Random Trail Crew Wisdom and Earworms


I’ve worked on different crews–timber and silviculture crews and fire crews. But it’s trail crew that suits me best. Any trail crew I’ve ever known has worked hard, had a magnetic attraction for dirt, dust, pitch and sweat, and never took themselves too seriously. Trail crew is just plain goofy. Right after this picture was taken, we stopped for a break in the shade and talked about who was going to play us in the trail crew movie. Did you know? Hollywood can’t ignore our heroism and glamour much longer. We think the plot should include erupting volcanoes, terrorist plots, saving the planet, as well as two or three of us finding true love. (Rick’s engaged, but Ethan’s available.) Not to mention our former colleague Todd swinging from a helicopter riding Stoney the mule to save the day. And some exploding fireballs. We’re practicing our action-packed dialogue and pithy one-liners.

We have other one-liners, our tried-and-true safety sayings. “Trail crew’s our name, safety’s our game.” At our weekly safety meetings we trot these out regularly:
Take care of your feet, and your feet will take care of you!
A sharp tool is a happy tool!
If you wait till you’re thirsty to drink, it’s too late!
Lift with your legs, not your back!
Cotton kills!
Drive defensively!
Just bury it!
(If five minutes go by without a scatological reference, something’s wrong.)

Earworms are those songs that get stuck in your head. Maybe it’s just a line or two, but they loop around and around. This can go on for days, and plagues the whole crew if anybody dares to sing out loud. It’s worse for Jon and me since we’re the oldest, and our catalog of songs goes back to the 1960s. The younger folks don’t always understand our references. For awhile, I was retaliating with the opening riff to “Purple Haze” whenever Jon started singing some ditty from the 70s that got my gag reflex going. (He’s capable of remembering songs that never should have been written.) As an experiment, I wrote down every song that went through my head for a whole work day last week. Here’s the list: “On the Road Again”, “Mr. Sandman”, “YMCA”, “Home on the Range”, “1812 Overture”, “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction”, “Waurakurna”, and the theme from “Goldfinger”.

Whew. Random? Not always…some of them popped into my head after someone sang one line or made a remark that triggered the memory of the song. I’m convinced that the rhythm of steady walking gets others going. Some songs have that exact same rhythm. Same with digging. The neurologist Oliver Sacks has written about earworms in his book Musicophilia, and I want to read more about it. I often wonder if this phenomena existed before radio and music recordings. What, if anything, repeated in people’s heads a hundred years ago?

One thought on “Random Trail Crew Wisdom and Earworms

  1. Never heard the term “earworm” before… it HAS happened with me, but not often, because I never voluntarily listen to man made noise… am thrilled by the sounds of the old & big, breathy sounding, Aztec era horn known as a ‘record’ and I love drums: I like most “music” when exposed to it, but never even THINK to seek a source. No radio, no IPod, no TV… on a scale of 1 to 10… just how weird IS that?! lol

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