Finding Sam

Finding Sam

lifeinthewildlands

By Katie Glick

My childhood was wonderful, but far from normal. My parents owned a marina on Lake Mendocino, north of San Francisco. My days outside of school were spent climbing trees, playing with bait worms, fishing with Papa Joe, and feeding hamburger buns to the ducks. My parents didn’t just own the marina, it was also our home and a delightful place to be a kid.

Most children don’t know what park rangers are until much later in life (let alone that they are federal government employees), but from the moment I was born they were my friends. Ranger Sam in particular was my buddy.

When my parents were busy, I would hang out with him at the Pomo Indian Heritage Center, or we would go on patrols together. I would always show him the creatures I found like lizards, frogs and garter snakes and he would tell me things about them. Every afternoon we would feed the geese and the ducks. Certain sounds will forever bring me back to my childhood, and Ranger Sam in his southern accent saying, “okay, Katie, let’s go feed the ducks” is one.

Katie Glick reunites with her childhood friend Ranger Sam.

In 1996, when I was ten years old, my parents made the decision to sell the marina and start a new business. We packed up and moved to Lake Tahoe and a short few years later the new marina owners went bankrupt. The entire complex was auctioned off and bulldozed to the ground. My entire childhood was reduced to callous rubble.

A few years later we relocated to Sonora and Ranger Sam moved to Texas. On his way back he stopped and visited and, although there were no ducks to feed, we had frogs to look at and things to explore once again. Ranger Sam’s departure from California felt like another piece of my childhood was stripped away, forever untouchable and distant.

Many years later I became a federal government employee myself working as a seasonal for the US Forest Service. One of the things I enjoyed the most was talking to children about my job and giving them junior ranger badges. I hoped I would give them the same love for the outdoors that I had growing up.

In 2020, I finally became a permanent federal employee and accepted a job with the US Army Corps of Engineers. The first day I put on my uniform, I looked down and realized it was the same uniform that Ranger Sam had worn, unchanged more than 30 years later. It felt incredibly special to me to be able to wear the same uniform that he had, and I wore it proudly.

When I got to my parent’s house, we looked at pictures and videos of happier days, of sunny afternoons on the lake, many of them of Sam and myself. At first, looking at the photos and videos was incredibly difficult. It had awakened a piece of me that I had pushed away, memories of the happiest days I had ever experienced. I suddenly had a strong certainty in my heart: I needed to find Sam.

When I got back to work, I searched our email address book, but he was nowhere to be found. I searched through archives and found out which lake he had moved to in Texas, then I contacted them. He had retired many years ago. I couldn’t give up, not yet.

I contacted Lake Mendocino and was put in touch with a ranger that knew him. There was only one ranger left that had worked at the lake during that era. I soon realized that 30 years was a long time and most people had moved on, but in my mind it was still a time capsule and hard for me to accept.

I emailed the ranger and introduced myself and that I was trying to find Sam. He got right back to me and remembered me as a child, the one that was always climbing trees and running around with my parents’ Irish Setter. He gave my email to Sam, who contacted me right away, asking me to call him. I could have cried with happiness. I had finally done it.

That evening I called Sam and we talked for an hour. The sound of his southern accent took me right back to being a kid, a piece of me that was recaptured from being a distant memory. Even if I would never be able to talk to him again, it was enough just to know I still could. We talked about frogs again, about the tangled oak trees I used to climb. Before saying goodbye he paused and said, “Hey, Katie…let’s go feed the ducks.” I smiled to myself. It was enough.

Katie Glick shares a story about becoming a ranger and gaining permanent federal employment.

Katie Glick is currently a Grants Management Specialist for the Bureau of Reclamation. She grew up in Northern California and studied geology at the University of Nevada in Reno and natural science at the University of Alabama. She started her career with the federal government as a seasonal for the Eldorado National Forest doing fire, recreation and visitor services.