His name was Brady, “like the Bunch,” he said, which I’m sure he knew would make it stick in the minds of a couple of people already a chunk of years older than the Brady parents were during their TV heyday.
Brady looked no older than our own 20 and 23 year-old children. He had that skinny build that made me want to offer him a sandwich right away, if we’d had one to offer. If we hadn’t been backpacking in the North Cascades and just eaten a meal of freeze-dried something reconstituted with hot water and served in a pouch. And if he hadn’t been an actual park ranger, gun in holster and all.
We had just set up our tent at a place called High Camp when Brady loped into view. He apologized for bothering us, explaining he wanted to let us know he was there, right around the corner at a ranger campsite, since we might have thought we were alone and been startled by his footsteps or his two-way radio.
“No need to apologize,” I assured him, not adding what I was thinking, which was: we’re just a couple of city-dwelling people your parents’ age who really have no business up here in the backcountry and we are frankly thrilled to know there is a ranger on the other side of the knoll!
We asked about a noise we couldn’t identify, a sort of Tuvan throat-singer sound. Grouse, Brady said. We asked about bears. Oh sure, they’re around, he said—just make sure to hang your food bag. We talked about how gorgeous the alpine meadows were, though it was too bad the mosquitoes had just hatched like crazy. He offered to change our permit for the next night to a site where they weren’t so relentless, though he urged us to take a hike in the morning to the high meadows, before we headed down to our new camp. We promised we would, and we did.
As we hiked the next day through meadows of lupine and paintbrush, we marveled at Brady and everything he represented. As Tim Egan wrote in a lovely essay in the New York Times, we—meaning all of us, all Americans—are the owners of a vast resort called the National Parks. Hard-working rangers like Brady make it safe and possible for us all to visit our communal vacationland; to be awed by wild places the way Americans have always been.
Rangers spend ten days at a time in the backcountry. They also log desk time at places like the Marblemount Ranger Station, where they have the tough job of eyeballing and tactfully questioning the hikers who come in for permits. It was a ranger named Sage who sent us to the High Camp trail instead of the one we’d intended to do, which was still under heavy snow, after we told him we had only one hiking pole between us and no ice axe or crampons. Sage may have pre-saved our lives, so to speak, and/or the lives of his colleagues who would have been sent to rescue us when we slipped and fell.
On our second night out, tucked in our tent at a cozy site called Hideaway Camp, I felt so grateful for Brady, Sage, the whole concept of National Parks in general and rangers in particular. It is hard to articulate what a few nights in the mountains will do for a person—spiritually, physically—but the rangers get it. And they want you to get it. Safely, and with no more mosquito bites than necessary. Because they understand: this is not just their summer resort, it is everyone’s.
I’m teaching a non-credit Introduction to Memoir class at Seattle Central this fall. Six Wednesday nights. Join me! More info here.
Radio lovers: you can hear the Restless Nest commentaries every Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., Thursdays at 4:54 p.m. and Fridays at 4:55 p.m. on KBCS, streaming online at kbcs.fm and on the air at 91.3 in the Seattle area. Podcasts available.
Here’s nest artist Kim Groff-Harrington’s website.