Acting in Yosemite II: sunburns & bowtie Fridays

An ongoing camp diary by Portland-based actor and "rookie ranger" Phillip J. Berns.

Actor Phillip J. Berns has nabbed a pretty spectacular summer gig playing a park ranger in educational shows at Yosemite National Park. We’ve asked him to periodically write home and update us on his wild adventures. Last week , his exaltations of nature practically channeled Thoreau. This week, he gets more…down to earth.





“Every new adjustment is a crisis in self-esteem.” Eric Hoffer


ADJUSTMENT. I don’t mind telling you all that I’ve had one heck of a time writing this piece. I’ve started and restarted it at least a half-dozen times, probably more by the time it gets online. I want to say something profound and clever about Adjustment, how it’s changed me in profound and clever ways, or made me discover something about myself that I never knew, or SOMETHING. 

I feel as though I owe you an apology, dear reader. Firstly for the tardiness of this article, bust mostly because my first post was somewhat misleading. Oh, I never lied or even exaggerated unnecessarily, but rather highlighted only the good parts of my experiences so far. I made it seem as though the entire trip has been nothing but sunshine and sunflowers. But the truth is that there are no sunflowers in The Valley, and the sun has given me some nasty burns. Instead of being the quintessential, perfect working vacation, these first 40 days have been a period of extreme adjustment. And I’m terrible with adjustment.

Because here’s the thing about Adjustment: it sucks. It’s hard and frightening and unforgiving and unrelenting and it just sucks. It is, by definition, adapting to a new set of circumstances; letting your situation define who you are and who you’ll become. 

So what did I do? I, who enjoy things like bow ties and bowler hats, like the openings of shows or restaurants, like classic cocktails and fancy cigarettes at least 10 feet from the door of some fundraiser for god-knows-what that I somehow got tickets to. What did I do to Adjust? 

First, I clung.  I held onto those things like a burr on corduroy. $16 for a martini at the bar? Sure! Only one hour of computer time a day? An outrage! What do you mean you don’t sell Carpano Antiqua? 

This was, obviously, an unsupportable lifestyle, both financially and mentally. Within my first week here I had a few very low days, days in which I’d ask myself whether I made the right decision, whether I could do this for three and a half months; which is when I swung the other way.

Showers? Don’t need ‘em! Softball? Sign me up! Sunscreen? Do I look like an infant? 15-mile hike? Bring it! This is Yosemite! This is the Wilderness! Let my hands become callused and my feet remain forever sore with the ache of Discovery! I am Galen Clark! I am John Muir! I am Nature Herself! 

This, not surprisingly, did not last long either. Oh, I still play softball every week for the Dugout Dougs (Go Dougs!), have grown accustomed to the taste of cheap malt liquor, and just recently went on a 16-mile hike that was really quite astounding. But I also still wear bow ties on Fridays, wear sunscreen, and take showers on a regular basis. Murren and I even have periodic movie nights, usually some over-the-top action flick a la Lethal Weapon (for the record, 2 is much better than 3, and the Employee Wellness Center only has 2 and 3 so send more Lethal Weapon!). The point is, I have learned balance in this place. I have learned to Adjust.

I mentioned in my first article that I’ve seen this trip to Yosemite as a sabbatical, a chance to grow and change into a better actor and person, to reconnect with myself and the Natural World. To that end, I’ve been constantly looking for that change, for some empirical evidence that progress is being made. A silly thing to search for, I know, but how could I not? My biggest fear was – and still is to some extent – that I will return to Portland older, but not wiser. 

It wasn’t until quite recently, as I was looking at my arms, which now have a delightful farmer’s tan, that I made the connection between my physicality and my mental, emotional, and spiritual state. I didn’t notice my arms getting more tan, but one day I happened to glance down and, well look at that! Like the melanin in my skin, I don’t notice myself changing at all, but when I reflect on these past 40 days, I notice that I do see things slightly differently. I mean, the fact that I’m taking time to reflect at all is a good sign, right?

So, yes. Adjustment sucks, but it is also incredibly important. Sometimes you don’t realize that you need to change certain aspects of your life until you’re forced to, until you get the opportunity to step away from that life, and look at it as through a window. So far, I like what I’ve been seeing, but I’m also still cleaning that window to get a better view. I’ll let you know how that works out for me.

I’ll see you all in September, until then, I remain, 


Your humble fake Ranger, 

Phillip J. Berns



CHILD: My mommy’s name is Mommy.

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