when i was young, probably still in single digits, maybe just out, we did a spelling bee in class. my word was aim. it was so easy everyone giggled, and i stood up and said A-I-M and panicked at the laughing -E.
next week i am done with the montana conservation corp. it’s been a tremendous two years, and i have learned so goddamn much, surrounded by a staff that cares about me, asks how i feel, forces me to reflect and get the most out of this expansive thing. a few weeks ago i found my heart broken. my life is wildly uncertain. forgetting what i already know, adding -E. it’s easy for me to fall into nightlife traps, drink too much, sleep too late, get nowhere.
instead, this time, no. i lock the living room door and close the blinds, nestle into russian literature and give in entirely to slow, to deliberate.
i am too old for surrendering to obvious giggles, to -E. if i have learned nothing else, it’s that i am strong and worthy. it has been easy to apply to trail work— slowly up the mountain, all day with the same tool in the same 20 foot patch of land, good leadership never has a cruise control. i can do this with my life, too. i should. it is too valuable to leave at work.
when i started this in february, i swore to give myself to it entirely. to be present, in tune with my crew, do this is a very real and uncool way. now i am being reminded to take care of myself, too. create things again.
it’s hard to love something hard. there’s one boy on my crew who also loves this, but the rest are done. tired. they hate the hard hats and safety glasses, are mad we make them wake up well before dawn, shuffling off cold, the glitter of hard frost, no hope for a warm day even as the sun comes up while we tool up and prepare to hike to work.
my pre-season was spent anticipating so many problems this crew may have— homesickness, hating each other, fear of the woods, insecurity, ego— but i did not give this a thought, that i would have a crew that just does not like trail work.
the crew loves each other, and i focus on that. give them long breaks to reflect on the season, relax, be together. our nights are spent huddled around a wood stove in a canvas tent filling the empty national park with our laughter. they take care of each other, never leave one behind, but they hate this work, and that is so damn hard.
i am accepting that my crew did not grow much this season, but i know that i did. ultimately, i am one person who has tried and had an experience.
for the next five days, i am just going to let myself love this work again.
every day i wake up in the orange of my tent, put on the same pair of cold work pants, battle the grounds in my crudely made cup of coffee and then i get to do the most beautiful thing, which is pick up a pulaski at 7 am, and then swing that same tool until 5:30, and go home tired and sure and content.
my sense of my role is coming to an end, but i know that i can say thank you to mountains, swing my tools, appreciate the cold as distinctly yellowstone, do my work, cultivate my peace. for the next five days, i am working for myself again.
i can’t believe that this is almost over- that this is how it has gone- but i always have the orange of my tent, my frozen boots, all those trails.
everyday for a year and a half, i have woken up excited and loving my job. i am applying for waitress and barista jobs for winter, and i am terrified of going back to that. i haven’t had to live that life in so long— so much space is in between then and now.
it snowed yesterday. i had to turn the heat on. i got day drunk on red wine and padded bored around my house, frustrated that it’s already here.
i stopped taking birth control and started taking b vitamins, and i feel energized and spirited in a way that’s amazing to me. what did i lose in six years of prescription hormones?
my entire world has been my crew for the past few months, especially the last month with the frank church wilderness and yellowstone and all of the expectations that come with those big projects, but it will be over soon. one month left.
one of the best things i’ve learned about leadership is to fake it until you make it. it was hard to be positive and motivated every single day when it was cold and raining in may, but i woke up and said it to myself, and now it’s true. it’s real to me. my positivity is no longer for my crew but fundamental.
it is possible that i could skip winter here altogether, go work in arizona, live out of my tent in the days off and finally stack up some money. i was told if i apply to smoky mountain i get an interview because of a reference, and all of a sudden anything is possible. fake it until it’s true. i can do anything. i can leave the ski bums and feet of snow and live in the desert and never stop working trail, and if i wake up every day and say it, if i piece away at the applications and keep putting it out into the world and asking people about it, it will become real.
nothing has to be a way. any direction is as possible as another, and if i make that my reality, it will become so. arizona can be as real to me as this house i already occupy, and i am starting to understand all that is in my reach. it’s a decision. it’s a pattern. it’s a line repeated everyday until it’s embedded in skin. i’ve worked really, truly, exceptionally hard and given myself to something. i don’t have to be a waitress anymore. i can go anywhere. i can go anywhere.
after going to summercamp when i was, like, 19 or something and dressing up like a fucking bumblebee and telling people on pills they should recycle while listening to umphree’s mcgee play 3 times a day for a week, i had sworn off festivals as just “not my thing” but what i meant was “i’m not a fucking hippie.” and then this week we worked alongside some truly beautiful men who just love each other and the woods and are forming this trail band and spend months of their lives preparing for their yearly weekend at the targhee bluegrass festival that we should probably go to if we don’t have weekend plans, serendipitously being put on this trail together in the middle of idaho and all.
while deciding whether or not we should go, one of the girls on my crew looked at me and said “youth is for doing dumb things for attractive people” which seemed right enough, so we decided yes.
turns out there is some merit in my crew member’s goofy effort to get me to break policy and hang out with them outside work in pursuit of a sponsor because it was an amazing weekend. we drank a big ol’ bottle of whiskey, and i danced with strong men. the music made me want to be better, and i cried when spirit family reunion played. i let the man camped next to me tell his young son i was a righteous hippie momma who he should be around if that was okay with me because he doesn’t have enough of that in his young life even though i hate being called a hippie.
