Narrative

I am 21 years old and I have the legs of a boy half my age who has spent the summer away at camp for the first time. I am itchy with chigger bites and my knees bear the scars from nights playing sand volleyball and days spent hiking. My feet are covered with a kaleidoscope of tan lines from various sandals and my pink toenail polish is all but worn off. As I lie in bed at night and stare blankly at my computer screen, a tiny gnat – one of many – lands on my bright screen. I am surrounded by the type of wood paneling that makes you think of dank flannel shirts and as I try not to think about the ghosts that surely inhabit these walls, I have never been happier.

But summer is ending. I can hear my new friends outside in the hallway saying cheerful goodnights to each other, but we all know this bacchanalian is about to end. Nobody wants to talk about it though, because frankly, we all might start crying, and the scary part is we’ve all become so close that it would totally be ok.

I have one week of work left and I am almost hoping my boss forgets and just lets me keep working. The only thing keeping me from begging for a full time job and dropping out of college completely is the fact that my mother left school after 3 years and I know I can’t disappoint her like that. But it would be so easy…and it would feel so right. And the whole point of college is to go out and get a job, right?

It isn’t just the woods and the animals and the smell of campfires accompanied by the joyous laughter of children. It isn’t just that I love my job. It isn’t the buffalo and it isn’t the deer who live so near to our dorm that we talk to them like they’re our community dogs. It’s the people here that have made this experience so amazing, so the only comforting thought I have about leaving is that perhaps, in years to come, the same people won’t be back here and therefore it won’t be as awesome and I won’t be missing out. It’s selfish, but I’m a girl and I’m feeling sentimental, so cut me a little slack.

You see, I have Fomo Syndrome – a term we coined at the dorms that stands for “fear of missing out.” I’ve always been like that; Fomo kept me from taking naps as a child because I thought I was going to miss out on something important and I hated going to bed early because I knew that was when all the juicy stuff happened. I don’t want to miss out on more of the phenomenal experiences I’ve had while working at Custer State Park. Hopefully in the future we all will still see each other; a few of us already have plans to visit and those of us with significant others in the park are all going to try and make it work. There are quite a few of us who are going to come back for the Buffalo Roundup in September, so as I look forward to that I can only bite my lip, carry on through this week, and soak in every last drop of goodness in the air.

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The Technology Crutch

You know when you’re sitting in school learning about geography/long division/Helen Keller and you’re thinking, “When am I ever going to need to know this? This is stupid! I could be doing so many other better, more important things with my life!” Well, that finally bit me in the butt.

I’m currently sitting at my desk about to pull my hair out because of a stupid little GPS device that I have to use to record coordinates for an app I’m helping put together. It’s going to be a cool trail challenge where you can accumulate points for reaching certain points on trails throughout the park – but that means I have to collect the data.

To put it simply, this is the problem; the GPS has coordinates in this format:
N 43°46.248
W 103°23.818
I need them to show up in this format:
90.483433, -82.523209

Pure evil.

Pure evil.


Now, before you say, “Silly girl, you can easily find websites that will convert those points for you!” I shall stop you with a loud, “NO THERE AREN’T!” (There aren’t any that do it simply). And I know I learned how to do this manually in high school, but it went in one ear and out the other because technology was supposed to take care of it for me!

I’ve spent a long time on the Internet looking at the owner’s manual for the Garmin GPSmap 62sc to no avail as well. So, I had to email the same guy who got me the hammer to open my magical desk and tell him I’m an idiot and beg for help. Yippee.

Now I know how old people feel when you hand them iPhones or toasters with more than one button.

Because simplicity is complicated.

Because simplicity is complicated.

We’re the lucky ones, so stop whining.

I don’t know what it is about my generation, but we sure do travel a lot. It seems like every time I get on Facebook, somebody I graduated from high school with has posted pictures of Barcelona or Paris or the Louvre – and I thought I was well traveled.

It used to be that I was one of a very select few group of people who had even left the state from my high school in Watertown, South Dakota. I have been way south into Mexico, east to Boston and New York City, and west to California, and after going to college I went out and lived on my own every summer. Now, everybody has suddenly decided they’re going to be world travelers and have done so many more cool things than I have!

