Natural Tunnel State Park. We hope you enjoy this as much as we did!
Stanford Daily and visitor Amanda van der Berg from South Africa at Natural Tunnel State Park
Gosh, where has the time gone? It's been a month since my last installment of "Ramblings from the Far Western Reaches of the Commonwealth" appeared on the commonwealth's very own, virtual outdoor-world: Virginia Outdoors online. In that time, an extraordinary event has taken place; I've been at a loss for words.
Perhaps it's been the oppressive heat and humidity these past few weeks that's had me lacking for words to put to, uh, paper. Maybe it's the sharp drop-off in attendance I've witnessed at the Blockhouse Visitors Center at Natural Tunnel State Park, as of late. Or, could it be the realization that peak season has nearly come and gone, and that my time here at the park is drawing ever nearer to a close? Whatever the reason, I simply haven’t felt inspired to write.
But wait minute, then why am I writing now? Has inspiration “struck up” behind me, once again? Forgive me, as my mind begins to wander aimlessly — to and fro.
A particular sadness, one I find hard to describe, comes upon me when I stop and consider, as a seasonal employee, not much longer will I proudly don the handsome attire of a Virginia State Park employee, five days a week.
Fleeting moments of fancy like the one I had recently when I caught a reflection of myself in my park uniform in a store-front window, will soon fade into the proverbial sunset of a bygone season. Distinct feelings of great pride in being associated with such a well-respected institution will not much longer be mine to share.
It's times like those I realize what an honor it is to wear the uniform, even if it is, as in my case, only for a short while. I trust those of you fortunate enough to wear one year-round, understand what a privilege it is. I envy you.
Prior to my employment here at Natural Tunnel State Park, I hadn't really given much thought to how the public would perceive me in a park uniform. Sure, I took heed to the strongly-worded suggestions given seasonal employees during pre-season orientation: take off your shirt before you stop off and pick up a six-pack of beer on your way home; keep your shirt tucked in at all times; always make yourself available to our guest; and so on, but I never realized how much respect simply wearing the uniform commands.
Though I try not to make a habit of it, I do occasionally stop on the way home from work for a sandwich or a few groceries, in uniform. When I do, I feel like people look at me differently than when I’m in “civilian” clothes. For starters, I get more "yes sirs" from folks. And while perhaps it is true that I am prone to delusions of grandiosity from time to time; I feel as though I receive more “attention” when in uniform in public, than I do otherwise. Perhaps it’s true what they say about a man in uniform.
Don't get me wrong, I’m not complaining. After all, membership does have its privileges, as I found out the other day when I stopped on my way home from work for a take-out burrito at my favorite Tex-Mex eatery. After ringing up my meal, the young lady behind the counter informed me that I owed her a mere three dollars and thirty-some-odd cents. Considering the same meal usually runs me in the neighborhood of $7, naturally, I did a double take. At which time, the young lady informed me that she had given me a policeman's discount. At which point, I pivoted my left shoulder around so she could read the Virginia State Parks, "marble" patch on my sleeve, thinking she would realize her case of mistaken identity. At which time, she informed me the discount would stand, citing that parks guys deserve a break, too. Discount standing, I promptly returned the courtesy extended me by placing the balance of my "policeman's discount" in the restaurant workers' tip-jar, err, boot!
Obviously, around the park, uniformed employees typically command a certain respect, oftentimes for doing nothing more than what they're paid to do. I’ve lost track of how many times this summer I've had visitors make it a point to thank me for merely showing them around the place, giving them directions, suggesting local attractions they might enjoy, and the like, which quite honestly, feels good. It's nice to be appreciated, and not something I take lightly.
Therefore, when someone goes above and beyond the typical accolades, as was the case with a visitor from Columbia S.C. recently, I find myself, again, at a loss for words. When the aforementioned visitor, Frank Hodges, asked if I would allow him to take a picture of me to add to his family's digital memories of their visit to the Wilderness Road Blockhouse and accompanying visitors center, I felt compelled to accommodate his wishes. How could I refuse a man who mistook me for a full-time employee, and went out of his way to thank me for showing him and his family around the place?
Two days later, he posted my photo on Facebook with the following caption: "Ranger Stanford Dailey truly made our tour of the Blockhouse and grounds special … we learned more in 45 minutes!! Very informative…made our day!" For which I graciously thanked him. And though I wasn't particularly fond of the way I looked in the picture, squinting in the bright, summer sky, I nonetheless, was very appreciative of his kind gesture.
Perhaps my fondest "uniform" memory of the season occurred one day when a frightened, young girl requested I, not her daddy, help her down the steep staircase of the blockhouse. Though awkward at first, her having chose me over her father to help escort her down the ladder-like staircase, in the end I felt honored that both her and her father entrusted me with such a noble task. As I gently took her hand, her sobbing began to subside, and the two of us carefully made our way down the stairs, at which time, we both beamed with pride at what we had accomplished, together.
Could it be that trust and respect for those in the park uniform, begins with the youngest of ones?