For Climate Action, the best advice my mother gave me.

Brian Ettling with his mom Fran Ettling. Photo taken on his wedding day to Tanya Couture in St. Louis, Missouri on November 1, 2015.

‘All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel Mother’ – attributed to Abraham Lincoln.

What should I do with my life? This is a question I have pondered my entire life. I am 55 years old, and I still struggle to answer that question.

This question was on the forefront of my mind when I graduated from high school in 1987. I attended Oakville High School, located in a suburb in the southern part of the St. Louis, Missouri. My senior year of high was extremely busy with going to school full time, including two college level classes. I worked part time as a cashier at a self-serve gas station. I played clarinet in my high school symphonic band and alto saxophone in the jazz band. I participated with my high school speech and debate program in extemporaneous speech contests, plus I was involved in the chess club. I don’t remember getting much sleep my senior year.

On top of that, I needed to pick a college to attend, and I had military and college recruiters frequently contact me. It was overwhelming to me. In the spring of 1987, I felt so stressed out that I decided to delay starting college for a year so I could catch up on life. Even more, I needed more time to try to determine where to go to college and what I wanted to study in college.

By the summer of 1987, I looked forwarded to a family vacation to see the western part of the United States. My parents had a Marriage Encounter convention to attend in Denver, Colorado. The convention took place on the campus of University of Colorado Denver. While my parents attended the convention, there was not much for younger sister, Mary Frances, and for me to do. I probably entertained myself by reading books and watch TV. I would soon be 19 years old in July and my sister was about three years younger than me. We always got along well, and we might have played card games while waiting for my parents to finish this weekend convention.

Like my parents, my sister and I stayed in dorm rooms on the college campus. I remember walking up and down the stairs from our room to the cafeteria for meals with a big window looking out into the world. The window had a great view of the front range of the Rocky Mountains that towered over the city of Denver. We don’t have high jagged peaks like that in Missouri, so I stared at those mountains a lot. I took photos to try to capture my first views of a mountain sunset. I wanted to see the mountains up close so bad that I wanted was counting down the days and minutes when we would go see them after the convention.

Photo by Brian Ettling of the sunset on front range on the Rocky Mountains taken in Denver, Colorado in the summer of 1987.

On the Sunday afternoon when the convention was over, we drove from Denver to Estes Park, Colorado to spend the night. Estes Park is the gateway community to Rocky Mountain National Park. It is located right next to the park entrance. On that Monday morning, my parents decided we would meet up with a retired couple who attended the convention, and they would take all of us to see Rocky Mountain National Park inside their massive RV. I looked forwarded to this drive because the RV was a higher clearance vehicle. We would be sitting higher than my parents’ blue wooded paneled station wagon. I was excited because this RV would give us a more bird’s eye view of Rocky Mountain national park.

Just one small problem. We woke up on that Monday morning to rain, dreary overcast skies with no views of the Rocky Mountains. After anticipating this day for months to see the Rocky Mountains, I felt crushed. The retired couple and my parents decided that we would still drive up to the visitor center at the top of Rocky Mountain National Park on Trail Ridge Road. The thought was, ‘You never know. It might just clear up at some point today.’

It never did clear up. It rained for the entire time. It was not an enjoyable day to see or experience the outdoors. The older couple, especially the woman, kept commenting over and over again about the blah weather by shaking her head and repeating, ‘I am so sorry. I am so sorry. What a shame.’

Her heart was in the right place since she felt how badly I wanted to see the mountains. However, she kept repeatedly saying that. I just wanted to yell at her to knock it off. I might have even told her to not keep saying that at one point. By the time we got to the Alpine Visitor Center, near the highest point on Trail Ridge Road, it seemed like a wasted day.

I asked my parents if the four of us could return tomorrow, since our itinerary on this trip was loose, and they agreed. The next day, we went up Trail Ridge Road again. This time, it was mostly cloudy and we had much better views of the mountains. We drove up to Alpine Visitor Center. For the first time in my life, I saw patches of snow on the ground in the middle of summer. It felt frigid and windy up there! I wore my summer wind breaker jacket and jean jacket over my summer shirts to try to stay warm.

