Reflections of a Former Forest Service Ranger
This post is going to get real. I've been struggling with something - I'm a has-been at age 24. At least social media tells me so. Most people follow my Instagram because they know I used to work for the Forest Service, and that's awesome. I love that I can still be an inspiration for so many. My bio says "Former U.S. Forest Service Ranger." That's all I can think of to identify myself because I've identified with the ranger title for my entire adult life.
The problem is that I'm no longer a U.S. Forest Service employee. Mostly by choice. And I'm not interested in going back. Don't get me wrong, it was a great time. I learned more about our federal lands than I ever thought possible, fell in love with big "W" Wilderness, met incredible stewards of the earth, and found my passion. And I got paid for it! What a dream.
I'm not going back to work for the Forest Service partly because I've found a new dream. I met the love of my life, we live in our own little paradise nestled in the forested foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, and as it turns out, I don't need to have an income. I've found that there's something really special about enjoying the outdoors on your own time - without any agendas.
My first backpacking trip into Desolation Wilderness without a uniform, without a federal title, without an agenda... was incredible. I actually cried at the trailhead before I started my hike. I'm not sure whether it was anxiety because I wasn't in uniform for the first time or because I was relieved. In case you didn't know, Desolation Wilderness is the wilderness area I worked to protect all those years with the USFS. This time around, I didn't talk to strangers wanting information. I didn't have to say, "Hey guys! How's your hike going?" and stop to talk to everybody on the trail. I was invisible. Nobody wanted to talk to me, nobody knew who I was, and it was almost heartbreaking. I had been a steward of this place for so long, and now I wasn't.
Come to find out, I still was. I just didn't have to answer to anybody else except the wilderness itself. I wasn't having to record everything I did while I was out there. I just did it. I enjoyed my coffee on the shores of my favorite lake with people I loved, and nobody stared at us (the ranger uniform turns a lot of heads). I felt more connected to the land than I'd ever felt before.
Back to my struggle with being a 'has-been.' How do I define myself now? When is it time to let go of the "former?" I'm still the same person, I'm just not being paid for it. I'm no longer defined by a federal agency. So what now?
I know that the Washington Office of the U.S. Forest Service has read my previous social media posts about working for them. I know that I had to be careful while I was their employee. I know that they launched an investigation into a former coworker of mine because of something I wrote about on this blog. His actions prompted me to reconsider why I advocate for Wilderness under the shadow of the USFS.
I loved being a federal employee. I believed in the Forest Service's mission. I envisioned a lifetime career as a ranger. But after recent events, a year of deliberation, and some serious introspection... I've decided that I'm never working for the U.S. Forest Service again. I am not going to give them my representation. It may sound like I'm bitter toward the agency, but not really. I'm mostly just relieved. I'll continue educating about the importance of our wild lands without a federal title. But I miss the title - it's all I've ever identified with, and I was proud of it. So maybe I am just a "Former U.S. Forest Service Ranger." Or maybe I'm not.
Maybe I'm a 24 year old woman with a fiery passion to inspire others to enjoy and protect the great outdoors. Maybe I have decades ahead full of adventures, free from restrictions. Maybe I don't have to define myself. Maybe I'm just me.
Or maybe I'm just like you.
If you have any feedback on this post, let me know. I think it might be my most transparent one yet. Shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org - I'd love to hear your insight.