- September 01, 2014
- Posted by Amanda Garant
“Alright…so now what do we do?” Kieren asks as we all pile out of the rig at our new worksite. “Now,” our project partner Caroline matter-of-factly responds, “we hike.”
And so we hiked.
The other crews in our region have spent all season hiking to their worksites. Collectively, they’ve probably trekked hundreds of miles, uphill both ways, while carrying billions of pounds on their backs (that’s a rough estimate, of course). But for us on the saw-crew, this was the first time we would be putting in any substantial mileage. Our hitches thus far have been super dynamic—we’ve thinned forests to reduce fuel for future fires, we’ve removed invasive trees from cottonwood stands, and we’ve cut down conifers that have encroached upon aspen groves. While it has been rewarding to perform these detail-oriented projects, we were all particularly excited to cover some distance during the next ten days. Personally, I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to trail work. Willow Creek, a multi-use trail in the Fairfield District of the Sawtooths, is absolutely beautiful. Heading north along the creek, the trail gradually gains elevation as it winds through open fields, aspen groves, and Ponderosa Pine forests. It is simply stunning. As I started hiking with my chainsaw resting on my shoulder, my boots tightly tied, and my head held high, I couldn’t help but feel like the luckiest person in the world. This is my job, and that is absolutely crazy.
When I’m running a chainsaw, whether I’m felling a tree or limbing up branches, my mind doesn’t have the chance to wander very far. It stays put: constantly present and always on guard. This makes sense, considering I’m wielding an overwhelming powerful and potentially deadly machine. But this morning in the Sawtooths was different. We had a four mile hike to our worksite, and during that time my thoughts were free to drift, shift, and move between moments of grand insight and moments of empty silence.
Whenever I hike in the Greater Yellowstone, I am always blown away by this breathtaking place that I call home. That first day in the Sawtooths, I let myself get lost in its beauty. The foothills shimmered with their golden, late-summer glow, and the blackened, harsh trees stood in stark contrast to the soft, quaking aspens that survived the recent burn. It would be a few hours before the sun peaked over the eastern ridge, but its rays already reflected brilliantly off the puffy, cartoon-esque clouds that made their way across our big, blue sky. With each breath, the crisp, cool, morning air filled my lungs, and in turn I felt the excitement and anxiety that comes with the changing seasons. Winter is just around the corner.
As I mulled over the idea that summer is ending, my eyes caught a glimpse of the bobbing yellow hard hats that peppered the trail in front of me. The sawdogs. Every day, I get to surround myself with such strong, competent, caring individuals. We share a level of comfort and trust amongst each other that is unparalleled with any other group of people in my life. As I watch them all walking in front of me, I find myself strolling down a memory lane filed with inside jokes that no one else in the world understands, 90s songs that we belt at the top of our lungs, delicious meals that we have eaten together, hardened muscles that we have earned side by side, and shared moments of awe in Montana’s beauty.
Slightly overwhelmed with feelings of gratitude, I put my head down for awhile and clear the air space. But soon my reflections turn to introspection. I notice my hands, covered in well-worn gloves and comfortably grasping a saw that used to terrify me but that now I use with competence and humility. I notice my feet, confidently avoiding rocks and roots as they carry me and my gear across the trail. Finally, I notice my body, strongly performing the tasks I ask, and asking only for appreciation and compassion in return.
As my emotions start to simmer, I intentionally shift my thoughts to something tangible. The trail. This, after all, is the reason why we drove eight hours from Bozeman. I think of the men who built this trail so many years ago, of all the crews who have fixed it during its lifetime, of our crew working right now, and of all of the people who will continue to maintain it in the future. I think of all the users that have ridden or walked on this tread before and I have hope that countless others will have the opportunity to do so in the future. I think of my role here now, and I am reminded of one of my favorite quotes by Wendell Berry, an author, poet, farmer, and activist. “What I stand for is what I stand on.” As a farmer in rural Kentucky, Wendell Berry is living a lifestyle that reflects his ideals and values. Although we are not growing food in rural America, the sentiment of his statement still applies. Walking and working on this public land, I am standing on the core of what I stand for. I believe in the importance of keeping these public spaces sacred and beautiful. I believe that people should have access to these places, but I believe that they, too, have a responsibility and a privilege to take care of our land. I believe in trail work as a respectable career, a worthwhile trade, and an invaluable public service. On a personal level, I believe in the importance of this place in my own life and I believe that my experience this summer will continue to impact me for years and years to come.
“Okay…so now what do we do?” My train of thought is jolted to a stop. We’ve come to a halt, and Kieren asks his question again. I look around at the hillside glowing in the late morning sun, at the smiling faces of my fellow crew members, and at the chainsaw in my arms. “Now,” Caroline matter-of-factly responds, “we work.”
And so we worked.
Post a Comment
(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)