Growing up in the northeast, I learned that there is a slow and gradual transition between the seasons. First, summer will start to get cooler and the days will get a little bit shorter, then the leaves start to change, ever so slowly, from their many shades of green to stunning yellows, oranges, and reds. Next, you may get a little bit chillier at night, tossing another blanket on your bed. The air will start to sting your lungs in the early mornings and then the sun will melt away the frost on the grass by mid-afternoon. This is fall. Fall will be around for a few months until all of the trees in your neighborhood have dropped their leaves. You may wake up to a dusting of snow, only to see it gone within the hour. Winter is still a distant thought, as you are enjoying all that fall has to offer.
Making the move across the country to Mount Rainier National Park and experiencing a year’s worth of seasons in the Pacific Northwest is showing me that everything I learned as a child is a lie. I went out on a hike, and leaving my car it was bright and sunny. I was wearing a t-shirt and made a point of putting on sunscreen (something I just cannot get in the habit of doing). An hour into my hike, I was caught in a white-out blizzard for a half hour, staying in place under a boarded up fire lookout built by the CCC in the 1930’s. This half hour gave me plenty of time for inward-reflection, questioning why I went on a hike today, why this t-shirt wasn’t thick wool, why I would even be seeing snow already. But, always looking for positives in any situation, I was able to make my first snowball of the year, and I threw it at a mountain goat (don’t worry, the goat was easily a half mile away and the snowball was the size of a ping-pong ball).
Fall is a lie. It’s not real anymore. I’m not convinced it ever was real.
Ever since that day, almost two months ago now, it has not stopped raining or snowing in the park. To quote one of my mentors, Forrest Gump:
“One day it started raining, and it didn’t quit…We been through every kind of rain there is. Little bitty stingin’ rain and big ol’ fat rain. Rain that flew in sideways. And sometimes rain that even seemed to come straight up from underneath. Shoot, it even rained at night…”
He also said:
“Sometimes, I guess there just aren’t enough rocks.”
but that is for another post (once I figure out how to actually work that quote into my life).
With the snow on the higher elevations of the mountain and the rain falling on the lowlands, the many creeks and rivers flowing from this mighty volcano swell easily. In the past three weeks alone, we have been under heavy flood warnings at different times, leading to early dismissal and the park actually shutting down for a few hours at a time.
The drastic shift in weather can also send many of the seasonal park employees home for the winter or at least to warmer parks (heads up on the rush of MORA staff headed to Florida). With substantially fewer employees in the park, the volunteer program also enters a state of torpor, with even less opportunities for volunteers to remain active in the park during the winter.
But, have no fear. We are expanding upon some of our already existing programs, and looking to grow them throughout the winter. As I had mentioned in one of my previous posts, the Meadow Rover program is one of the most wildly popular volunteer opportunities for individuals throughout the summer. Now that our sub-alpine meadows are covered in nearly four feet of snow, we are transitioning to our Snow Rover program, which allows volunteers to be one of the primary points of contact for visitors wishing to enjoy cross country skiing, snowshoeing, and even sledding (with just a few more feet of snow), ensuring their safety, and educating the visitors of the amazing resources just inches under their feet.
A major project of mine in the past few days has been to revamp the existing Snow Rover handbook and make it more user friendly, enabling the rovers to be more confident in their roving while providing the necessary information to ensure everyone remains safe. We will be hosting a training for interested Rovers in the next few weeks where we will learn the basics of roving interpretation, how to use the park’s radio system, the fundamentals of the Snow Roving program specifically, and then be taken on an example Ranger led snowshoe walk in the afternoon. I’ve already received an influx of emails from interested volunteers, so all we need now is just a little bit more snow. Luckily, all of this roving happens in the area of the park that once held the world record for most snowfall in one year (over 1,100 inches!), so that shouldn’t be too much of a concern.
In addition to being the Snow Rover Coordinator for the winter, I am also working on many other projects, including reservations for the volunteer housing we provide, working in both our park’s Visitor’s Center and our Museum, running our park’s Volunteer Blog (found here) and Volunteer Facebook page (like us here. Now. I’ll wait.), and working on creative ways to show our appreciation to the volunteers we have had this past year.