Having pulled into Port Angeles in my mom’s old Jeep Renegade—the first car I’ve ever had that wasn’t older than me—I stood outside my home-away-from-home for the next 20 weeks and looked to my right, admiring the crinkled cobalt mountains cresting the wispy white surface of the ocean. Then I stopped and thought aloud: “Wait, is that Canada?”

My name is Erika Khosrovian. I was born in Klagenfurt, Austria as a refugee, but with the exception of that first year and a half, I’ve lived in Washington my whole life. I’m studying Molecular Biology and Creative Writing at the University of Washington and—much to my surprise and delight—I’m engaging the public this summer as the Astronomy Assistant at Hurricane Ridge in the Olympic National Park.

Growing up in Snoqualmie Valley fostered my attachment to the outdoors, but my family has never shared my love for nature and adventure. This means that at the ripe age of 22 I still haven’t explored very much of this beautiful region I call home. I knew intellectually that Port Angeles rests on the Strait of Juan de Fuca, nestled comfortably between its beaten silver expanse and the glacier-peaked mountains 18 miles to the south, and that Victoria, Canada is to the north. But no one bothered to mention how close it actually is!

When one learns they have three weeks of training to finish before they start working, they picture one of two things: 50+ hours of excruciatingly dry PowerPoint presentations in a white-walled office or running through humid fields while a particularly robust man hollers behind them. Idyllic lunch at the top of a destroyed dam, watching the sun filter through the leaves of young trees reclaiming the land they’d been barred from for a century isn’t quite it.

[The view standing from the remains of the Glines Canyon Dam, which was removed in 2014, at the Glines Canyon Spillway Overlook on the Elwah River. The bright green foliage is all six-year-old trees whose current location was formerly covered by the reservoir.]

Neither is coffee under trees dripping with moss and lichen like a million wind chimes ringing in a frequency so low you can only feel it.

[The Hall of Mosses at the Hoh Rainforest—the only rainforest in the US!]

I’ve been brought into the fold of the park’s seasonal interpretive rangers this summer. Turns out they’re a very logical bunch who believe the only way to learn about a park is to, well, go to the park.

[The interp crew in a beach hut on the Elwah river delta, having been set loose to “go play”. Left to right: Montana, Kat, me, Andrew, and Josh]

We wrapped up our million-acre crash course at the end of the first week with a drive up to Hurricane Ridge. An 18-mile road climbing 5,000 feet is no joke and my ears (now acutely sensitive since I went skydiving for my 22nd birthday) felt every inch of it.

 Said drive is a switch-back open to the valley on the left—where gentle green mountains roll with the kindly wrinkles of an old woman’s face—and barricaded by 65-million-year-old lava rock formations on the right, beautifully preserved since the day they were born in the Pacific Ocean. 

[The Olympic Peninsula, looking south. The orange circle is Port Angeles (with the Port Angeles Visitor Center) where I’m staying. The blue star is the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center]



At mile marker 11, you can see how they bubbled up under 12,000 feet of prehistoric waves (left)… 

…and at mile marker 16, you can see how they tilted to their side before folding under the immense weight and pressure of a world irrevocably altered (right).

The way the road winds means you don’t see Hurricane Ridge until you’re already there. You slowly turn that last, sharp corner and the sight in front of you steals all the air from your lungs. Normally the Bailey Range, which spans the horizon in peaks that look as if they were formed by the haphazard work of an ax, is visible from every window in the Visitor Center. If you’re lucky you can even see the top of Mt. Olympus peering over it. But on that day, the entire bottom half of the building–including all its windows–was buried in snow. Spring didn’t make much of an appearance this year in the Pacific Northwest, so for all intents and purposes May was very much still winter in the alpine meadows. The elements glowed pristine and barely touched, the way they must have all the time long before any person had ever laid eyes on them.

[Hurricane Ridge during my first visit in May. The snow was 7 ft high!]
[Hurricane Ridge at sunset in July]

Standing there, the soft wind biting my cheeks, I realized that this is where I will see the Milky Way for the first time. This is where I will help set up telescopes bigger than I am to point to the stars and tell hundreds of people the story of our existence. This is where I will see the first photos from the James Webb telescope and find that small, millimeter-sized dot in the sky where hundreds of galaxies circle, drawn into each other’s orbit like I’m drawn into one of my own, forever tidally locked with Mt. Olympus. 

But until the astronomy program officially begins, I’ll content myself with golden hour on my fire escape, waving goodnight to Vancouver Island instead.

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