Questions are the Answer of the Day


“To be on a quest is nothing more or less
than to become an asker of questions.”
– Sam Keen

solve-big-data-problemsToday is one of those posts that is more for me than for you.  It comes at the end of a topsy-turvy day.  A lot of frustration, a  lot of pure joy.   Some things worked out well, and others collapsed under their own weight.

I agree with that quotation that to be on a quest, such as living the Unscripted Life, is to be an asker of questions.  And today was one of those days when questions were the answer of the day.

Over the weekend one campground ran out of space in their dumpsters.  I got called out on my day off,  on the weekend, because a host didn’t have space to keep the trash out of reach of  raccoons, bears and other opportunist feeders.  I didn’t take kindly to being called out, but I did what I could.  The dumpster people would not come out on a Sunday.  What I had with which to fix the problem was half a dozen trash cans with tethered lids — so I took them out to the campground.   And in the morning I told Da Boss’ assistant what I did, seeing as Da Boss is on vacation.  This evening we get a visit from that same volunteer to ‘warn’ me that they got criticized because ‘that’s not the way we want to fix the problem — you need more dumpsters here’!?????????????????

WHAT THE HECK?  If you have a problem with something I have done then tell me that was the wrong way to handle the situation.  Except the assistant doesn’t want to tangle with me.

While he was there the assistant saw the volunteer re-charging the water chlorinator according to the directions he’d been given — the right way.  Da Boss’ assistant was there while he was doing the work; he saw the volunteer doing the work as instructed; never once having to interrupt the volunteer to tell him he was doing anything wrong — and the entire time he went on and on about the fact that the volunteer shouldn’t have done the job himself.  The fact is, what the volunteer did, step by step was exactly the way I had been instructed to do the same job.  No one certified me to do the job (as in signed off on a piece of paper), and yet I have been doing the exact same job when needed with no criticism.   WHAT THE HECK?

I think he was having a bad day.  Both of them.

When I went into the office this morning I was expecting an update about two situations that one of the staff officers handled on his own.  I pulled the volunteer folder for one of the situations and discovered the file torn apart and half of the relevant documents missing.  Where’d they go?  I found the staffer and asked for an update.  I might as well have thrown a dart at the wall for all the usable info I got.  And, he was the one who’d disappeared with formal agreement — but had not done with them what needed doing.     The Job’s never finished till the paperwork is done.  ARGH.

I chatted with staff about maintenance work needing to be done in one campground before we go in and shot campsite images for recreation.gov.  The answer I got was basically ‘we have no people to do that.’  Now I have no problem with rejection.  I have my job to do.  I’ll go out and do  my job,  a job I know management wants done, but I know that the district ranger is not going to be satisfied with the result if I go in and shoot the campground as it is right now — or as it is in a month, or in two months.  What’s more, the public who consider reservations in that campground are going to be less likely to reserver those sites.  At some point the mess will hit the fan; staff will have to do what I requested nicely and politely;  but they will be unhappy about being told that it’s a job that HAS to be done.  Rather than do it the easy way, they choose the hard way.

Why is it that people with considerable experience with a job don’t look beyond the obvious to see that their function fits into a bigger, better plan than what they see from their point of view?  Of course the nature of maintenance tends to be fixing what’s broken — and if you have more than enough to do then things like preventive maintenance don’t get done.  Right now that’s kind of where we are here.  There is always more to be done than what there are hours in the day — and operating in that kind of environment has to be incredibly difficult.  Living with continually changing fiscal boundaries adds to the problem.  And a regularly changing staff of permanent, seasonal, and volunteer help has to be difficult at best.

I respect that government functions differently than private business.  But as a small business guy I have to scratch my head at the posturing and defense of invisible territorial lines.

Before the first of the year I reported on vandalism at one of our Dunes overlooks.  It is now over 6 months later and the contract has yet to be let.  I was visiting one of our OHV campgrounds today, one with a stand-alone shower building that needs some serious rehabilitation.  It seems that a local contractors was out to survey the building for a third time because staff had changed the parameters of the repairs to be quoted for a third time — over a 5 month period of time.  I don’t understand how things get done.  Or how long it TAKES to get them done?

monkey-scratching-headI’m a volunteer here.  I’m not staff.  I don’t expect to be treated like staff.  Most of the staff have treated us as equals, rather than as subordinates. Ok — so Peg and I tend to over perform so as not to leave ourselves open for criticism — but there are times when a little less equality might seem more appropriate.  All of them have come up through years of training and they have learned the Forest Service culture.  We have been here a few months with a complex social climate and a cadre of volunteers who in many cases know even less about the Forest Service than we.

When we got here had no illusions about changing  the Forest Service.  That wasn’t why we came.  All we wanted to do, all that we still want to do, is to contribute to the visitors’ stay on the forest in the best way we can.  For the most part we’re doing just that.  But that doesn’t mean we don’t have really confusing days.

Today we had three really wonderful chats with different volunteers.  We also visited three campgrounds where we needed additional images to round out our coverage of each site.  Over the weekend about 2/3 of those sites emptied out and we shot what we needed.  We’ll have a couple more trips to make, probably to two of the three campgrounds, before we have finished them up.  It’s a guessing game when you can catch a given site empty, but it’s nice to be out in the air and the sun instead of in the office.

We also found a site for our next volunteer meeting — we’ll be having that meeting at the Umpqua III pavilion.  Our sometimes-problematic-rover will be moving to a new position tomorrow.  We have a little paperwork to complete in the morning to be ready for him but we’ll get it done.  This will be an interim position, a sort of transition that we hope will finally get him into a position where he can do the job and where we won’t have to be covering for inadequacies.

As I said, it was a topsy-turvy day.   A lot of good, a little… well, I can’t call it bad, but certainly confusing.  I’m sure of one thing, I’m glad I didn’t work for government when I was employed.  And I think that when we leave here we’re going to take a long break from any kind of governmental volunteer gig.  I’m not sure if we’ll look for some kind of private charity or something — or maybe we’ll just be retired for a while.   I know I want to work on my people skills.  Having a volunteer upset enough to come out of their way to find us at the end of the day speaks to how confused/upset/frustrated they were.  I can’t do anything to prevent another such incident.  All I can do is insure that I’ll be patient and understanding of the volunteer’s position.

Thanks for stopping by and I’ll talk with you tomorrow.

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2 thoughts on “Questions are the Answer of the Day

    1. There have been a lot of similarly frustrating day — but most of them have had fewer incidents in them. And knowing you, and our previous interchanges I think you have some idea where this is all going. 🙂 “More news at 5” — well, not at ‘5’ but there’s stuff in the works.

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