Ranger Buddies

HONK! “Henry, hurry up!” Henry looked up to see his dad parked a few yards away. He groaned, “Why does dad always have to embarrass me by blaring his horn?” Henry looked around to see who was watching, as he jogged as fast as his short legs could carry him towards the car. “How was your last day of 6th grade, buddy?” Henry’s dad playfully shook his son’s shoulder as he climbed in the seat next to him. “I guess it was okay. I’m just glad it’s over and summer vacation has finally arrived.” Henry spotted his friend and waved. “Bye, Johnny! Have a fun summer. See you at the junior high!” Henry’s dad honked the horn and also waved at Johnny as they drove out of the school’s parking lot. Henry sunk lower in his seat. “Woo hoo! You’re officially a 7th grader now!” Henry’s dad yelled, and Henry was sure Johnny and all the other kids standing around heard him. “Geez, dad, you sure know how to create a scene.” Henry’s face flushed a little, which made Henry’s dad laugh. “Tell you what son, let’s celebrate the end of elementary school with a rootbeer float on our way out of town.” Henry sat up a bit in his chair. “Yes! A root beer float to go, and then the Montana adventure will begin!”

Every summer since Henry was three, his dad would take him away from the intense heat of Arizona where they lived, to spend time in the Kalispell, Montana area with his grandparents. Henry was always glad to trade a hot Arizona summer spent in a swimming pool, for an adventure in Somers in the cool waters of Flathead Lake. He loved to swim and play at the Yacht Club, where only small boats are docked, with local neighborhood kids. On their way back to grandma and grandpa’s house after a day of water and sun, Henry’s dad would often stop at a local stand and buy him a huckleberry milkshake. Huckleberry flavored everything can be found in this place, and it’s part of what makes Montana so special.

Henry took a big gulp of his root beer float and said, “Hey dad, are we going to be in Kalispell by Sunday?” “We sure will be. I know what you’re thinking about!,” Henry’s dad exclaimed. Henry beamed with delight, as happy memories of Sunday mornings filled his mind. Every Sunday during the summer, grandpa wakes Henry up early to pick fresh berries in the garden. When they gather what is needed, grandpa turns him loose to go help grandma make pies in the kitchen. Mmmm…mmmm… Henry’s mouth waters just thinking about the warm blueberry and strawberry rhubarb pies, and the delicious scent that fills his grandparents’ home when they come out of the oven. “Yip, I’m thinking about fresh berries and pies. Are we there yet? I’m hungry!,” Henry says with a huge grin. His dad chuckles, “Drink your root beer, kid.”

Saturday afternoon, Henry wakes up from taking a snooze in the backseat when their tires hit the old gravel road. “We’re here!,” Henry is so excited to get out of the car and go hug his grandparents! When they hear Henry and his dad shut the car doors, Henry’s grandparents come running out of their house with their arms wide open. “Hi! We’ve missed you! Look how tall you’ve grown!” Everyone is speaking all at once, and the sound of love fills the crisp, Montana air. Henry is in his favorite place at long last!

The next morning, grandpa has Henry up and in the garden shortly after the rooster in the barn sings his “good morning” song. Henry loves the way the sky doesn’t really get dark during the summer this far up North. Everything about Montana seems so different from Arizona. He loves to look out beyond his grandparents’ land, at the big trees, grasses, and majestic hills in the distance. There’s no cactus or Palo Verde trees here. Montana is a land full of rocks, mountains, huge trees, rivers, and lakes. It calls one to a life of activity and adventure.

“Henry, how would you like to become a Junior Ranger, when we visit Glacier National Park tomorrow?,” Henry’s grandpa asks, as he puts the bucket they used for gathering berries back in the shed. “I’m not sure what you mean by “Junior Ranger”, grandpa.” As they walk towards the kitchen, Henry’s grandpa explains that Glacier National Park offers kids the opportunity to learn all about the glaciers, wildlife, and human history of the area. In order to become an official Junior Ranger, Henry will have to complete some activities and answer questions in a booklet that the Park Rangers will hand out. Once he passes the exam, a Park Ranger will give him the title of “Junior Ranger” and a badge to pin to his shirt. “Sounds like fun, grandpa! Sign me up.”

The next day, grandpa shows his pass to the friendly Park Ranger at the West Glacier entrance to Glacier National Park, and finds a space for their car outside of the Apgar Visitor Center. “Here we go! Ready to hike and see the sights, Junior Ranger?,” Henry’s grandpa teases. The family speaks with Sally, a Park Ranger, inside the Apgar Visitor Center. Sally hands Henry the Junior Ranger booklet that will tell him about the different features of Glacier National Park, as well as ask him questions that he will need to answer correctly to earn the Junior Ranger badge. With his booklet and a pencil, Henry is ready for this new Montana hiking adventure. As Henry opens the booklet to the first page, he traces a numbered outline that shows how tall Shepard Glacier used to be back in 1913, and how it is smaller today. “Why is this glacier shrinking?,” Henry asks Sally the Park Ranger. “Well, Henry, the Earth’s temperature is getting warmer, which means some of the ice is melting.” Henry thanked Sally for the booklet, and headed outside for a day of fun in the Montana wilderness.

