yellowstone with a deeper meaning of what my purpose is in the greater spectrum of life. While making fresh new tracks with my snowmobile, I return with the knowledge that in this great country one can pave their own path, and the path for others who may choose to follow.

No comments:

Post a Comment