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Looking Back on Rangerhood

Since I've only two more weeks to "do that ranger thang," I feel I am in a good position to reflect over how this summer has impacted me. First, some pictures:

Three cave pictures. Some popcorn, frostwork, and some flowstone in the third picture.

The magical elevator building, built by the CCC in the 1930's, along with the shaft.

Readouts from the anemometer stationed inside the Natural Entrance.

In the ready room, we have everything we need to do the tours, including the iconic ranger uniforms...

...and an army of flashlights. These are the stingers, the brightest of the three we carry.

Next to the only natural entrance into Wind Cave, one of the longest, oldest, and most complex caves in the world.

I'll begin my reflection with some frankness - I don't want to be a ranger "when I grow up." It has been fun for a summer gig. I've got to see parts of the cave that few people ever get to see. I've learned how to explore the backcountry of the cave. I've interacted with visitors cut from all sorts of cloth. And my public speaking skills have no doubt grown tremendously (on some days, I can take 120 visitors through the cave).

But -

I say more or less the same things every day. And what I'm allowed to say is determined by the national park service, and more directly, by the head of interpretation here at WICA (Wind Cave). I want to speak freely. Why should it be such a big deal on cave tours?

Because cave tours inevitably involve geology. There are fossils of ancient brachiopods down in the cave. And I'm living in a country where 39% of the population believes in evolution.* Many of the people that do not believe in evolution also scoff when confronted with the age of the earth. Many of them come to the cave to challenge the ranger.

In training I was upset to learn that we are not allowed to engage in such "controversial conversations." In other words, this is what is expected of me:

Visitor: How old is the cave?

Me: The limestone was formed 250 million years ago. The cave largely began to form 65 million years ago, when the Rockies were uplifted.

Visitor: That can't be true! God made the world 6,000 years ago!

Me: Well, we all have our own beliefs on the matter. In any case, know that the cave is really old.

I'm not allowed to challenge anybody's beliefs, even with scientific evidence. That's "disrespectful" of the visitors' "divergent backgrounds."

Sure, whatever.

In any case, I've been very pleased to spend the summer out here in the Black Hills, among the pronghorn, bison, prairie dogs, and yellow warblers.

I've had a chance to finish The Kite Runner, which immediately became a favorite. We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families was excellent journalism, but required a lot of commitment to get through it. John Krakauer fascinated me again with Under the Banner of Heaven. It has solidified my contempt for religious thinking: belief in an afterlife, so-called divine utterances (whether in the form of books like the Christian Bible or "oral revelations"), devotion towards religious leaders or prophets, etc.

I'm ready to come home. Two more weeks.

* According to a Gallup Poll taken in February 2009.
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