From the visitor center, we hiked uphill on the Alpine Ridge Trail. The trail is around a half mile round trip and climbs over 162 feet from the visitor center to the top. At the summit, a wooden sign stated, “12,005 feet above sea level and higher than Oregon’s famed Mt. Hood.”

Brian Ettling at the top of the Alpine Ridge Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. Photo taken in the summer of 1987.

I had never been to Oregon, but the sign still sounded impressive. We came from St. Louis, which is around 500 feet above sea level. Our family wondered what Oregonians thought of that sign. The sign seemed to mock Oregonians and Mt. Hood. Apparently, Oregonians didn’t like it. Years later, the sign was replaced to now read “Elevation 12,005 feet above sea level.”

I had to get my photo by this sign, wearing my fancy brown cowboy hat, cowboy boots, blue jean jacket and blue jeans. I looked like a wannabe cowboy from the St. Louis suburbs trying to blend in the west. Heck, growing up in the 1970s and 80s watching the TV show Dallas and listening to Willie Nelson on the radio, I thought that’s how people dressed out west.

I was ecstatic to have his panoramic view of the mountains from the Alpine Ridge Visitor Center. My excitement clearly showed because my mom leaned over and commented to me, “I think you should get a job working in a national park.”

I was floored when she said this. Up until that moment, I did not know that one could work in a national park, let alone me. I did not think I had the experience to work in a national park. At that time, my only jobs had been working at a Dairy Queen and as a cashier at a self-serve gas station. My mom assured me that I could work in a national park if I set my mind to it. I wondered then if my mom said because she wanted me out of the house and making my own way in the world.

When I recently shared this story with my mom, she remembered the story differently. She recalled giving me that advice not at Rocky Mountain National Park. Later during this same vacation out west, we stopped at the south rim of the Grand Canyon National Park for a couple of hours in the afternoon. I was astonished to the Grand Canyon for the first time. My mom insists that is when she recollected giving me that advice.

In between traveling from Rocky Mountain National Park to the Grand Canyon, our family made a big loop on this road trip. We drove through Wyoming to spend a couple of days in Salt Lake City, Utah. We spent a day in Las Vegas and visited Hoover Damn. During this route, we drove through Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks in Utah. We were all amazed at the dramatic scenery in visiting these national parks. Even more, my mom saw clearly how delighted I was there and going for short hikes to explore these parks. By the time we got to the Grand Canyon, it makes sense that my mom may have given me her advice to work in a national park there.

Brian Ettling at the south rim of the Grand Canyon. Photo taken in the summer of 1987.

In fact, I was so jubilant to see these national parks and this fabulous western scenery that I kept losing my sunglasses. I lost track, but I misplaced two to three pairs of sunglasses on this trip, to the chagrin of my mom and dad.

Regardless of where my mom gave me that advice to work in a national park, it stuck in my mind like super glue. During my four years attending William Jewell College in Kansas City, Missouri from 1988 to 1992, I kept thinking about my mom’s advice. Every year in college, I saw a recruiter from A Christian Ministries in the National Parks (ACMNP). The recruiters encouraged college students to apply through them for summer concession jobs to work in the national parks and then volunteer to lead interdenominational church services on the weekends.

Every year in college, I applied to work for ACMNP. Every summer they offered me a job working in a national park. Every year, I had some excuse to turn them down. I didn’t want to miss a family vacation, the national park was too far away, the park job needed me to stay until Labor Day and my college started before Labor Day.

Months before I graduated from college in 1992, I decided to work in a national park for the summer. I chose Crater Lake National Park in Oregon because I had never been there. To my surprise, they offered me a job in the gift store. The beauty of the deep blue lake and the surrounding mountains, hiking on the mountain peak trails, the friends I made, and the enjoyment I had working in the gift store were all an ideal fit for me in the summer of 1992.

Brian Ettling at Crater Lake National Park. Photo taken on November 3, 1992.

