The end is only the beginning, or so I’ve been told.

I came here in jeans and a bright pink leopard-print shirt. I sped into the parking lot at the office building to look like I was “cool” to the group of college kids standing out front, and I never met one of them. I still don’t know who they were.

Maybe that small, insignificant 5 minutes was the greatest moment in my life, but then again, maybe the greatest moment was the first time I climbed to the top of a needle with Cody. Maybe it was the first time I rode a roller coaster, had a slice of Lintz Bros pizza, laid out at Center Lake with Kori, took my first step, or was the day I graduated from high school – but who cares? What matters is that I’ve had more “greatest” moments this summer than I ever have in my entire life.

I feel ethereal. I feel like I’m floating between two planes and there’s nothing I can do about it. I feel the tug of happiness right within my grasp but I also feel a dark sadness looming over my head like the rain cloud that’s moving over the park as I write this. And yet, I feel like I’ve met too many amazing people here at Custer State Park to indulge in the selfish emotion of sadness, so instead, I’ll tell you about yesterday.

Last night, the people who still remained in the park went to a small picnic. We laughed until our sides hurt and took a million embarrassing photos – my face is still sore from laughing. After the picnic I headed to Hill City to see my boyfriend and as I drove, a strange calm came over me. I think it was because the rain was coming – it had been for about an hour, so there was a deep, black cloud that hung above the park as I trekked onward.

And right when this song came on my iPod, I saw it. Feel free to keep listening while you read.

Some things you can’t capture in a photo or with words – all you can do is try, and even then you know you’ll ultimately fail. What matters is that you tried.

The sun was setting with a bright pink glow in the west while a giant black cloud hung over top of it. It’s like whoever was in charge of the sunset that day felt bad about not letting us see it at the park and pulled back the edge of the clouds just a little so that I could get a glimpse. The fuchsia pink of the sunset over the tops of the glowing green pine trees was too beautiful for words and the picture I took with my cell phone doesn’t even begin to do it justice. And at that exact moment, it stopped sprinkling and warmed up just a couple degrees; enough to make the rain begin to evaporate from the road and create a dancing, swirling mist the shrouded everything near it.

It was perfect, and as I drove through the mist that whispered of Ireland toward the sunset that looked like it would have tasted like fruit punch, I knew this moment was created for me and me alone.

And then it was gone as quickly as it came – the temperature got one degree too warm or too cold for the mist and the cloud finally defeated the sun and blanketed it completely. But that was ok, because just like this summer, it was perfect while it lasted and anything more would have just made my head explode with happiness.

This won’t be my last post, but this is the last time I’ll be writing from my windowless, awesome, hole of an office with my bats, my phone that still confuses me, and the cookies I’ve been slowly and inconspicuously eating out of the freezer (sorry, but they’ve been down here for weeks and nobody has claimed them.) I would love nothing more than to come back, repay someone for those stolen cookies and work here again one day.

Signing off for now from Custer State Park,
Anna the Lightning-Chasing, Buffalo-Stalking, Rain-Dancing, Hiking, Biking, Walking, Gate-Working, Phone-Answering, Scanner-Using, Photo-Taking, Rambling, Happy Intern

Bulletin Board Drama

So, apparently, someone creates a collage of sorts and uses the bulletin board in the back hallway of the office to thank the volunteers who work here all summer. This year, I get to do it.

You might think this is a simple task, but it’s the opposite. In previous years, they have taken mug shots of every volunteer and just stuck them up there with some sort of “Thank you!” message. This year, nobody remembered to do this until July, so the volunteers were scattered throughout the park. At first, I tried tracking them down, but this proved to be time-consuming and tedious.

Sometimes people wouldn’t let me take their pictures because they were too sweaty/had bad hair/didn’t do their makeup that day and so they’d offer to come into the office later. The ones that did usually came on my days off, so that didn’t help. Some of them didn’t live in the park and some of them didn’t work that often, so tracking these folks down turned into a fiasco.

So, instead of killing myself trying to hunt everyone down, I thought I’d do a more fun board and use fewer pictures. The plan was to involve a couple group shots of volunteers at the visitor center and at their campers, but I was informed by one of the secretaries that if I didn’t include ABSOLUTELY EVERYONE, people would get angry.

ABSOLUTELY EVERYONE includes a list of names that’s three pages long.

Seriously? Over a bulletin board that most people don’t even see? Are these people five years old? If this summer has taught me anything, it’s that as some people get older and older, they tend to act younger and younger.

But apparently it’s a big deal, and if I include one I have to include them all. I was stumped for a while until one of the girls I live with came into the office and suggested I include everyone’s name and just forgo the photos.

Eureka!

