Thirty Years, Part Two

This is the next installment in my story of thirty seasons with the Forest Service.

Photo is of the last day of work in 1982. You can see that it’s fall, and the weather has turned seriously inclement. Time for seasonals to be laid off, to go do whatever they do in the winter.

1982 was one of my big adventure years. After getting my first break in the agency in 1980, I was disappointed the next season to not be hired back on the Leavenworth Ranger District Trail crew. It was nothing personal–no one got hired back. There was no trail crew, since Mr. Reagan had been elected and the Forest Service had different priorities now. In 1981, I volunteered to be a wilderness ranger, and spent the summer backpacking solo, talking to people about their campfires and hauling out as much garbage as I could carry. That fall and winter I returned to classes in forestry technology at Wenatchee Valley College. Since I was a student, I was eligible to be hired through a student requisition program, so when I was offered a job on the Idaho Panhandle National Forest, I accepted.

In mid-June, I bought new boots, packed my Plymouth Valiant, and pointed it east. At St. Maries, Idaho, I turned onto the St. Joe River Road for the first time. The last 6 miles to Avery were on a single lane gravel road. It had been raining, the river was running high, and the tiny remote community looked muddy and bedraggled. I wondered what I had gotten myself into.

I started work on a silviculture crew. There were six of us, four men and two women. Tree planting was in full swing–we delivered boxes of seedlings to clearcuts for the planters, and inspected their work. Later we did forest inventory. The work was away from roads, and we navigated from one sample plot to another with an azimuth compass and paced the distances. There was much thrashing through brush, mosquitoes, and rain.

We lived at an old ranger station that had been converted to a work center. I shared a cabin with three other women. We were lucky to have a working toilet and kitchen. The other sleeping quarters were small one room cabins that had been used in internment camps in southern Idaho during World War Two. People had to walk to the bathhouse to use the toilet, and to the cookhouse to use the kitchen.

I loved living at Roundtop. There was a sense of history there, and no one in charge. We just all got along without any uptight permanent employee looking over our shoulders. Tim from Minnesota kept the water system and the diesel generator running. There was no phone, only the Forest Service radio for emergencies and fire calls. Sometimes we had to go down to Avery for meetings, but much of the time we were on our own. There was quite a bit of partying, but I rarely joined in. I didn’t drink at the time, and I had a boyfriend back home. On weekends, my roommates and I would go to St. Maries for groceries, lie in the sun at the state park, then head back to Avery to get our mail and use the phone.

That summer I saw my first moose, went on my first fire, sat bolt upright in bed the night lightning hit a big larch by the generator house, listened to a lot of Pink Floyd, picked a lot of huckleberries, saw the northern lights, stood on the Bitterrroot Divide and looked towards Montana. Learned a lot, and not just about forestry. Made some friends who are still in touch. Fell in love with the wild remote St. Joe country.

That last day of work, everyone in the silviculture department went to a place called Twin Creek Cabin. It’s an old smokechaser cabin in a meadow that once had a corral for FS pack and saddle stock. In 1982, it was never used for work any more. We went there to cut wood and clean it up, just in case. It was an excuse to build a fire to stand around and BS. Then the seasonals would trek off for the winter, and the permanents would be office-bound till spring.

There’s more, but it will wait for another day…

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