How a former Yosemite park ranger creates a sense of place

Farrahn Hawkins on cultivating a sense of belonging and connection

Farrahn Hawkins is a self-described “community and economic development enthusiast” who enjoys helping people achieve their life goals through education and the lens of nature. A former park ranger at Yosemite National Park and now based in Baltimore, Maryland, she spends a lot of time volunteering to help youth and young adults root themselves in community and place. Not only that, but she also recorded a Christmas album to help us cozy up with warm feelings as we stay home for the holidays. We caught up with Farrahn for a quick chat to discuss what it means to her to develop a sense of place, which can also be defined as a sense of belonging or a connection to a place. Stay tuned in the new year as we explore this topic further.

Image of a Black woman National Park Service ranger in uniform framed by yellow foliage in the foreground and foliage in the background
Farrahn Hawkins is a former ranger at Yosemite National Park and continues her work in community and economic development. Photo: Kim Grossman


Leslie Parra: What is your connection to the coast redwoods/giant sequoia?

Farrahn Hawkins: After completing my graduate school program at Western Illinois University in Economics, I discovered a position at Yosemite National Park as a Park Ranger. This position opened my eyes to a whole new world and respect for nature. I remember the day I was introduced to the giant sequoia: the fact of the matter is that these magnificent beauties are simply breathtaking. Large does not come close to conveying the magnitude of these trees. They make me feel incredibly small. I was lost in a world of wonder and wanting to share what I had seen with everyone I knew when I first saw one. Most of the people in my circles of life hadn’t visited national parks before, the concept was foreign.

I was in the midst of a ranger training when I had the opportunity to visit Wawona where the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias live. I remember thinking that if one of the branches from the giant sequoia was to fall, there would basically be a full-on earthquake. Words do not do the sequoia justice. They need to be seen in person.

A Black woman stands in front of a giant sequoia tree with a basal hollow in its trunk, logs on the ground, and more trees in the background
Farrahn visits the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias for the first time.


LP: What does it mean to you to create a sense of place? And how has your sense of place had an impact on you in the face of all of the events of this year?  

FH: In order to create a sense of place it is important to find your sense of community and belonging. When people feel like they are wanted or needed then your sense of place has been formulated.

The way that I create a sense of place, in my world, has everything to do with the people. Usually it begins with a job, then it branches off into many veins consisting of programs, volunteer groups, etc. People are welcoming and normally friendly which makes it easy to assimilate.

For the majority of the pandemic, I have had the fortunate circumstance of residing in a very remote area, where people weren’t brutally impacted by racial injustice, economic issues, etc. I most recently moved to Baltimore where the impact has been more evident. I am not yet well integrated into my community due to the pandemic, however, it will come. I hope to be the vessel to lessen the blow of any strife my community may encounter.

LP: Tell us about your Christmas album. What inspired you to make it? How did you make it, and who did you collaborate with?

FH: I have to give 99 percent of the credit to Mary Ley, my producer. She owns a music studio in Oregon, Illinois, called Aireloom Music Studios.

I like to stay busy and found myself taking voice lessons for fun. Mary asked, soon thereafter, if I would like to produce a Christmas album and I agreed. Christmas is definitely my favorite time of year and my favorite music selection. I listen to and sing Christmas songs all year long. Most of the time people are baffled by the Christmas tunes stuck in my head during the spring, summer, and fall months.

LP: What are your parting words for 2020? And what are you looking forward to in 2021?

FH: Goodbye and good riddance, 2020! Hello, 2021!

I am looking forward to pursuing a few community and economic development/civic engagement endeavors. Additionally, I am hoping to spend March 17th, my 30th birthday, in Cuba and enjoy some Latin music, dance, and culture. I am looking forward to financial stability and conquering some serious student loan debt, too!

About the author

Leslie Parra is Outreach Program Manager for Save the Redwoods League. She has garnered significant recognition for her leadership in community civic action, STEM and environmental education, and diversity, equity, and inclusion work over the past 15 years. Her professional calling is to cultivate enrichment programs with multicultural and international perspectives, driven by and in collaboration with communities. During her free time, she loves to go hiking with her partner Eric and their dog Mishqui (which means “sweet” in Quichua, the native language of Ecuador—a place she calls home).

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