1994 Highlights: An Almost Normal Life for a Naturalist

A year-end letter I sent in 1994 where I talk about the odd things you can recycle at a forest fire and winning a major forestry award in, of all places, Cleveland.

1994 T On Porch 2

Me building my house

December 1994

Dear Friends and Family,

An amazing thing happened this year: my life reached a state of near normalcy. I finally finished building my house. I’m no longer housing impaired, living in a leaky trailer where the only running water is that which drips from the ceiling and electricity comes from a very long extension cord. More unbelievable is that although the place is small, it is without a doubt the coziest and nicest home I have ever lived in. I keep expecting some other T- McCracken to show up and say: “What are you doing in my house? Scram!”

Some friends of mine, Phyllis and Scotty, are building a house (everyone out here seems to either be building or renovating) and were “housing impaired” so I made them a deal. I’d give them, their five cats, two ferrets and one dog free room if they’d give me free board. I haven’t eaten this well in years.

Just after we’d moved in and before I had a chance to unpack and sign the final mortgage papers, fire season began. When I left I thought it’d be for just a couple of weeks. Six weeks after I left my construction loan came due and a $1,400 penalty was being assessed every week. Phyllis and my boss’s boss wrote a sappy letter to the bank president about how I was out saving the National Forests and America single-handedly. Amazingly the bank said they’d hold the loan and the low-interest rate until I got back. In fact, if I could find a notary where I was based, I could sign it there. I went running through the fire camp shouting: “Is there a notary public here? Is there a notary public here?” No luck.

Meanwhile, what I was saving America from was trash. At the third fire we were sent to in the Wenatchee National Forest in Washington State I ended up in a new role for me on fires: the Goddess of Garbage. At first I thought: “Compared to digging fire lines, this is going to be a piece of cake.” Ha! You would not believe how much trash 5,000 people generate in a day. Not only is there the usual stuff (e.g., 150,000 cubic-feet of water bottles, 30,000 pounds of broccoli, and thousands of trashy magazines), there’s the unusual stuff (e.g., unexploded blasting caps, helicopters, and items that will keep future archaeologists scratching their head for millennia to come). In the end I really enjoyed the detail. I was assigned to work with a very energetic local, Cathy, who knew lots of recyclers from her days as Boy Scout den mother. It was the first fire I was at that had a major recycling effort. In the end I think we recycled more material than we sent to the dump.

As they extended my tour of duty for the umpteenth time, Phyllis said: “Come home soon. There’s a pleasant surprise in store for you. You’ve won a trip to Cleveland!” Now there’s a reason to go home if I’d ever heard one. When I got home I discovered she wasn’t kidding. I had honest to God won a trip to Cleveland.

I won the Gifford Pinchot Award and was named Pacific Northwest Interpreter of the Year. The award was given at the annual Interpreters Conference that was held in Cleveland this year. Last year it was held in Washington D.C., next year it’s in Orlando, and the year after that it’s in Anchorage, but I got to go to Cleveland. My Mom asked, “If Cleveland is where you go for winning first place, where did the second-place winner get to go? Maybe you shouldn’t work so hard.”

“Interpreter?” I can hear you asking. “I thought you were a naturalist. You could barely make your language requirement in college. Knowing a few Latin names of flora and fauna makes you an interpreter?” A word of explanation: a few years back, much to my dismay since all my life I’d wanted to be a naturalist, the government changed my job title to Interpreter. No doubt it sounds more bureaucratic and thus more appealing to folks in Washington.

The timing of the award was lousy in that after I got back from the fire, I was swamped trying to put on the biggest exhibition of my life. I had six weeks to put together as many displays, and in the middle of it all they wanted me to drop everything and go to Cleveland. Actually, I have to admit that I had fun in Cleveland. Best of all, I stopped in Michigan to see my folks, so I can’t complain too much.

Cartooning is still pretty much on hold. The only real project I did in that realm was my second book/calendar of construction cartoons. It was published last week.

Hope you and yours are also doing well. Happy Holidays. Merry, Merry.


Cheap Forestry Cartoons for use in presentations, blogs, etc.