The Dog Doesn’t Die

Book reviews & random thoughts

Does the Dog Die? A Brief Review of Ranger Confidential, by Andrea Lankford

The author photo for this book is driving me crazy because I believe I’ve met this woman, but I’ve had only one noteworthy interaction with a park ranger and that was after Lankford quit. However, Lankford was a supervisory ranger at Grand Canyon, which is where I had that noteworthy interaction, and she may have trained the person who helped me, so I’m going to tell about it. (And yes, I’ll review the book eventually. Short version: I liked it a lot and you should read it.)

In October 2004, Dave and I were not yet power hikers, but we’d made the financial and emotional commitment to hike down to Phantom Ranch the following April — a huge deal for a couple of middle-aged bookworms! Being a little on the obsessive side as well, we decided to do a “gear check” by hiking down to Indian Garden and back as a day hike. This is a 9-mile day hike, by the way, with a significant elevation change, so it’s not exactly a stroll in the park, so to speak. And it’s a good thing we did the gear check, because I had shoe problems. We rested at one of the Indian Garden picnic tables before heading back up, and a ranger came over. I told her about my shoe issues and she gave me great advice, which I followed to the letter and which saved me untold pain the following spring. She also said it was about to rain and gently suggested we leave ASAP in case there was a flash flood. Later on, it did begin to rain. Then, overnight, the rain turned to snow. And the following morning, we took a bunch of Grand-Canyon-in-the-snow pictures, including this one:

But by time this wonderful park ranger gave me the best advice I’d ever gotten in a national park, Andrea Lankford was out of the business and living in southern California. And now I am finally going to review her book.

Lankford’s memoir of her time as a ranger chronicles several NPS rangers whose paths intersect with hers, noting in the introduction that one of them died in the line of duty (it’s not hard to figure out which one). She makes it clear that although aspects of the job are splendid, like the view, the view is not enough. Rangers have to deal with all level of politics: the pettiness of co-workers, the single-minded self-interest of Congress, and the whims of the Secretary of the Interior, not to mention park visitors with an erroneous sense of superiority toward “public servants.” Rangers may deal with the boredom of taking entrance fees all day and answering the same questions repeatedly, or they may go 30 hours without sleep while executing a series of harrowing rescues — only to be confronted by some random bozo who gives them shit about not having bandaids. (People hiking without bandaids reinforces my sad theory that most folks don’t have half the sense of a grapefruit. I carry a fistful of bandaids in my pack on every hike and end up giving out half of them to the unprepared.) Then there was the stranded rock climber who, upon realizing his rescuer was a woman, freaked out because she was a “chick.”

I’m making this sound like a series of grievances, and it’s not. Lankford’s book is entertaining, informative, very funny in spots, well-written, and engaging. If you want to get the insider’s perspective of an often idealized job, this is the book you want to read. In fact, it’s so good, you probably want to read it anyway, even if you never leave your back yard this summer. But you’ll probably have more fun if you get out and hike. Just remember to take your bandaids, stay on the trail, carry enough water, wear sunscreen, and consider that the person coming toward you in the wide-brimmed hat will risk life and limb to save you if you get in trouble, all for what most of us would consider a truly pathetic salary.

I strongly recommend this book. Plus, she mentions the totally awesome Sjors. Any book that talks about Sjors is a must-read. Don’t know what or who Sjors is? Read the book.

Now, the purpose of this blog is to warn animal lovers about possibly disturbing scenes in books, so they know what to skip or can at least be prepared. Most of the animals in this book are wild: sea turtles and plovers at the beach, bears with an unfortunate taste for the food left out by careless people, bats in ranger housing, and rattlesnakes on trails — plus the often opinionated horses ridden by rangers. There are more than a few unfortunate incidents, but these are not rampant throughout the book. So I am declaring it MOSTLY SAFE for animal lovers. Enjoy!


May 16, 2010 - Posted by | beach book, biography, Book Reviews, memoir, national parks, nonfiction, travel, weather, wildlife | , , , , , , ,

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