October declared its arrival in fine form yesterday morning. Camping on Squaw Ridge in the Northern Sierra, it had rained all night and when I emerged from my droplet-speckled tent in the morning there was a heavy fog all around, in companionship with a fine mist that periodically turned to rain.
Hiking in and out of our work location for the day, down in a valley below the ridge, was full of signs of summer’s departure and autumn’s arrival. The swish-swish of my nylon rain-proof pants and the tucked-in feeling of my hands in my gloves was a reminder of the changed temperature and unpredictable weather – sure signs that summer has fled from the Sierra. Then there was the red and yellow color of deciduous shrubs complimenting the never-wavering evergreen of the conifers all around. Somehow, landscapes of this color combination seem to have a spicy scent to them.
I am thankful for such skies as the ones that were overhead, a fine mixture of grey and periwinkle hues depending on the level of hostility of the particular cloud cluster. Even with my sensitivity to being cold, as I was getting damp as the rain intensified (with the occasional snowflake making an appearance) I was mostly filled with a sense of wonder and thankfulness, and not one of panic or complaint. These grey skies filled me with so much sweet melancholy, and a deep desire to sit down and write.
October is proving to be an important month for my life of late. A year ago this month I quit my job (a good job, steady pay, with great people) and packed all I could fit in my compact car, drove four hours away from where I’ve lived almost all my life to a town I’d never seen on a map before, to commit myself to some forestry training. I then lived in a motel for the first two weeks I was there, not having a place to live. My first day of class was a 2-day forestry field work trip during which time I was told to “grab a Pulaski” (a pu…what?!) and swing an ax (never done that before) and heard the word “silviculture” for the first time.
So now, a year later, and nearing the end of my first seasonal job, I am feeling both nostalgic and introspective. In all honesty, I don’t know that I thought all too much about what leaving my whole world to start on a new career path would feel like for me. I don’t think that God let me contemplate this too much because (historically speaking) I am a creature of habit, addicted to my routine, and very much a homebody. I had wonderful friends and my parents who I had to leave, which was the hardest thing of all.
But then I had school right away. All the training and course work I was being exposed to was so new and exciting that my life felt a-mile-a-minute (in a good way) and this didn’t leave me much time to process where I was thinking this was all leading. I was feeling joyful and optimistic about many possible futures simply by the exposure to so many new ideas, and a whole new world in general.
And then, the seasonal job applications began for the summer. And job applying became my new “free time” activity outside of class. And then I got an offer, an offer to do something I never would have thought I’d go for a year ago – working as a biological science aid on a frog crew. I knew nothing much about frogs, nor thought about them all that often (although, 5 months later, I am completely smitten with the creatures).
When I drove up for my first day in the field, I remember thinking somewhere deep in the shelves of my mind, somewhere I put thoughts that I really wish I had never thought, “What if I don’t like this whole outdoor thing? What if I have over-romanticized it?” I didn’t want to know that about myself if it was true because I’d just left everything under the impression that I “loved the outdoors.” But, thank the heavens, as the job continued over the summer, I loved it every bit as much as I thought. In fact, I sometimes forgot what I was doing was “work” at all (although, sometimes I remembered full well that it was work too).
So, October has brought me again to both an ending and an uncertain beginning, just as it did a year ago. My seasonal job will end at the end of this month, and I am already mourning this loss, but trying to also just enjoy the last few weeks I have at present. And I am applying for jobs to see what “comes next” and as I have been feeling the panic of “not knowing” where my life is going take me next month, and fearing not having something already lined up, I am trying to instead turn to praise for all the ways I have grown in this past year, and all I have learned about my life thanks to God:
As a means to give praise where praise is due, here are three of the life lessons God has most especially illustrated to me this past year:
1. Part of life is mistakes, and part of strength is how you handle your mistakes.
During the past year in my training and in my job I have made many mistakes. I have gotten a truck stuck in the sand, I have tied a weak knot on a highline (for animal packing) that caused my instructor to fall flat on his back, I have been repeatedly unable to start a chain saw, I have lost a camera in manzanita bushes, I have left a battery adapter at the office which required us to drive 5 extra hours and lose a work day … just to name a few. My knee-jerk reaction to such things is to be ashamed of making mistakes and to beat myself up about them, over and over and over again. But, through the encouragement of my fellow students, teachers, and co-workers, when I made each of these errors I grew in my ability to see them as chances to learn and to grow in my “mental toughness.” Each time you do something wrong, you are learning how “not” to do something next time. Each time you do something wrong and don’t let it defeat you, it is your victory and you strengthen your own perseverance.
2. You (yes you) are stronger than you know.
A year ago this month, when I left to peruse this new realm of life, I had a very deep-seeded fear that I wouldn’t be strong enough to do this, both physically and emotionally. I worried about not having enough endurance to keep up with my coworkers hiking in the field. I worried about never being able to start a chain saw. I worried about not being able to drive a skidsteer through a grove of trees. I worried about not being able to relate to any of the new people I would meet at school or at work. I worried about how much I would stumble along, looking a fool, and holding up projects as I learned all these new skills when everyone else seemed to already have some sort of foundational knowledge about biology, forestry, using hand tools, operating machinery. I worried about being cold in the field, tortuously cold to the point where I wouldn’t be able to do my fair share of the work. But, you know, when you don’t have much of a choice but to simply dive in and give it your best (because you just left everything else behind for this, so you better just give it all you got), you realize that you are a lot stronger than you know, and that much of the things you feared weren’t worth wasting time of worrying about.
3. “Not knowing” is part of the journey…and is also just good for you.
I have always been a planner, and I like to know how each thing I am doing will lead to the next thing, and what that next thing is. But, of late, God has not let me do this…and while this at times makes me quite anxious and frustrated, for the most part this last year I have learned to embrace that uncertainty as part of the journey. In fact, I have even come to see it as exciting, and, more than anything, a blessing. If you would have told me a few years ago I was going to leave everyone I know to study forestry in town I’d never heard of, be unemployed for months, and then work with frogs for a few months before possibly being unemployed again, I would have not believed you and also be made anxious by the thought of such a future. But, when going through all of it in the moment, it all became something I saw as either exciting or as a challenge, revealing to me that this path is indeed where I feel God has called me. I read a quote once in an article that speaks to this, “What’s more interesting to me is what pain do you want? What are you willing to struggle for? Because that seems to be a greater determinant of how our lives end up.” (Mark Manson) It is a struggle for me not to know where my life is going, but I have seen that I am very much willing to struggle in most anything on this new path, and that has taught me a lot about myself, what I want, and how the Creator has wired me. And I am so thankful for that, a veiled sort of direction for my life that keeps me dependent on Him for “what’s next” and also very present minded.
I will end this novella, but welcome October…I look forward to where you are taking me next.
When you set out looking for the big answers in life, you gotta be as uncomfortable as possible when you do it. – Brenden Leonard