Ever wanted to be a wilderness ranger? I tried it one summer when I was 38. Things didn’t go as planned.

Check out my short narrative “SAR Talk,” appearing recently in The Common in its online department called Dispatches. The journal “publishes fiction, essays, poetry, documentary vignettes, and images that embody particular times and places both real and imagined; from deserts to teeming ports; from Winnipeg to Beijing; from Earth to the Moon: literature and art powerful enough to reach from there to here. In short, we seek a modern sense of place.”

Many thanks to James Alan Gill and other editors at The Common. I appreciate your interest in my writing!


From “SAR Talk“:

When I arrived for my shift, I heard talk of a search and rescue near the south end of the Ptarmigan Traverse: two climbers, stuck on an 18-inch ledge. They dropped their rope and most of their camping gear while summiting 8,200-foot Spire Point, the remote tail of the route, a spot between Sentinel and Dome peaks that most people reach only after several days of route finding. It’s fearsome, storm-wracked country—the Pacific Crest, where waters spill east toward the Columbia River or west to Puget Sound. And if you get high enough, your cell phone might work, as it did for those climbers this morning. They called 911, who in turn called us, the Park Service.

At least that’s what I gathered when I walked in.

But what do I know? I can hardly handle my ice axe. It’s my first season as a backcountry ranger, and in truth probably my only one. I’m 39 years old—too old to start this kind of thing. Too slow. Too heavy-footed. I’ve got a decade or more on the other new rangers, mostly college kids, a vet or two. They’ve come out West like I did long ago, penniless but happy. Strong.

I hear chatter about the SAR coming from the backroom, phrases like “cloud cover” and “window of opportunity.” Indeed, it’s been raining for hours and the snow line’s dropping quickly. Those climbers might perish come nightfall unless we do something, unless someone with the right skills does something. Me, I’ll be standing at this counter all day, telling people to drive east toward the rainshadow.


What happened next?

To enjoy the full narrative, click here. And let me know your thoughts. Do you like this tale? Do you have similar midlife stories? Also, see my recent piece in Hothouse, “Writer Bullshits Himself, Needs Saving,” which highlights the way “SAR Talk” emerged after several years of reflection.


Copyright 2013, Jeff Darren Muse.

Photo: On a backcountry patrol in 2008 in North Cascades National Park. PAULA OGDEN-MUSE