A former backcountry ranger recalls his experiences working at a beautiful but often treacherous—and underfunded—national park in Washington state.
After a career in academia, Westman left to join the corporate world, and hated it. After 17 unhappy years, he decided to follow his heart and find a job that would let him spend time in the wilderness, where he always felt happiest and most fulfilled. He started out as a national-park volunteer and, with the encouragement of his friend, Rick Kirschner, he eventually became a seasonal backcountry ranger at Mount Rainier National Park, where he worked for nearly a decade. In this debut memoir, he describes some of most dramatic search-and-rescue operations he participated in, and recounts heartwarming and heartbreaking interactions with park visitors. Some of the visitors’ sillier questions stand out, such as, “Where do you keep the bears at night?” Future visitors to Mount Rainier should take note when the author lists his favorite park locations and expounds upon their beauty. In an earlier chapter, however, the anecdotes take a more grisly tone, as Westman describes a number of injuries and deaths that he witnessed during his career. Although he only hints at the job’s emotional toll, his compassion for others is clear, particularly when he confesses to telling a dead hiker’s college roommate that his friend “died quickly and did not suffer,” when in reality, he “had sustained significant trauma.” However, the author’s enthusiasm for his work shines through on every page. Readers will sense his deep passion for national parks, as well as his frustration over funding cuts and the lack of governmental support. His prose style can be dry at times, making some stories feel more rote than engaging. Nature enthusiasts, however, may be able to look past this, and enjoy the true-life tales of rescue, recovery and tragedy.
An earnest memoir about a dedicated park ranger’s notable career.