This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.

As we take time to reflect on 2020, there are a number of previously unimaginable ticks for our “What on Earth is Happening?!” bingo card. Between the pandemic, unexplainable monoliths in the desert, murder hornets, catastrophic wildfire, months of quarantine, and a wild election season, this year has really upped the octave when we tell people we’re doing fine, just fine, we’re fine.

But what about the beauty?

It’s easy to get lost in everything that didn’t go as planned, but there are many other unanticipated moments of beautiful success that we can’t forget. Some of these moments are so great that, dare we say, we’re almost grateful to 2020.

Think of those extra hours we were able to spend with our families, roommates, and pets — time that we otherwise took for granted and pushed to the back burner as we rushed through our days. Think about all of the new hobbies — the baking atrocities that gave way to beautiful breads and cakes, the colorful canvases and newly-minted Etsy shops, writing projects with the dust finally blown off, fresh mud on hiking boots as we rushed to our public lands for refuge. Think of all the moments where we found a new appreciation for life’s simple pleasures — a steaming cup of coffee in the quiet of the morning, star-filled skies at night, listening to your favorite track on repeat without shame, and rediscovering our own neighborhoods.

This year tested our patience, our tenacity and, at times, our sanity. But through it all, we found resiliency and continued putting one foot in front of the other.

As we close the book on 2020, we asked DNR staff to reflect on those moments of love and resiliency. Below, you will see stories about all the things that made us smile, laugh and filled our hearts with joy.

This has been a long, complicated, and often trying year. But one thing that has certainly made it a bit easier is that I’m blessed with co-workers I really enjoy. (And also a couple of ill-mannered tabby cats who have gotten far more lap time than they ever thought possible.)

– Kenny Ocker, Forest Practices Communications Manager

Bobby, Kenny’s cat, provides moral support during a day of working from home.

This year has definitely been a challenge.  Working from home started out really rough for me as I missed seeing my co-workers and chatting with them.  It felt rather isolating.  However, I shook that off and made a choice to focus on the positive and do things to bring me joy.  In March, I rescued a dog, but I am pretty sure he rescued me.  He is my constant companion and does not leave my side, he is living his best life and brought so much joy to my life.  My “office” is by my front window so I put bird feeders so that I can watch the birds and consequently, the squirrels, which is fine because they have to eat too.  I then placed a fish tank in my view so that I can gaze over at them.  I then focused on the fact that I no longer have a commute; I have gained so much of my life back that I completely forgot was there.  I see my sons more, I cook more, my laundry is caught up, I just simply have more time in the evenings.  I cannot forget to mention the most exciting thing that happened in 2020.  In May 2020, I married the love of my life.  Hopefully, at some point we can go on a honeymoon, but for now, we count our blessings and try to live life to the fullest enjoying every moment we have and do not dwell on what we don’t. 

— Rebecca Torrence, Executive Assistant, Executive Management Division

By forcing life to slow down, I think 2020 has given me (and many others) permission to be present without thinking about all of the other things I could or “should” be doing. I now pet my cats without thinking about ‘the next thing,’ watch movies with the family on a regular basis because there is no reason not to, and try fancy new recipes even though there is no particular reason to celebrate. I hope this mindset is something that will stick, long after we’re out of quarantine.

— Claire Seaman, 2020 Winter Communications Intern

2020’s silver linings are few and far between. But one thing I’ve been especially thankful for during this year of quarantining is my growing family. In early March, right before everything went sideways, my lovely now-wife and I were married. We’re expecting our first child in January – a bright light of hope for the new year.

– Thomas Kyle-Milward, Wildfire Communications Manager

With entertainment and gyms closed, I turned to our rec lands as an outlet. I bought a Discover Pass on the day recreation re-opened and spent time on the landscape – I even visited places 30 minutes from my home that I had never gone to before.

– Dena Scroggie, Agency Webmaster

I was blessed to sell my home in March and move back in with my very best friend for life. The timing could not have been any better because I signed the paperwork for selling my home on March 17th and was moved in at the same time we were asked to telecommute.

– Janet Pearce, Wildfire Communications Manager

The photo below is the evening of my first official day of teleworking with a one year old and three year old due to COVID-19.  After a very stressful day, we took an evening walk and I reflected on the joy they were experiencing.  My spouse, a stay-at-home-dad, was exhausted and resting at home.  Throughout the day, they could hear me talking on Skype, see me walking through the hallway — all while not spending every moment with them.  Since they were born, I’ve been the parent working outside the home and have made home time sacred time, dedicated to family. Their young minds couldn’t understand what was happening.  Since March, we have been able to redefine what home time, work time, and family time all look like.  Now I get to say good morning to both of them when they wake, we get to have lunch together, when I sneeze in my office they both yell from the playroom, “are you okay mom?!” and after lunch my three year old now routinely says, “I love you mom, go work well!”  This year has been a year of unexpected events, most of all I never expected to have made so many extra new memories and fun routines will my boys.