I’ll admit that I’m a little jealous – especially of the people who study abroad. I had opportunities to do that, but it would have meant graduating about a year late and spending a lot more money than I had to. Spending more money than I have to just grinds my gears. It’s my hope that I can travel internationally after I graduate in December (fingers crossed) but people from my hometown are doing it their sophomore year of college.

And that makes me think about my generation as a whole. How do we have these opportunities when most of our parents became investment bankers/real estate brokers/business people (men) or left college three years in to get married/raise kids (women) – and I realize that is a super generalized statement. Our parents traveled, but not to the extent we do; we have this carefree, fanciful view of the world and the thought that I – at age 21 – could technically be in China by tomorrow is something that would have never occurred to our grandparents and probably not our parents. I’m almost positive the first time I flew alone was at age 16 and I was perfectly comfortable with it.

There are always exceptions to the rule, but even with all of our inherited economic problems, my generation has the opportunity to have fun and to travel the world. We have free time, something that wasn’t invented until the late 40s, and we take that for granted. Actually, free time was invented in the 20s and look how that went for them; the Great Depression came along and was all “Oh hey now, that’s not how this is going to go. Get back to work.”

Maybe we’re actually in the midst of our own Roaring 20s right now and we’re just too spoiled to see it past our iPhones that parents bought for us. Maybe it’s all going to come crashing down and we’ll finally realize that we’re freaking lucky that we got to spend a semester in Ireland, work for a summer in India before going home to Nebraska, or frolic with the buffalo.

Outsmarted by an inanimate object…again.

I walked into the office a few minutes ago after returning from a much-needed long holiday weekend. This morning had been a flurry of emails and “Oh yeah, I need to do that like, right now.” But after the noon hour and running a couple errands, things had calmed down.

That’s when the secretary spoke up.

“Oh Anna,” she said innocently, “I need your timesheet.”

The timesheet; the bringer of death and mathematics. The killer of souls and keeper of time. The timesheet.

Pay weeks are weird here, and so you have to remember your hours aren’t just counted on a normal 7-day, Monday through Friday work week. Instead, it usually ends up with a week and a third or two weeks and a couple days being on one timesheet while the rest filters over onto the next pay period, and then numbers and Satan get together and make you forget which days were on last week’s timesheet and…have I lost you yet?

I thought so.

For once though, that wasn’t even the problem. I had kept track of the work week and filled out my timesheet correctly, but the universe had found a way to screw it up again. The secretary’s mention of the dreaded timesheet made me remember that right before leaving for the weekend I had put it in one of my desk drawers. This wouldn’t be a problem normally, but my desk is old, wooden and magical. It oftentimes uses its magic to selectively lock some of the drawers and won’t let me into them until it feels like it.

Or at least that’s what I thought.

So, I went “Down Under” and proceeded to try and break into my desk. I pulled upwards, downwards, left and right until I was almost sweaty, but the drawer wouldn’t budge. Mind you, other drawers on my desk remained open with no problem. It was like the stupid piece of lumber and nails was giving me attitude because it knew I was helpless.

I gave up. One of the guys upstairs said he had a hammer and other supplies that I might be able to use to get into my magic desk, so he got them and we returned to see what damage I could inflict with tools I didn’t really know how to use (He had something called a kitty wrench? Or something? Such an odd name for a tool…). As we approached the big, hulking piece of wood, he said, “Did you open the middle drawer?”
“What?” I asked.
“The main middle drawer, like right where you sit?”
“Oh…no?” I answered confusedly. “Why would that matter?”

By that time I was already at my desk and had proceeded to open the empty middle drawer. I was in the middle of still being confused as to why that mattered when I tried the magical locked drawer and it opened with a sad thud, revealing my timesheet.

“Sometimes, if you shut that drawer in the locked position, it locks every other drawer in the desk,” he explained kindly.

I’ve never felt so stupid in my life. I’ve always considered myself slightly mechanically inclined – I’ve taken apart and reassembled too many strings of Christmas lights to count, I can put together desktop computers, I know the ins and outs of hot water heaters, I’ve installed my own headlights and windshield wiper blades, and for Pete’s sake, I’ve sat at desks before. But this stupid piece of colorless wood outsmarted me. I am humbled.

Kindness

You know when you walk into a room and you immediately get that bad feeling that everybody was just talking about you? Then you start to wonder, “Were they saying something bad? Probably…I bet it was the story from the last office Christmas party, or maybe I forgot to turn my timesheet in…”

Well at Custer State Park, it’s the exact opposite.

