2023 Land Stewards Field Note: Eamon McNeil

by | Field Notes, Land Stewards, LS 2023

During my time in Ukiah over the past few months, I have had invaluable time to reflect and plan in a peaceful, beautiful setting. I have made some lifelong friends and cherished memories, in addition to developing important career skills. Some of the skills I’ve been able to hone here are “hard skills” like carpentry and machine maintenance, while some “soft” skills are teamwork and leadership. I have appreciated the chance to familiarize myself with federal jobs and the process of acquiring them, not to mention the pros and cons to consider in my next career steps. I’ve loved the days in the field, and it has been quite a privilege to ride quads, UTVs, and dirt bikes while tackling projects alongside crewmates from diverse backgrounds.

Ukiah and the surrounding Umatilla National Forest are exceptionally pretty, boasting crystal-clear rivers, impressive peaks, and vast stands of ponderosa, lodgepole, and tamarack trees. More than one river, in fact, has naturally flowing water clean enough to drink. Just ask the hunters who have been frequenting the area for generations about the bounty the land has to offer—big game (elk, deer, and bears) thrives in this area. As an aspiring geologist, it has been fun to learn about the Tower Mountain Caldera, which is just twenty-five miles to the east, and collect the resulting rocks and minerals. My personal favorite is hundreds of little beads of obsidian (if translucent, considered “Apache Tears”) found in a particular road cut nearby. In the past 150 years, locals and Chinese immigrants alike have mined the area, especially near the town of Granite, hoping to strike it rich in gold and silver deposits. While working alongside the resident Geologist at the North Fork John Day (NFJD) Ranger Station, Paul Gennett, I have been able to visit active mining operations and interact with prospectors while learning about the site inspection process.

Moving forward, I am excited to have had this opportunity to grow and experience this somewhat novel location that I otherwise would not have known existed. I am thankful for the people I have met, and the lessons I have learned, such as sometimes it’s a blessing not to have cell service readily available 24/7. It makes it so that one must rely on verbal, face-to-face, old-school communication with people, which makes for more meaningful relationships than we have become accustomed to over the past years of virtual meetings and social media. Of course, it also just requires some people to plan ahead more and download content accordingly to prepare for those agonizing hours off the grid. I have wondered about the decision to take this internship, and more than once over the past few months, I debated leaving early. However, I stuck it out because of the high-quality people I was working with, the nature of the work we were doing, and an overall fun place for a guy like me to live and continue to find myself. It hasn’t always been easy or fun, but every day brings a few more reasons to appreciate it than to criticize it. I am thankful for my time here, and I look forward to nurturing its place in my heart by returning periodically and staying in touch with my many friends and the positive connections I have made here.

My next steps include but are not limited to returning to Portland to work and spend time with my family, as my son (six weeks old this Thursday) gets settled into the journey of life and needs all the support he can get. I look forward to spending time with him and eventually bringing him to Eastern Oregon, all the while finding a career that makes sense financially and lines up with my values and priorities. I am not sure if that will entail a position with the Forest Service or not, but nearly everything is on the table right now as I work through the application process for federal jobs and corporate jobs alike. I feel like this program has helped me develop
the professional skills necessary to put myself in a good position moving forward, both for myself and my family. The intentional career insights I have gotten from coworkers, stories I have heard, and firsthand experiences I have had this year have helped me grow significantly as a person, and I look forward to passing the torch in the future.