Public Lands Stewards: The Nerves are Gone, and Soon I’ll Belong

by | Land Stewards

Who isn’t nervous about their first day of a new job? Maybe a few people, but I don’t know them. I had a strong idea of what I was getting myself into with this position. I’m a Public Lands Stewards intern with Mt. Adams Institute (MAI), in partnership with AmeriCorps, volunteering with the United States Forest Service on a backcountry wilderness trails crew. My job is to help keep hiking trails clear for people to use and enjoy by cutting out fallen trees and overgrown plants in the path. Who would have thought so much work really goes into the trails we hike? I drove to Washington, 3000 miles from home to an area I’ve never been for an orientation with MAI and 10 other interns scattered throughout Washington and Oregon. We bonded for five days, completing a service project, playing kickball and hiking together, before leaving for our different positions. Saying goodbye to the only people I know in this state left me a jumble of nerves. It’s not easy to leave behind familiar comfort for the unknown, but it can be an enriching experience.

With the Forest Service, I’m living on their compound. My two-minute commute on foot is one thing I do not worry about. Learning names and fitting in are another matter. Bright and early Monday work begins surrounded by seasoned Forest Service vets in full uniforms. My skinny jeans, I realize, do not blend in. Thankfully this is the day I take the defense driving course with only four other people. I can slowly acclimate to the new position a little at a time. I’m also shown the uniform locker and am able to fix that problem. Tuesday I show up again, perhaps physically more relaxed but mentally doggy paddling in the deep end. I spent the week helping prepare campsites for public use. While not my job, the first week of the season is hectic and we need to be flexible with the process. I learned a little more about how the campgrounds are cared for in the process. I’ll never see learning something new as a bad thing. That would be a sad day.

By week two, I made it to my trails and my heart is content. I’m turning corners to stare out into ravines with mountains on either side. In the great distance I see a snow capped peak, surrounded by a cloud. It took me three guesses to identify that cloudy beauty as Mt. Rainier. This is nothing like my home of New Jersey and I love it. To be specific about my job, I work on non-motorized trails. There are also motorized trails people who ride dirt bikes. The two groups are currently working together for reasons beyond my pay grade. Also beyond my pay grade are schedules. We ‘know’ what the plan is each week, but in a much more real sense, we have no idea what the plan is. Any day can be a fun surprise. Chances are we’ll be hiking four miles up a trail to cut out logs we find and trim back encroaching plants. My most recent trail had twelve large trees down within two miles, one of which will require dynamite to remove. It’s HUGE. Yeah, I also can’t wait for us to return for that project.

I find routine helps me relax mentally when I’m in a new position. I read every night; watch a few TV episodes, and journal. Two weeks in I have made my new room my sanctuary. I can come back after a whirlwind day to that space which is mine. Where I know what will happen. By now, I can put in the office door code on the first try and greet people by name. I know where our tools are kept and, best of all, I have a uniform. The nerves are gone, and soon I’ll belong.