I ended up working 25 years in the summers at Crater Lake. For over 20 years, I was a seasonal park ranger at Crater Lake. For several summers, I worked as a ranger collecting fees at the entrance stations. From 2006-2017, I worked as a naturalist/interpretative ranger at Crater Lake narrating the boat tours, leading guided hikes, and giving evening campfire programs.

In the winters, I ended up working 16 years in Everglades National Park from 1992 to 2008. I loved every minute of working in the national parks and giving ranger talks. My love of the national parks led to an interest in taking action to reduce the threat of climate change. However, I was uncertain what to do with this new passion for my life. In November 2009, a friend Naomi Eklund challenged me directly with the question “What do you really want to do with your life?”

I responded, “Fine! If I could do anything, I would like to be the climate change comedian!”

Naomi nearly fell out of her chair laughing. She responded, “That’s great! I want you to go home to grab that website domain name right now!” I then went home and did just that. A family friend helped me then build my website in April 2010.

I then had to figure out what I was going to do with this title and website to start marketing myself as The Climate Change Comedian. During the winter of 2014, I started creating goofy YouTube videos with my wife (then girlfriend) Tanya and my mom, Fran Ettling to promote me as The Climate Change Comedian.

I wrote the script for these videos. My Mom was hilarious playing the overbearing mother. I attempted to be funny in these videos, and my mom would say this tag line that I created, “You are not that funny!”

Friends and people that I barely knew would remark after watching these videos, “Your mom is so funny!” They did not seem to realize at all that I wrote these lines for my mom to say.

These short YouTube videos that I did with my parents and Tanya caught the attention of Comedy Central’s Tosh.o TV show. In April 2016, a producer of the show called me to invite my Mom and I to fly to Los Angeles, California to do a comedy segment with the show’s host, Daniel Tosh. Our comedy segment first aired Comedy Central on August 2, 2016, it was called “The Climate Change Comedian – Web Redemption.”

Tanya, my mom, and I had a blast taking that quick all expenses paid trip to Los Angeles to appear on a video sketch for the TV Show Tosh.o. The TV appearance paid handsomely. My Mom’s check was so big that she used it to pay for an expensive dental bill. We still receive random residual checks from the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) or the full name Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA). They send us checks each time this episode of Tosh.o airs on TV in the United States or even other parts of the world.

I am so thrilled that my Mom got to participate with me in my climate organizing and to even get paid to be on television with me. My Mom and Dad worked hard and paid for so many things in my life. It felt like a blessing to me to help my Mom get this paid gig and receive occasional residual checks. Even more, after the August 2016 episodes aired on Tosh.o, my mom would go up to young men and women in their early twenties (the target audience for Tosh.o) and say to them, ‘Have you seen the TV show Tosho.o? I was on that show recently!’

The young people were surprised and impressed when my mom mentioned this to them. A few people, including her dentist, even recognized my mom on TV. That amazed me because my mom only had a brief 10 second appearance on the TV show! It seemed like more people spotted my mom on this TV appearance than me. I was so happy for her that she got to shine to be on national TV doing a moment of comedy at the age of 76 years old.

I think this path for me to become a climate organizer and The Climate Change Comedian started when my mom advised me back in 1987 to work in the national parks.

By 2017, I quit working in the national parks to become a climate change organizer, which I am still trying to do today. The national parks led to my passion for climate and now democracy organizing to try to make a difference in the world.

In recent years, my mom has encouraged me to write a book about my life. She even gave me a book a few years ago, On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction by William Zinsser. I have not read the book yet. For me, my highest priority is to write as much as I can right now so I have enough material to put together a book. I still planning on reading this book my mom gave me as I strive to create an autobiography or memoir about my life.

Who knows what I would have done with my life or would be doing today if my mom had not given me the best advice in my life to go work in a national park. It got me out of the house to see the outdoors and try to make a difference in world. Heck, I might not even be writing this blog on this website here today.

Thank you Mom!

Brian Ettling and his mom Fran Ettling in front of the British Columbia Parliament Building in Victoria, Canada on August 26, 2022.