On My Own – Part 20

The timing of my transfer felt ideal back in March so I could keep my mind occupied while Daniel was overseas for business, but as the first couple months of my new assignment progress, along with the ebbing snow cover and increasing activity in the forest, I appreciate the gift of time between March and now to adjust to my new responsibilities and to get into a weekly routine.  Although, like Archie explained, it does become more of a monthly routine, but I expect it won’t be until summer starts to wane that I finally am noticing that trend.  Come Memorial Day weekend, I look back at my weekly activity logs for the preceding eight weeks and notice both the natural transformation and the development of my routine.

Week Ending April 7

Weather: warming, slightly above average

Road Conditions: US 14 passable to Granite Pass; FR snow packed

Activities: walked snow mobile trail x2 miles; spoke with campground hosts for Dead Swede/Tie Flume, arrival date anticipated as 22 May; North Tongue campground host anticipated arrival 24-25 May; and Sibley Lake campground host due 19 May; Prune Creek pending (left VM); full services available at Sibley Lake as of 17 May pending weather conditions; additional campground hosts to be identified/secured by w/e 4/30

Week Ending April 14

Weather: snow fall x2-3 days

Road Conditions: dependent upon plows along US 14, some clearing taking up to 12 hours

Activities: Spoke w/ Campground host for Prune Creek, confirmed arrival date 20 May; additional contact information for CGs pending; USDA required online compliance training started

Week Ending April 21

Weather: temperatures slightly below average; significant winds

Road Conditions: high-visibility vehicles not recommended

Activities: vehicle scheduled oil change; annual USDA online compliance training completed

Week Ending April 28:

Weather: light rain, overnight freezes

Road Conditions: some icy conditions on US14

Activities: contacted vendors to confirm dump station schedules; contacted garbage/recycling vendors for summer schedule; all campground hosts secured except Little Goose (no host anticipated), some contacts pending in the next week

Week Ending May 5:

Weather: heavy rain, significantly increased snow melt, temps slightly above average

Road Conditions: US 14 slick near Junction, FR muddy near paved access points, do not reco access until 3+ days drying

Activities: Attempted to access FR 26, not accessible to Woodcock GS, Dead Suede CG, FR 10 from US 14

Week Ending May 12:

Weather: mix of sun and light rain

Road Conditions: improving, US 14 remains clear to Granite Pass

Activities: plowing beginning on US 14A from BJ

Week Ending May 19:

Weather: mostly sunny, average temperatures

Road Conditions: most FR muddy due to snow melt; recommend caution to all teams when leaving paved roads

Activities: seasonal staff, campground hosts begin arriving; made plans to meet all arrivals;  begin weekly check-in at all campgrounds; assist with arrival, housing of fire crews as needed

Week Ending May 26:

Weather: primarily spring temperatures, some rain on 5/23

Road Conditions: 14A anticipated to open 5/29 pending weather maintaining current forecast; some muddy conditions remain, most FRs passable with 4WD/AWD

Activities: final preparations for beginning of camping season, Memorial Day weekend; assisted with arrival of seasonal teams, volunteers

Through the summer I put less content into the reports unless a situation of note arises since the busy, rote activities keep me from being as verbose as I was those first couple months.  The campgrounds swell with visitors, most of them plentiful with as much family chaos as adult refreshments.  Daniel continually reminds me that it’s best to presume that each campsite comes complete with firearms, which should keep every ranger, even without the formal title, reticent and vigilant.  Of course I’m aware, I just try not to think about it.  But with this many people in the mountains, it’s expected.

I adore the arrival of summer, now that I get to spend every day in the forest; I am spoiled.  I cannot be more thankful for the extra sets of hands that comes along with the season, especially now that I only need to check the vault toilets just two days a week.  My junior status as a forest technician means I rank on the bottom of any list that would identify who should train the seasonal staff, which also works to my advantage as I still spend a hefty portion of my time learning the job myself.  Beyond ferrying them into or out of the mountains from time to time, I do not spend much time developing the college students or retirees who arrive in May and depart by September, a few even sooner.  I occasionally work with the volunteers, but the training is less formal and more fluid to accommodate their preferences.  I can see myself volunteering like this in my later years.

“Never look a gift laborer in the mouth,” as Bonnie once said when I first started working with her, back in my earliest days in the office.  I don’t think she particularly valued their contributions as much as she wanted them to do the work she preferred to avoid.

