Back in October of 2014 I began my journey into forestry with a 2-day field class. This past week I completed the final requirement for my forestry certificate with the same 2-day field class.
I remember very clearly how I felt walking up to the bus to go up to the forest for that first class – nervous to the point of numbness. Honestly, I took a deep breath and just walked toward that which I knew nothing about. I felt so anxious that I had to just put it away somewhere and feel nothing at all instead.
On these field work field trips, students are assigned work crews and then you go out to work on forestry projects that you might end up being employed to do someday. This time, I was on a trail crew. As a group we worked two days on constructing part of a trail.
This involved a rock drill (think jack hammer), boulder buster (i.e. explosives to break up a boulders), and sledge hammers (to break down smaller rocks further once the rock drill or boulder blaster had done the initial step). The basic system was: 1) drill hole with the rock drill into a boulder, 2) insert explosives into said hole, 3) use boulder buster to blast the boulder, 4) use sledge hammer to manually further break down the boulder. We were even given a tangible history lesson in how to accomplish this same task (i.e. breaking up boulders) without the use of machinery or explosives – you use a hammer and punch to “drill” a hole (hit the punch with a hammer, quarter twist, hit again, repeat for the rest of eternity) and then inserting feathers and wedges.
The second day I spent working on building a trail border. This required a team of 2-4 to: 1) dig a trench along the side of the trail, 2) situate boulder slabs with the flat side up inside the trench (think iceberg effect, only a portion of the slab should be at the trail-tread level in the end), 3) tile each slab on the next with 2-inch overlap, place the slabs such that they lean at a 30 degree angle, back fill and front fill the slabs with granite rocks and gravel. Moving heavy rocks is awkward and not without its challenges. Some you can move with simply arm and push strength alone, most require the use of rock bars, and then some even require a pulley system to move. Let’s just say I will NEVER look at a trail the same again, nor will I simply walk past any boulder-border without a silent nod of recognition to those who put their back-into-it to move the things there.
I will readily admit that smashing and exploding rocks for two days was undeniably enjoyable, although the larger take away was humility.
Although I am a forestry certificate and one full work season further along then I was when I first did this field work class, I am still most definitely the greenest of the green out there in terms of skillset. I don’t like that feeling. I don’t like feeling that I have the least to bring to the table (not to mention the least arm strength). However, I think it a valuable thing for me to face and embrace. I benefit the most from these experiences because I am learning the most from those around me. You have to twist your perspective in these moments, to avoid getting to down on yourself and feeling useless. You look for a need and look to what you can best bring to the table, and you devote yourself to this. For most of the past two days, the best I could bring to the table was to collect rocks. You read right. I collected rocks in buckets to bring to others to break down into back fill for the trail border or into gravel for the tread of the trail. I am really fantastic at collecting rocks in a bucket.
The other biggest take away was sore arms, but in a good way. The rock drill although less intimidating a creature then my first impression, still required the focus of all the arm strength I had for prolonged use. I was not too eager to try using the thing at first, but I’m glad I had a go. Repeated use of a sledge hammer was also a lesson in humility – it looks easy, but gave me a good lesson in patience and pacing.
Although the forestry certificate process has ended, the forestry odyssey continues. What began as a “Muir Year” I believe is turning into a “Muir Life.”
And I couldn’t be more thankful for that.