Henry and his family set out on their hike, where Henry was able to learn about the area and answer questions in his Junior Ranger training booklet. After some time, their hike led them to the prettiest place Henry had ever seen. He knew Montana was rugged and beautiful, but he had never before seen anything quite like Lake McDonald. Henry paused at the water’s edge to take in the beauty of his surroundings. The water appeared sky blue, and the snow capped glaciers and trees stunned and wowed all who hiked to see this place. The serene water felt icy cold when he dipped his small hands in the lake, so Henry didn’t feel like swimming. However, he enjoyed taking off his shoes and soaking his feet. “Henry, you’re not going to be able to feel your toes, if you don’t put your socks and shoes back on soon,” grandma warned. Grandma was always taking care of Henry and making sure he stayed warm and well fed. When the family was ready to leave, they made their way back to Apgar Visitor Center and Sally, the Park Ranger. Henry handed Sally his completed booklet. She looked at his answers, and gave him a high-five! “Great job, Henry! Congratulations, you are now a Junior Ranger!” Henry beamed with pride at his family when Sally pinned his Junior Ranger badge to his jacket. He smiled all the way back to his grandparents’ home.

Before Henry knew it, his summer vacation in Montana was over, as school at the junior high would be starting the following week. Henry and his dad needed time to get settled back into their routine in Arizona and shop for new school clothes and supplies. “We will miss you, dear boy!,” grandma said with a tear in her eye. Grandpa patted the top of his head and said, “Enjoy your new school. Be sure to call us and share about your first day. Your grandma and I will be anxiously waiting to hear all about it.” Henry hugged them tight and promised he would. When Henry and his dad climbed in the car, Henry felt sad as he waved goodbye.

When Henry’s first day of junior high school arrived, he spotted his pal, Johnny, by the lockers. “Hey Johnny! How was your summer?” Johnny told him that he had spent all day every day in the swimming pool and playing video games. “Sounds like fun. I helped my grandparents around their farm in Montana and became a Junior Ranger when we visited Glacier National Park! I’ve been learning more about glaciers ever since Sally, a Park Ranger, talked to me about them.” Johnny gave Henry a blank stare and shook his head. “A Junior Ranger? Glaciers? Whatever, dude.” Johnny abruptly walked away, heading for class. Henry had been so excited about his Montana adventures and his Junior Ranger badge; it never occurred to him that someone like Johnny, would think that his interest in glaciers was less than cool. Feeling hurt, Henry walked to his first class at his new school all alone.

“Who wants to share with the class something interesting that they experienced over summer break?,” asked Mr. Hoffman, Henry’s new English teacher. At first, no one raised their hand, so Henry decided to share about what he learned at Glacier National Park. He even showed his class the Junior Ranger badge that he had pinned to his backpack. Johnny laughed, and so the other kids started laughing at Henry too. Henry was devastated. He felt embarrassed, and spent the next few class periods hiding in the last row of every classroom. He couldn’t understand why his classmates thought his interests were so funny? When the lunch bell rang, Henry started walking towards the table in the lunchroom where Johnny and a few other boys were sitting. “Henry, what are you doing? Go sit somewhere else,” said Johnny. Now Henry’s feelings were really hurt. He had been friends with Johnny for a long time. He had no idea that going to junior high would change Johnny’s attitude about their friendship. “It’s not cool to act mean,” Henry said over his shoulder as he walked away.

Outside, Henry was able to find a place to sit and eat his lunch by a small tree. As he bit into his peanut butter and jelly sandwich, he noticed he wasn’t alone. A boy Henry didn’t recognize was sitting on a bench nearby. The boy smiled hopefully at Henry, so he decided to walk over and introduce himself. The boy stood up to greet him. “Hi, I’m Charlie. I just moved here from Wyoming.” “Awesome, glad to meet you, Charlie. I’m Henry. Isn’t Wyoming pretty close to Montana?” Charlie beamed at Henry. “Yeah, it’s pretty close. Here, come sit by me.” Henry moved his backpack next to Charlie’s. Henry’s eyes grew wide. He couldn’t believe what he saw pinned to Charlie’s backpack! Charlie looked at the surprised expression on Henry’s face, and followed his eyes down to see what Henry could possibly be staring at. “Oh, wow! You’re a Junior Ranger too?!,” Henry exclaimed. “Yes, I am! My parents take me to visit Yellowstone National Park every year. This year, since we were moving to Arizona, I finally decided to get a booklet and become an official Yellowstone Junior Ranger. That’s my Yellowstone Junior Ranger badge. Where did you get your badge?” Henry proudly proclaimed that Sally the Park Ranger had given it to him while he and his family were visiting Glacier National Park. “I like learning about glaciers. I think they’re pretty neat!,” said Charlie. It was that exact moment that Henry realized he no longer felt embarrassed or alone. He had found someone who shared his interests. “Come on Charlie, let’s go get a root beer.” Charlie jumped to his feet. “That sounds really good. Root beer is my favorite!” Henry grinned, knowing he and Charlie were going to get along just fine. Henry was grateful to have found a ranger buddy.