So here I sit, tediously cutting out letters to spell out “Thank you volunteers!” and trying to figure out what I’m going to do. And if anybody has a problem with the finished product, they can come “Down Under” and complain directly to me.

We’re all just a bunch of buffalo.

When you’re around animals a lot, their daily habits start looking a little less like random behavior and a lot more like a soap opera.

First, it was the deer – the same two deer that have been stalking on my way to and from work, actually. They were apparently a couple and have now spawned an adorable little fawn that is too quick to get a good photo of. So, they still stalk me, but it’s different now that I know they’re a mom and a dad. The baby deer always sees me and runs into the tall grass to disappear while mom and dad don’t move at all and stand there as if to say, “What? Oh, you thought you saw something? You must be mistaken. Move along.”

What's that you say? Oh, there's nothing to see here, I promise. You can trust me; I'm a deer.

What’s that you say? Oh, there’s nothing to see here, I promise. You can trust me; I’m a deer.


And then there’s the buffalo. This time of year is known as ‘The Rut,’ which basically means it’s mating season. The feisty buffalo are a lot more active and are obviously paired off. Groups of yearlings and calves are always accompanied by two or three mature bull/cow pairs, and watching them dance around the inevitable is pretty entertaining (and a little terrifying). It’s as if you’re watching the ‘Bold and the Beautiful’ or ‘Guiding Light’ when a smaller, more feisty bull approaches the big granddaddy and tries to spar for the female – who really has no choice in the matter at all. The biggest and baddest bulls always win, but it’s still kind of fun to root for the underdog.
I present to you 'The Bold and the Buffalo'

I present to you ‘The Bold and the Buffalo’


All of this animal-watching has made me think about our behavior in the employee dorms. After all, we’re merely animals, right? For those of you who disagree; read on.

What’s funny is that we totally do the same sorts of things the wildlife around the park does. The most experienced male, the unicycling park veteran Cody, was the alpha male. Even though he lived with two other guys who we all liked equally as much, it was always “Cody’s cabin” or “Cody and the guys.” He always was subconsciously given ownership. It wasn’t a conscious choice – it just happened. Then, when Cody was gone for a week at a unicycling nationals, it kind of just morphed into “Charlie’s cabin” and “Charlie and the guys,” because he was the next in line. No voting, no decisions – just nature.

It was the same with the girls. Sarah, the loudest and most boisterous of the group, was just automatically rallied around as the alpha female because was the first one here, she was the one who motivated us all to hang out together, and well…she was just kind of the loudest, so it wasn’t exactly easy to let her fade from your mind (and I say that in the most loving way possible).

But then, just like the buffalo, as the summer wore on we separated into smaller groups. Yes, we all still hang out together and we all get along, but we’ve separated into smaller herds. Mouse-finding Kori and I have split off with our respective boyfriends because, well, that’s what animals do. It’s biology. Sarah has kind of created her own smaller herd that all hangs out together, and another quieter herd has also formed with some of our group’s more docile members.

It might be a little offensive to refer to humans and friends in such animalistic terms, but I’m trying to make a point. While we’re a more intelligent species, when you break it down, we’re just as wild and primal as the buffalo. It’s not a choice – it’s a feeling, a pull toward something you don’t even realize is happening until you reflect back on it. And yes, our ability to reflect back on things – heck – our ability to use utensils and drive racecars and bake cookies and eat worms for $5 as a kid all make us a more superior species.

But we’re a species nonetheless; nothing but animals. Maybe that’s why I like it here so much – it’s bringing me back to my animal roots. Who knows?

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.

Another blog about bugs.

I feel like the insects at Custer State Park read my bug-killing blog and it made them mad.

This morning I woke up with not one, but two new mosquito bites of unknown origin. I’ve stopped leaving my window open and I couldn’t hear them when I laid there in the quiet of the night, so I can’t explain it.

While I was taking pictures of people having fun in the sun at Angostura Reservoir, I relized they have a fire ant problem. They’re everywhere. I saw the majority of them in the sandy areas near the beach – I don’t know much about insect habitats and lifestyles, but these guys were huge red ants that I would not want crawling near me. I’ll admit that I’m probably exaggerating a little; I actually just saw a few here and there, but they were big enough to leave an impression.

Then, to top it all off, as I walked into the office after shooting some photos today, I looked down at the pavement to see what I thought was a half-crushed bee dragging itself along the pavement. As I was about to put him out of his misery with the bottom of my shoe, I realized that it was in fact a giant black ant carrying a dead bee’s body home to feed his family.

It was as if the ant was saying, “Look how much I can lift. Look how much I’ve bulked up. Next time, I come for you.”

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.