By the late summer of 1970, I had reached the absolute nadir of my existence. I was sharing a rundown house in Santa Cruz with an emotionally damaged woman. I was living on mescaline and $26 a week in unemployment money. And my friend Ed Robinson, who worked at the local natural food store, was bringing me damaged fruit and outdated bread to subsist on. My collegiate dreams of becoming a film maker had long since been dashed. I had no prospects for the future. And my main source of transportation, a beat up old bicycle, was stolen one day when I was downtown.
One night in a drug-induced funk, I wrote a desperate letter to Pinnacles National Monument. It was the one place I loved more than any other. It was my getaway…my power spot. And I thought perhaps some one there would take me on for a few weeks to clean the rest rooms and empty the trash cans. So I spilled my guts out on paper, waxing rhapsodically over how much I adored the high peaks and cliffs, and the smell of the chaparral. When I came to my senses the next day, I was a little embarrassed by what I had written, but by then I had mailed off the letter.
As summer turned to fall, I admitted defeat and moved back in with my folks. Over the next several months I embarked on a series of hitchhiking trips and aimless road journeys. But shortly after New Years Day, 1971, I got a phone call from the naturalist at Pinnacles National Monument. My emotive letter had caught his eye and, well, he might have an opening for a seasonal park ranger. Could I come down for an interview?
I cut off my long hair. My mother drove me the 90 miles to park headquarters. I somehow convinced the naturalist that I was competent. And within three weeks, I had a job in the place I loved the most. The rest, as they say, is history. But this was not the first nor certainly the last example of the power of serendipity in my life.
Four years later while on vacation in southeastern Utah, I somewhat facetiously asked the campground ranger at Canyonlands National Park if they might ever have an opening there for a seasonal job. He replied that a position had just come open and I could pick up an application on my way out. Four weeks later, I was moving all my worldly possessions into a spacious mobile home in the Needles District of Canyonlands.
In 1987 I was left alone in Phoenix, Arizona when my wife and I separated and she and my daughter Alison moved to Northern California. For the next several months, all I could think about was how I could move there myself without leaving the Park Service. When I called the chief interpreter at Whiskeytown Lake one day looking for some slides of the place, he told me how much he’d love to have my job. Within weeks we had arranged a job swap and I was on my way to Redding, California - just a few hours away from my daughter and the place where I would ultimately find my enduring love and current spouse.
Time and again, when I’ve felt powerless or helpless, fate has stepped in and given me a nudge. In the late 90s when it looked like my Park Service career would be scuttled by a venal and vindictive boss, I got a last minute job offer from the Bureau of Land Management which set me on a path as a land manager of some of the finest resources on the Colorado Plateau.
I remember going to job fairs at elementary and high schools and having kids approach me to ask me how I ended up on my career path. And I would have to be honest and say that I was just damn lucky. That the universe had other ideas for all my best laid plans. But also, that it helped immensely to have a broad based education, and the support of family and friends who never gave up their faith in my passions and abilities even when I myself would waver.