Everyone here is just so nice. For instance, on my way to work this morning, a random park employee I had never met before stopped and started singing “High ho, high ho, it’s off to work we go!” to me to get me to smile. Trust me, it’s pretty hard to get me to smile in the morning, but this guy managed it.

I haven’t met one disingenuous person yet. Because I’m a woman, I pick up on little things. I always notice when the waitress is cranky and being passive aggressive when my male friends never do. I notice when other women are pretending to be nice but can’t wait to leave and tell their friends horrible things about me. Some men might say this is a bad ‘skill’ to have, but they don’t get it and never will (ladies, can I get an “Amen!?”).

But again, everyone here is just so nice. An older couple who live in a camper near our dorm cabins once brought us a pizza…just because. Craig Pugsley is always interested in how everyone is doing. A gate attendant named Bobbie is so hilarious and awesome that we’ve all met up for dinner with her a couple times. The secretaries even took time out of their day once to help me figure out where a mysterious cake came from (and then proceeded to help me eat it when we discovered that it was unclaimed).

Everyone my age is great too and on my first night I couldn’t believe it. Sarah was welcoming and hilarious and Beth’s sense of humor put everyone at ease – just to name a couple. The guys were equally as nice, but I still waited to encounter that one person who was going to mess everything up and be…not nice. A couple of days later, a volunteer named Tess walked up to the fire; she was tall, blonde, skinny and beautiful with some of the prettiest eyes I have ever seen, so my first thought was, “Oh, she’s going to think she’s better than all of us.”

I will forever be sorry for thinking that, because it immediately became clear that not only was she down to earth, she was goofy and friendly to everyone. She has turned out to be one of the most honest and hilarious girls I have ever met.

Actually, this is her.

Actually, this is her.


I wish more of the world operated like this place. We’re all going to die one day anyway, so why not be nice while we can? It’s just not worth it to be angry and hold grudges. When I see tourists on the side of the road looking confusedly at a map, I stop and ask if they need directions. When I get annoyed at how long someone is taking to get gas at the park shop, I get out and talk to them – I’ve met some really great people that way and even made friends with the Park Ranger intern (which I feel might come in handy). When I encounter an angry park visitor, I ask them what’s wrong and listen while they tell me about their horrible car/job/spouse/child, which is always the ultimate reason they’re cranky in the first place.

Trust me; it’s much more fun to run with the buffalo than it is to fight with them.

Deer; they’re really not that cool.

Tourists are great – they’re what keep this park running. We’re all here to serve them and make their experience more enjoyable and I like that. I like helping people.

But the things some people do just drive me completely insane.

Wild animals roam this entire park freely, including the roads. This means that there are often buffalo, mountain goats and other animals right on the side of the road – and sometimes directly on it. Why, in the name of everything that is holy, do you need to stop in the middle of the road and take a picture of the deer?

Buffalo: I get it. They’re big, hairy, uncommon, and monstrous.
Big horn sheep: I get it. They’re fluffy and uncommon.
Antelope: I get it. You’re all like, “Whoa, aren’t those supposed to be in Africa?”
Miscellaneous small animals: I get it. You don’t want to hit them with your car and then you’re all, “Ohhhhh, so cute!”

But seriously, there are so many deer in the Midwest that they could probably take over if they had half a mind to. If you really want a picture of one, just drive down the interstate for a couple hours and you’ll easily be able to hit one with your car and get a really up close photo. Instead, the tourists come here and stop on the roads to take pictures of deer grazing casually up on the hill. It clogs up traffic and creates chaos on the roads – especially when I’m in a hurry.

I’ll allow people from the east or west coasts to be excluded from this rant because there’s a possibility that they honestly have never seen a deer in real life before, but if you have a Midwestern license plate and you’re stopped in the road gawking out the window at the deer, there’s just no excuse that I can think of.

In fact, here; have this picture of a deer. That way you won’t have to stop and take one.

Here’s another one:

Here’s a funny one from the depths of the Internet:

You can even click on this link and read another blog post about deer. Problem solved.

Absence

I have spent the last few days back in the eastern half of the state and I have to admit, it felt strange to be away from here. I had fun, sure, but at the same time, I couldn’t wait to start seeing hills as I drove back to the park yesterday.

I never thought I’d say anything like this, but I missed this place, I missed my new friends, and I missed my job.