– Lydia Rumpel, Acting HRMS and Data Reporting Manager, Human Resource Division

After her first day of teleworking, Lydia took her boys out for some fresh air and a walk in the sunshine.

There’s no sugarcoating that this has been a harrowing year. But 2020 also gave me the chance to appreciate and connect with the things that I love the most – my partner, my cat, and our quality time together. I’m going to carry the hope we’ve given each other into 2021 knowing that we’ve come this far, and that we can make it through the other side now that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

– Darwin Forsyth, Deputy Communications Director

Looking back at 2020, my key reflections are that people are extremely adaptable and resilient and staying connected with family and friends is paramount!  We went from working in the office to working from home in an instant and IT rose to the occasion and made it happen.  FaceTime and Messenger have been a godsend in keeping me sane looking at my grandkids’ sweet faces and sharing a special moment with friends!  Oh, and having furry coworkers was helpful too!  May 2021 bring all of you blessings, health, and a bright future!

— Andrea Wagner, Administrative Assistant, Executive Management Division

I always planned my time outdoors around big challenges — picking the steepest terrain, the longest trails, the most Type-2 activities I could find. This year, I learned to slow down and appreciate the beauty a little bit more. I started going on hikes closer to home, ones I had ignored because they seemed too easy or boring, and trading high-speed resort days for snowy backcountry hikes to build my own jumps and practice technique. Little did I know, there’s a whole other world of adventure to be found in those little things. Even as things begin to return to normal, the skills I’ve gained in the strange times have made me a better outdoorswoman. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a monster. Remy and I are always tearing it up in the water, on the trail, and through the snow. But this year has me appreciating the power of subtlety.

— Sarah Dettmer, Social Media Manager

This year was rough. I admire people who can find the positive in bad situations, but I also really appreciated what Washington’s First Lady Trudi Inslee said during the Thanksgiving address: “It’s OK to not feel OK right now.” Seeing people show each other that compassion and understanding during a difficult year, as well as spending time outdoors and seeing friends and family virtually, were bright spots for me in 2020.

— Stevie Mathieu, Forest Health Communications Manager

I’m grateful to all the healthcare workers. They deserve a statue on each city’s plaza. I’m also lucky to have a job.

— Luis Prado, Graphic Design and Visual Communications Manager

I joined an amazing team of Executive Assistants – and leadership – in Executive Management this year shortly before COVID hit our community so hard. They have been an extraordinarily supportive & graceful group of women to navigate this incredibly difficult year with. My heart is full of gratitude for the new relationships that I have forged with them through this journey. As a small reward, I was blessed with one perfect bloom on my Christmas Cactus.

– Dena Howe, Executive Receptionist, Executive Management Division

Dena’s first bloom on her Christmas Cactus — just in time for the holiday season.

This year has been crazy, but I am thankful that we have the technology we do to help keep us connected while we stay safe at home. It’s incredible to think about how much more disconnected we would be if this had happened 15 years ago. I am happy to be home and healthy, even if I can’t always remember what day of the week it is.

— Paige DeChambeau, Recreation Communications Manager

I have always been an extremely busy person, someone who can fill their plate without much effort. This year, I discovered the value of slowing down and being present. It’s never occurred to me how much I was missing when I focused on completing the task instead of what I could learn from the opportunity. Since the beginning of the pandemic, I have started to place more emphasis on the “why” and the “how.” It has changed not only how I approach my work, but also how I approach other facets of life.

— Tatum Bartlett, Assistant Social Media Manager

A picture Rachel took while on assignment to the P-515 fire near Warm Springs, OR.

This is a photo I took of the P-515 fire near Warm Springs, OR. To me, this photo is a reminder of everything I learned while responding to wildfires in 2020 and how it has helped me through this year. Flexibility, patience, and finding positive outcomes from negative situations are just a few of the things I took away from this fire season that I’ve been able to apply in my daily life dealing with the pandemic.

— Rachel Noonan, Science Tech II, Washington Geological Survey

Last but not least, this final reflection is proof that joy comes from within us. We all have the ability to choose joy and to spread it so that others may also feel it’s warmth.

