Objectively, this was hard.
This past weekend was my last weekend as Trail Patrol in Point Reyes National Seashore. I’ve spent hundreds of hours and hiked hundreds of miles on the beautiful trails in this little piece of paradise. I’ve taken part in search and rescue efforts, educated visitors about the park and its natural and cultural significance, talked about the geologic processes that led to Point Reyes being such a unique place, and found good friends in my co-volunteers and the park rangers.
Knowing this was my last weekend there was heartbreaking. But it also made me acutely aware of the deep love I feel for the place. I’ve known that Point Reyes had a special place in my heart for a long time but the fact that I had no time left there brought that knowledge to the forefront of my mind and summoned raw feelings of endless despair and deep appreciation.
On Saturday, I went to Abbotts Lagoon, to say goodbye to the snowy plovers that are nesting there. We’d just closed off parts of the beach the week before to protect their nests. Two great blue herons circled above my head. For the longest time, I’ve been coming to the lagoon in hopes of seeing the elusive river otters. That day, for the first time, I finally saw them, playing in the water. What a beautiful goodbye from the lagoon.
We had a volunteer potluck lunch that day, and my supervisor took a moment to thank me for all my work for the park and present me with a few good-bye gifts, including a hug. I didn’t expect that. He’s not the most emotional person I know, at least in the professional setting we’ve always interacted in. The rangers and volunteers present clapped and thanked me for my service. I barely held it together and when it was time for me to say a few words, my voice came out raspy as I fought back tears.
It was my last day seeing my supervisor—he doesn’t work on Sundays. When I reported to him at the end of the day and it was time to say one final goodbye, he hugged me once more and said, “No this can’t be a goodbye. It’s a see you again.”
On Sunday, I went and hiked my very favourite loop. It has the most beautiful views and takes one through so many different ecosystems, it feels like traveling across the country, not just within one national park. Acres of blooming blue lupines surrounded Coast Trail and filled the air with their sweet, heavy scent. Bright orange California poppies dotted the trail and the hillsides. Tolmie’s pussy ears bloomed early this year, decorating the lower part of Woodward Valley Trail. The views from said trail were as gorgeous as ever. (Here’s a link to a map of the hike on Strava. If you ever get the chance, please do it. It’s simply gorgeous.)
I turned around a thousand times when leaving Bear Valley Trail behind me for the last time. The sun shone low, painting the air in the green forest bright yellow. The red ochre of the visitor center seemed more intense than ever before.
I returned my radio and other gear for one last time. I thought I had it together, I really did. But when the moment came for me to say goodbye and quietly leave the office, I became overwhelmed by grief. Tears sprung from my eyes before I even knew what happened and I had to clasp my hands over my mouth in an attempt to stop the sobs from coming out, too.
I tried to apologize for being so overcome with emotion but was stopped by a ranger friend. He wrapped his arms tightly around me and I broke down instead. He held me until I felt a little better, and then I received hugs from another ranger friend, too, who promised to keep me on the mailing list for park updates.
I managed to walk out of the office, giving them one last smile. The moment the door shut behind me, the tears were back. I felt so alone in the situation it was hard to breathe. But I made my way to a car in which a friend of mine was waiting. He came out to Point Reyes to spend my last day there with me.
“Do you need a moment?” he asked.
“No, no, I’m good… ready to see some seal pups?”
We drove to Drakes Beach where the weaned-off pups hang out and watched them for about an hour as they played in the water and learned how to scoot on land. They were adorable, care-free in their play. We then drove to North Beach to watch the incredibly high surf and the sunset. Then it was time to go.
“We can stay a bit longer if you’re not ready to go,” my friend offered.
“I won’t ever be ready,” I said, and we started the drive back home.
I concluded my last trail patrol report with:
“Overall, it was a gorgeous day and the beauty brought tears to my eyes. It was an honor to be out on the trails—that day and always. Point Reyes is a wonderful place and I couldn’t be more grateful for having had the opportunity to serve as a volunteer. I hope to come back one day. I’ll miss it every day until that day comes.”
We were just crossing the San Rafael Bridge back into the East Bay.
“I feel I’ve failed,” I said, quietly, not knowing if I wanted my voice to be heard or not.
“I don’t think you failed,” my friend replied.
“Well, it certainly isn’t a success.”
“It’s a setback.”
I couldn’t find my voice to say anything to that. Only later did I think about that short exchange. I’ve tried and failed to find a way to stay time and again. They were all setbacks. But after how many setbacks do you call it a failure? Because I’ve had so many I can’t even count them all… at what point should I just give up and accept defeat?
Maybe the answer to that question is “never.”