Cool Jobs with Sara Harris (Part 2)
We ended the first part of our interview with Sara after discussing the most rewarding experience she's ever had on the job. Here is the rest of Sara's interview:
Tell us five of the most fun things you did while you were working as a park ranger.
1. Sangre de Cristo - playing frisbee at high altitude on my birthday, tripping over a rope and being so giddy because of the high altitude I just laid there and laughed my fool head off.
2. Carlsbad, NM - banding cave swallows (the sweetest little birds!) in the cave just prior to the bat flight - then getting to be IN THE CAVE when the bats flew out for their nightly feast. Smashed against the wall, as the bats swirled out, it raised the temperature of the cool cave ten full degrees with so many little bat bodies flying out! It was amazing!
3. Alaska - conquering my fear of flying by taking to the skies as a pilot myself.
4. Carlsbad - One night after bat flight, I was walking out of the amphitheatre, and a little black ball hit me in the chest. That was my first experience in being caught by a tiny baby Mexican freetail bat! He just hung on with his itsy bitsy claws. I plucked him off gently and gave him a toss, and he caught up with his bat parents in no time.
5. Alaska - We all benefited from the salmon run and I learned to cook fresh salmon in tin foil in a stranger-turned-friend's kitchen.
Tell us five of the most dangerous things you did while working as a park ranger.
1. Alaska - learned to pilot a small aircraft. The power on stall-and-five, where you go up (in my case to 2,000 feet above the Turnagain Arm) then turn off the engine and begin to fall (backwards) to earth was the moment I needed to conquer. With the stall horn blaring, us falling, and a pod of beluga whales migrating down the river below us, I relearned that God was ultimately in control of my life but it was my job to live it with excitement - and not in fear.
2. Sangre de Cristo - After contracting Giardia, I had to get packed out of the backcountry with the packers who made the 26 mile trek into the backcountry to resupply us. An old cowboy, his horse, his wife, her horse, their dog, and a horse for me and I were all headed out when a freak hail storm came out of nowhere and squelched our goodbyes with my crewmates, sending them running for cover and me stuck under a tree on a horse I didn't know. In keeping with Murphy's Law, hailstones peppered my horse's rump, sending him into a bucking fit into a white-out squall, on the side of a mountain. I channeled my inner Lane Frost and held on . . . until I didn't. Then, I reached out and grabbed two tree branches and held onto my horse with my legs . . . that's how the old cowboy found us. As the squall passed, I found myself staring down a sheer mountain face, on the back of a horse who was slipping and sliding toward the abyss in thick mud, with me, hanging on to two trees. I actually wrote this scene into one of my books, A Heart Forever Wild. The horse, Old Blue, went lame on account of this, and I found myself hiking out the same 26 miles I hiked in. I prayed the whole way, just knowing I was going to die. But I didn't.
3. Carlsbad - Catching rattlesnakes with the general public looking on gave me a very Steve Irwin feeling. It was wonderful! Rattlesnakes are not mean, scary, or anything of the sort. That summer, I learned that they are shy and will escape if given the chance. They would much rather slip silently away than waste energy striking at a human, which they could never eat anyway. It was a blessing to teach that to others, as well.
4. Alaska - Went for a hike on Blueberry Loop Trail. Everyone coming down the trail warned us to beware of a mama black bear and two cubs that were up ahead. Everyone who has ever had any dealings in bear country knows that the most dangerous place in the world is between a mother bear and her cubs, so when the reports turned to a mama black bear on one side of the trail and her cubs on the other, I started to get concerned. I'm a notoriously slow hiker, especially at altitude, so instead of branching off to make the summit, I took the loop and promised to meet them back at the van. Alone on the trail, when I heard something crashing behind me, I knew it was the bear, so I started to run. The crashing gained on me like I was standing still. I never looked back until the crashing was right on top of me. I expected to see an angry mama bear, and was shocked to see two laughing schoolteachers from Iowa. They were out for a leisurely jog down the trail they claimed. They may have been leisurely jogging, but I ran along with them, as fast as I could manage! I never did see that bear.
5. Alaska - Mountain biking in Alaska, I was aware that moose were more dangerous than grizzlies, so I kept one eye on the trail and one on the understory which was a relatively good plan until I came around a sharp bend and ran smack dab into the knobby knees of a massive bull moose. He didn't move and neither did I. If memory serves, he was about a hundred feet tall, standing like a wall across the trail. I know he wasn't really 100 feet tall, but in that moment he was. I carefully backed up the bike as he swung his big head around to look at me. He could have stompled me, but he didn't. He ignored me and went back to grazing, giving me the chance to escape. Which I gladly did.
Are you currently still working as a park ranger? If not, do you miss it? And what do you miss the most about it?
Oh I wish! I am a mother of six kids now, and the sunny slopes of yesteryear are a good piece behind me. I miss rangering every single day, every single season. My prayer is that the backcountry bug gets its hooks in one (or all?) of my children and pulls them to the wilderness, just like it did me! I'm hoping, once I finish the transition from Special Education teacher to Bachelor of Science carrying RN, I can get back to the backcountry. Search and rescue has always really appealed to me, and even this old dog has a few tricks left to learn. . .
What an incredible and rewarding job! Find out even more about Sara by visiting her website!