When we began working from home in March of 2020, it was quite an adjustment for us all.  We quickly noticed that our co-workers and friends were struggling to stay positive in the same ways we were. We didn’t really know what to do about the general malaise that was settling in. So we did what we do best…we got really ridiculous.

Betsy rocking the “bee” costume to a day of Zoom meetings in hopes of bringing a smile to co-workers faces.

It started out by wearing goofy costumes and hats to work to bring a little levity to meetings. We kept that up for at least a few weeks (okay, maybe more like a few months).

As we approached Easter, my husband (who annually plays the Easter bunny at egg hunts) felt really bad that children wouldn’t be able to see Mr. Bunny this year. So, we rented a convertible and donned the suit to have the bunny wave at kids all throughout Tumwater, Lacey, and Olympia.  We took location requests and had a live tracker posted online for families to track our location. Hundreds of families came out to wave at the bunny as we drove by. We had a lot of fun spreading the joy.

The Easter bunny making his rounds through town waving to families.

Our next adventure was a little closer to home. We decided to put a huge blow-up unicorn on our roof.  Then a “Hope” sign was added to the ensemble. By the end of May our house made it to the Thurston County Public Health and Social Services Facebook page. They posted, “Thinking of you today, Thurston County! Stay strong, stay hopeful. Be kind to yourself and your neighbors. This photo was taken in one of our local neighborhoods. We live in a unique place.” Many of our friends recognized our house and shared the post with us. It cracked us up.

The “Hope” sign and inflatable unicorn that landed Betsy and her husband a spot on the Washington State Department of Health Facebook page.

Through the summer, we consciously continued trying to spread the joy for ourselves and those around us. We had a lot of fun out hiking as a family. But, we also set up some socially distanced outdoor movie nights for a few neighbors at a time.

Then came Samhain (Halloween). This is always one of our favorite holidays and we needed to bring our A-game. In order to celebrate and still follow social distancing guidelines, we decided on a fun Ghostbusters theme.  We put a large Stay Puff Marshmallow man on our roof and set up a socially distanced way to give kids candy. We made a mechanical ghost with a doorbell at the street (hand sanitizer included). Kids would ring the bell and we would come to porch dressed as the Ghostbusters (wearing facemasks of course). With the press of a button, our friendly ghost would fly the candy out to the street.  Both kids and adults seemed to have a blast participating.

Now we are at the end of the year and, it’s “go big or go home,” I say. These past few months have seemed the hardest to keep our spirits up. We got a final blow-up to put on the roof, but my husband fractured his ankle trying to take down the marshmallow man. That led to a surgery, a metal plate, and 6 pins in his ankle. He kept telling everyone that he was going to have the doctor engrave the plate with, “I told my wife it was getting too dark to get on the roof.” So needless to say, no blow-up reindeer on the roof this year. Still, we just couldn’t give up on our end of the year ridiculousness. So, I got to work setting up a lighted adventure in my front yard. I started with just the reindeer and a few light up animals. Now I have a flamingo, cow, camel, donkey, chicken, goat, penguin, elephant, cat, hippo, dog carrying presents, a walrus family, a cow wrangling snowperson, a smiling star, a fun flag we designed ourselves, and a flying pig – then I cut myself off. 

After all this, we were still hungering for connection. We don’t have any family in Washington and this year that seemed to take an even bigger toll on us. So, we set up virtual holiday trivia nights with all of our different families and have been connecting over our private Zoom account.  This has been really fun for our family members, but we still felt something was missing. So, this past weekend, we started our most ridiculous idea yet.  We have been doing virtual caroling over Facebook messenger.  We have been making spontaneous video calls to friends we see active online and singing them a carol with karaoke accompaniment in the background. This has been the coolest experience so far. We’ve sang to old grade school friends and distant family members.  We even called the woman who fostered our dog, Valentine, before she was ours. And the response has been a lot of laughter and even a few tears. We hadn’t expected to touch so many people this year. But, in doing so, we have started to heal our own hearts just a little bit. This year we have realized that by giving a smile to others and trying to help them feel just a little better, we have also given ourselves a lot of hope and joy too.

— Betsy Vandrush-Borgacz, DEI and Development Manager, Human Resource Division

Our hope is that this piece brought a smile to your face, warmth to your heart and reminds you of that light at the end of the tunnel. In these final days of 2020, may you relish in life’s little moments and spread kindness to all those you encounter.

Happy Holidays, from our family to yours!