As I pull up to the trailhead I glance to the car alongside to take note of a “not all who wander are lost” sticker fixed to the listing bumper. Ambling out of my car I find myself thinking about all of our twists and turns that jostle us all along our respective journeys and how each step and every turn can change our trajectory as we wander down our meandering paths towards our closing destinations. Although I admit to being a bit of a wanderer myself--choosing at times to take a route less certain, more arduous and decisively unconventional--it’s the journey that ultimately shapes and defines us. That said, one end can always spur a new beginning. Isn’t that what change is all about?
Enter Frank Smith, a newly retired National Park Service cast-away, who after thirty years of stomping around the Klamath Mountains, took a final sip of coffee from his commemorative retirement mug, left it on a stump, and pushed off from Northern California in a beat up pick-up in quest of a quiet place to set anchor. Frank tied down a few possessions and with his dog riding shotgun, pointed his way towards a quiet seaside town in Mexico—a hasty yet purposeful decision, providing an opportunity to leverage his meager government retirement while enjoying a little post-sixty adventure. In the course of his wanders, Frank stumbled into a little fishing village, casting anchor at an unknown speck of a seaside town about an hour north of Vallarta. When Frank landed almost thirty years ago, the dusty, cratered roads were admittedly much slower, making trips to the “big city” far and few between. Frank backed the truck into the tall brush and hunkered in, fishing for food, poaching fruit, and growing a few vegetables. What he couldn’t hunt or forage, he bartered for.
Not long after his arrival, Frank was taking an evening stroll under the moonlight when he discovered a bale of sea turtles riding the surf ashore before paddling their way up the wet beach, laying their eggs and disappearing back to the sea. Before the turtles even had the chance to plunge back to the ocean, the local villagers were digging up the ping pong ball sized eggs for serving their families and peddling on the black market. The Olive Ridley Turtle egg was known region-wide as an exotic delicacy and as the eggs disappeared, so to were the sea turtles.
Frank worked the next thirty years educating the children and helping the locals understand that the ritual of eating turtle eggs was a misplaced and unsustainable custom. Frank’s strategy of working through the schools paid off and after years of efforts, only one out of ten nests are now lost to poachers. Frank found a new niche at age 60 and left a new legacy in a new place, achieving folk hero status in the little enclave of San Pancho. A plaque at the town’s entrance to the beach adorns his name, celebrating his turtle nursery and the millionth saved egg. Franks adventure south brought a new beginning, to him and a million turtles.
As you wander your way onto the trails and into your parks, know that each step may jostle a new direction--our respective journeys have a soul of their own.
Director, Skagit Coutny Parks and Recreation