Cool Jobs with Sara Harris
Sara is the author of Rebekah's Quilt and Rebekah's Dress and has two remaining novels in the series. But quite a while ago, Sara had a much different job, one that was a little more dangerous. We interviewed her about it and are sharing her answers below in part one of the interview.
Tell us how you got started as a park ranger.
My family and I were on vacation in Ruidoso, New Mexico - not a long haul from our desert home in Odessa, Texas, but the mountains and pinion coffee were a welcome respite from the blowing dust - when my dad picked up a brochure as we left breakfast at the Log Cabin Restaurant. It was about volunteering with the Student Conservation Association - ages 16 and up - in the wilderness areas of the good ole USA. I looked into it and felt like my dreams were on the cusp of coming true - and I was right! I applied and was chosen as a backcountry trail crew member during the summer of my 16th birthday. I spent that summer 26 miles in the backcountry of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of Northern New Mexico, along the Rio Frijoles, cutting new trail and clearing old trail through aspen groves all the way up to mountain peaks in the region. After drinking straight out of the river, without chlorinating or filtering my water, I contracted a mean case of Giardia and had to come home a week early, but the pull of the backcountry was firmly set and this was just the beginning of my Park Service and Forest Service career!
What did you job entail?
The summer of my 19th birthday, I was hired (no longer volunteer but as a Ranger!) to work in the Big Cahuna of backcountry . . . the Holy Grail of all that is Wilderness . . . The Last Frontier herself. Alaska. With visions of Christopher McCandless dancing in my head and John Muir's quotes scrawled across everything I owned, I left my high desert home for the Last Frontier for my three-month summertime post just outside of Anchorage in the Land of the Midnight Sun - and, having just lost a friend to a private plane crash, I had to overcome a severe fear of flying in order to get there.
My job with the Forest Service was to inform homeowners in the Wildland-Urban interface of the Mat-Su Valley of Alaska of the dangers of wildfire in the area. Also, we offered tips and services to homeowners on ways to make their home more "fire-wise" and mitigate their risks of home loss if a wildfire broke out in the area.
The people of Alaska are wonderful. More often than not, when we approached a home, we were brought into living rooms, fed, and told stories of wilderness adventures.
The summer I turned 21, I was hired to work as a Park Ranger in Carlsbad, New Mexico to help with projects like tracking the resident mountain lion population across the park, collecting reptiles in the park for a 10-year study, counting bats in the cave and keeping track of the bird population at the nearby oasis of Rattlesnake Springs, NM.
What was the scariest moment you had while working?
I had lots of scary moments but the most memorable right now is how I had to learn to drive a stick shift in Alaska. I was house sitting for my boss, watching her house and her dogs, while she was out of town for a few days. I was a carnivore, she was a vegan. I ate up all my meat and had to take her truck into town (Anchorage) to procure more carcass for me to eat. Well . . . there were no guard rails on her road and the right turn took you to Anchorage, and the wrong turn took you to a drop-off with no place to turn around. The only problem, I couldn't remember which turn was right and which was wrong! I almost drove off that cliff every time I left the house! I learned how to handle a stick shift VERY well and became a vegan not long after.
What was the most rewarding experience you had while on the job?
Every single day of work in the backcountry was rewarding. Coffee from over a campfire and homemade bread, there is nothing like it. I learned to fall in love each day with life . . . not to take anything for granted. Especially not a misbegotten outhouse in the middle of the wilderness. Those things are worth their weight in gold.
The second part of Sara's interview will be available later on in the week so check back to read about the rest of her adventures which includes five of the most dangerous things she did as a park ranger!