As for the seasonal staff in our district, many of them have spent previous seasons with the Forest Service, and they bring with them enough experience that I offer little new insight.  Granted, I know this forest, but that does not give me more experience than knowing the roads and trails, which they can figure out with just a map in hand.

My priorities: learning my own responsibilities, establishing rapport with the campground hosts, coordinating my gear so I can complete all my tasks for the day with all my tools and equipment in my truck when I head into the forest each morning (and try to keep the truck a little neater than Archie did), just finding enough time to file reports, and if time allows, enter my payroll without being reminded so I get paid for my week’s work.  It’s not that I wouldn’t get paid, but I don’t need the office staff calling me on the radio and confirming my hours for the week so that everyone knows I fail to pay myself.  Given the opportunity, I can make myself look foolish enough without the whole forest knowing about it.

Managing the relationship between the families who own cabins on the forest and the USDA becomes one of my primary tasks throughout the summer.  Many of these properties have been in these families for generations, and as I introduce myself to the residents, I become acutely aware of Archie’s presence, and more appropriately, his absence.  Everyone I meet shares a story about Archie, and I come to miss him despite just our one week together.  It’s difficult to enforce all the rules and guidelines when I am just some new person in a green uniform, rather than the storyteller and family friend Archie became to many of these families.

Aaron guides me more frequently in the spring, but with summer comes a lengthy list of tasks that require his attention, and it falls to me to grab hold and own my job, to listen to instructions, and then go complete tasks independently, rather than my preferred observe-and-learn technique.  In fact, many of the skills I need are, thankfully, gifted to me through the unassuming lessons from Daniel.  I certainly don’t have the consistent accuracy with a chainsaw as my Lumberjack, but enough insights from him allow me to clear trails and fell leaning trees to protect the people recreating on the forest.  He taught me how to use each and every gear of the truck’s transmission to its full extent, which absolutely comes in handy when I find myself stuck in the slick, sticky springtime mud.

At times solitary, at times bustling, I discover differences in every day.  What remains constant despite the season and the crowds, and what fills me with joy wherever each task in the forest takes me, are the scent of pine, the sound of water flowing, and the glimpses of the distant peaks of the Cloud Wilderness.  I don’t get to enjoy the colorful sunsets, mostly because I fall asleep, exhausted, before the sun retreats, especially as late as those long days of summer stretch.  Nonetheless, I marvel in the simple beauties and find myself taking at least a handful of photos every day of the images of this habitat that brought me here initially.  Three years on, I continue to fall more in love with my forest.

I forgot what beauty I missed by staying confined to the office from nine to five, other than the knowledge which prepared me for this opportunity.  Whether a smelly toad stool or a butterfly hovering over bee balm along a path, even a distinct bloom of an invasive species, nature always catches my eye now that I am among it daily.  I am reborn continuously.

On an early June morning, shortly after I turn off the U.S. highway onto Forest Service Road 193, I spy a moose cow wading through a pond and her calf hesitantly dipping its hooves into the water behind her.  Knowing the list of responsibilities ahead for the day, I ought not to eavesdrop as long as I do, but I think about the life I used to have before moving to Wyoming and the life I now possess.  This feels surreal, and I find myself letting my mind forget that ever there existed a time that this wasn’t part of my daily tasks.  Granted, I don’t spy wildlife every day, but in keeping my distance from the momma moose within the security of my truck, I can protect myself from the threat of violence that a protective parent can inflict, yet enjoy this precious scene.  In my former life, I couldn’t protect myself from anything.

Once they are well into the water, I exit my vehicle – okay, the Forest Service’s vehicle – and wander through the cluster of trees touching each one as I pass as if to thank each of them for their cover.  This is my life now: each tree, including the one from behind which I stop to watch the mother and child stroll and splash, stands sturdily under my watchful Forest Service gaze.  Every animal deserves my care and attention.  Every road needs to be tended so others can safely reach this same spot and marvel in the idyllic moments the mountains give to their swath of Wyoming.  Every effort that can be made to care for this forest belongs in my hands and I live each day as if I am holding the evils of the world at bay, willing to guard against anyone who dare attempt to strike out against the flora and its habitants. How could there ever have been a time when I could not protect myself when I am capable of protecting all this?

NEXT: On My Own – Part 21


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