One can engage in few activities more rewarding than meaningful labor done willingly. That is the core of public lands stewardship.
I grew up playing in the woods and creeks of western Pennsylvania, but sometime in my teenage years, I lost my connection to the land. After bouncing from one unfulfilling office or retail job to the next for nearly ten years, I decided I needed to rediscover that connection. I needed to do something that matters. That is what led me to the Mount Adams Institute.
I’ve been a visitor to public lands all my life, especially in the last few years, and it’s important to me that I’m able to support public lands directly through this internship. I hiked more miles in pursuit of work last month than I have recreationally in any single year prior, I believe. I get to enjoy these spaces as I would on my own time, while maintaining them for future visitors. It is a way to give back.
Western Pennsylvania is a land of hills, but they are nothing compared to the mountains of the West. And the ecosystems are so vastly different. It’s a privilege to have the chance to learn about the ecology of pine forests, and the predator-prey relations between species that have been extirpated from my home forests, like gray wolves and mountain lions. I have encountered neither species thus far, but I have found sign, and even heard the distant, haunting howl of a lone gray wolf, an experience I will never forget.
Learning about crosscut saws and axes and traditional forestry techniques is a privilege as well. I am a hobby woodworker, and I’ve always preferred hand tools, but it’s important to preserve these low-impact methods of forest maintenance and cultivation. I read the US Forest Service’s ax manual cover to cover, and it was eye-opening to begin to understand how complex the ax really is, despite seeming so simple. I’ve built two axes and a pulaski since arriving in May– and intend to build more.
I look forward to everything else I will learn in the second half of this season. I hope to participate in some silviculture projects, and maybe even spend some time with a wildlife biologist. I look forward to the miles of trail I’ve yet to cover, and I will relish the precious few steps I’ll take on level ground.