First off: let me say that I never expected to be here. Friends and family always knew how much I love our public lands and wild spaces in general, but it simply never registered for me that my career path could involve helping others to enjoy the outdoors while getting to experience the richness of our region myself!
After moving toward the natural sciences during my undergraduate studies at Central Washington University, I began the slow process of becoming more connected with the land and people in a professional setting; yet it didn’t fully click for me until I burnt out of an office job this past winter. I want to be outside. I want to smell the blooming lupine and the ponderosa as it heats up in the summer sun; and I want to be cold and tired in the morning and hot in the middle of the day as I work to improve trails for other users. And I want to be under that wonderful, constant assault of mosquitoes. Yes, you read that right.
What’s more, I want to converse with our community. So far, the most fulfilling work for me as a Public Lands Steward on the Entiat Ranger District has been contacting users in the backcountry. Whether we are giving someone directions, or laughing about a difficult section of trail or the dense clouds of bugs, or whether we are thanking other volunteers for their work, it is always a pleasure. Even those times when we have needed to educate users on closures and leave-no-trace principles, as seldom as they have come, have provided an unbelievable opportunity to connect with recreationalists and for me to improve my skills interacting with the public.
From slogging through deep snow early in the season and hiking long miles to bucking and brushing nearly impassable sections of trail, the hard work has never quite felt as such. The opportunity to simultaneously improve others’ experience and my own abilities has been enough to ease sore muscles and provide that extra energy to push through the last part of the day. And don’t even mention the views. Our mosaic of lush understory, harsh steppe, and violet mountain vistas quenched by the cool lakes and streams has provided food for the soul in such an overwhelming cliché that I am nearly embarrassed to talk about it.
So how could there be anything else to gain? It seems that this position has already offered me the chance to do what I love and to make a difference for others. But there is so much more that I want to learn. I want not only to improve my current skills but to become a sawyer, to learn new trail-building techniques, to help with fish and wildlife biology, to gain knowledge of forestry, to pack a mule, to understand how we fight and prescribe fires, and much more. Of course, the season is quickly waning and I surely will have more questions in October that I did when I began this journey, but I can certainly try my best. I hope to come out of this experience with not only the well-rounded skillset that will inevitably come from a half-term with AmeriCorps, but a newfound sense of direction. So here’s to another three months!