The past two summers I’ve been working with the United States Forest Service in one of the largest back country stations in the United States (Big Prairie Ranger station) and the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen with my eyes; The Bob Marshall Wilderness within The Flathead National Forest in North West Montana. For many who don’t know where this is, it’s a National Forest connected to the well known National Park, Glacier National Park.
I have many stories and experiences from the months of living with no internet, showers, and transportation besides my own two feet that have impacted my life beyond any education or job I’ve had. But I’m going to share just a small glimpse of my change in perspective when I’m living off the land, showering in the glacial rivers, cooking from the blazing fire and sleeping in my tent every night.
This was some writing I did last summer (August 2015) after my first season of working in The Bob Marshall Wilderness. Since then, I can only say my mind has expanded beyond what I would ever imagine.
July 17th, 2015
Second Day of Third Hitch – How the Woods Made me a Better Person:
Today we hit flood planes on our side of the river, finding primarily Cinquefoil and Houndstongue. We then began crossing to the other side of the White River to get to the more intrusive and extreme flood planes that are supposedly full of Knapweed. We sprayed these areas for hours, expecting to find bushels of Knapweed, but only finding small traces of it.
This night at camp was extraordinarily fun. Sarah decided to try coffee for the first time (when Dana, Caleb and I are highly addicted and wake up at 5am just to make our coffee on the camp stove before work). Sarah, who is an already high-energized person, talked our ears off and told us stories of Bill the packer.
Some of the most important tools I’ve learned throughout the past hitches are to contribute in camp. I notice when the water in the water filter starts running out, or when the fire needs another log. You have to be the person to notice these things, or else no one will. Being on a crew has taught me more about relationships than any of my past friends or boyfriends have even touched on. I have learned the art of sharing, respecting and contributing over the past month. These traits were deep within me, but I only tended to bring them out when it was desperately necessary, which is not a good habit to form. I’ve realized that doing a task or a favor for a crew member without them asking is the highest form of respect. I know this is something I’m going to take to the outside world with me, I’ll work harder than anyone expects me to work, making sure I prove myself before someone needs to explain or guide me to do so. I’ve also learned the beauty of true friendship. My crew and I are stuck together 24/7 no matter how tired, hungry or upset one of us feels. We’ve learned to deal with the chaos of clashing personalities in order to work as a unionized whole.
Our dinners at camp are always an interesting impromptu, creative meal made from slightly fresh food (such as “hitch cheese” and squished peppers) and packaged food (such as couscous, mac and cheese and beans). I loved learning the techniques of cooking in the back country and cooking while on a back packing hitch, because you had to think very technically about all of the food you should bring on your 10 day hitches in order to not over-pack or run out of food.
I learned the ins and outs to packing slowly throughout the different hitches and different weekend hiking trips I encountered. For hitch I always brought 2 t-shirts, 1 long sleeve, 1 pair of work pants, 1 pair of shorts, 1 pair of comfy pants, a winter hat, a baseball cap, 7 pairs of socks and 4 pairs of underwear. This packing is way more detrimental to your hitch than you would ever imagine. You get extremely dirty while working in the burn (all my clothes ended up turning black by the end of the 10 days) so you always want to have one extra t-shirt to change into after work. Our clothes washing conditions back at Big Prairie (the back country ranger station I’m stationed out of) were hand-washing in buckets with a plunger and washboard so you never truly had clean clothes.
This was the same circumstance for showering. We had one shower at Big Prairie that all 20 of us shared and you were allowed a shower the day you get back from hitch and the day you leave for hitch. So during the 10 days, we would shower in the river. This was one of the most drastic lifestyle changes in my life, and I realized just how much water we waste in the outside world. As well as how consumed we are, me as well, with our appearance compared to our personality and genuine friendliness. I will take advantage of the tough changes that I’ve experienced back here once I get home. I know I already think differently about myself just based on the genuine people and conversations I’ve created in the past two months. These people changed me, they made me realize what’s really important in life and how meaningless some of the infectious things I would taunt myself with in the outside world, such as self-esteem and judgement. I learned how to be a better person, and a more genuine person and I have to whole-heartedly thank the woods and the people of the woods for helping me discover a better me.