it turns out the trail dudes found us as interesting and attractive as we found them, and that’s always still just such a surprise, such a thing, and by the end, i was dirty and tired and sunburned and spent but saturated, rich, with what i had experienced. and glad, so glad, for summertime in the mountains and the tradition of bluegrass music and weekends in august and youth and doing dumb things for attractive people.
on my way downtown to meet the parents of one of my crew members, visiting from georgia, wanting to meet the crew leaders in charge of their son’s safety, i passed a man on the sidewalk wearing a cologne that my step dad used to wear, and it was the most sad thing.
he’s not dead- he lives in louisiana, ran away from my mom and her perpetual heartbreak, but he’s just as gone.
it made me feel grown up, responsible, somehow. that this is another thing i’ve been dealt and handled in the midst of being in charge of someone’s son’s safety. i loved someone, was raised by someone, and he is gone.
this year i’ve been a version of myself to be proud of in a big, big way, but i wear it like a burden.
maybe i think about what dannie would do, what advice he would give, and i think this weekend i throw it to the wind. i will spend the small fortune to be in the mountains all weekend at a bluegrass festival. i will wear the same dress the whole time. ask strangers to dance. sneak whiskey in a flask.
there is life to be lived under all this expectation and pride, and i am glad to seek that.
The Guardian:Any advice for a 21-year-old who hates their job and has the possibility of traveling the world? And has a boyfriend that they like. (This is for a friend.)
Rob Delaney:Go do it. Fuck him. Is he a guy in his 20s? Then he's the least significant type of person on the planet. A male in their 20s? Run in the opposite direction. Nothing he says matters; his fears, his hopes his dreams are garbage. Men in their 20s are the worst thing happening on our planet. Go, go to Uzbekistan, go to South Korea, just go anywhere he isn't because men in their 20s are bad for young women.
The Guardian:So what do women in their 20s do?
Rob Delaney:Masturbate. Date other women for a while. Use men sexually for a while but don't ever invite their opinion or be bound to them in any way.
I should probably wake up and read this every morning of my life.
tonight i sat alone in a bar and watched the blackhawks win the stanley cup. i dipped a lot of copenhagen and drank only two beers. i realized that i am distinctly a part of a laboring class that drinks early and goes to bed before dark to get up before sunrise but still wants to watch some hockey.
i have never been to a bar alone before, and i feel like that’s this season- figuring out how i do what i want to do without the validation of others wanting to join me, buffer the world for me.
i am happy, a lot because chicago fucking won and my dad called me all happy, but also because i’m an adult and capable and have a lot of backbone and see it.
it is simple things, but they are my simple things.
“She changed the locks and got summer-beer kisses from gentle men in soft short-sleeved plaid Carhartt shirts. Delightfully less-gentle men named after cities. Dallas. Jackson. Austin. Cody. Logan. Tall, brown-boot-wearing men who didn’t shave. Skinny-hipped men with jingly keys on Jolly Rancher-colored carabiners clipped to their belt loops. Soldiers on leave, camouflage-wearing country boys, fishermen with strong, dirty hands. Hunters who carried knives and operated heavy machinery and liked their steaks cool and bloody on the inside. She collected them like dented bottle caps, flicked them from her thumb when she was finished.”—
today we had our first real debrief as a crew, and one of my members, this guy from georgia who used to work IT, said he’s happy, and excited, because for the first time in his life he can say that he loves his job. he’s never been able to say it. now he calls home and says, “i love my job.” and it stunned me. that giving something your all can pay off.
and it’s been my all— working a sixty hour week in rain and snow last week lead to me this week with a respiratory infection. i took a day off, paid a doctor my small fortune, got my first prescription for antibiotics in my adult life. i am sick, really sick, and hurting, but it’s worth it. it has been worth trying so hard and sticking with it and finding my stride to hear one single person say that he loves his job for the first time in his life.
i love this small group of people, and i love that i get to show them what i’ve learned and feel grown and changed while they start anew, wide-eyed and open-eared and ready for the adventure and trusting me to lead them through it.
this morning started out so beautiful- warm, hot even, summer dresses and big sunglasses and brunch with friends. i was told twice during the day about how much weight i’ve lost since the beginning of this season, and it’s true, and i felt it. my confidence lead me to buying this mint green maxi dress despite my height and despite it all, and i guess the rest goes.
i wore it out tonight for a classic night out with my roommate. too many pitchers and swing dancing and one tin of copenhagen we split.
a man sat down beside me at the bar, tried to touch my knee, and i made it clear i do not like to be touched, but when he got up to leave at my unresponsiveness, he took a grab at my right breast, and then i kind of blacked out-ish.
i grabbed him by the throat, put him in a choke hold, threw him against a keno machine and told him calmly about the disrespect that was not only to me but all woman and he should never do that again. i took it upon myself to kick him out of the bar.
the rest is weird. adrenaline, yeah? the bartender bought me a top shelf shot and said it was his pleasure since i just did his job, and he’s glad women like me exist, and all i can think is how fucking lucky i am.
what i resorted to when that happened to me was feminism and physical strength which is a combination i am goddamn lucky to have. this was taught to me, instilled, by a hard mother and stern brothers and college and tumblr posts. i work trail, and i feel strong everyday, and i can swing that around even against full size middle aged men, and not all women have this, and maybe it’s how causes are born.
because now? now all i can think about is every girl whose breasts are fucking goose honked when they’re trying to have a drunken heart-to-heart with her roommate she admires and loves but needs to talk to, and then what? what if you don’t cut down trees and swing tools and know you’re strong? what if you haven’t read about how your body is YOURS, and there is nothing acceptable about this?
jokes were made about how this group of people i’ve known for a while understood why they call me “mean jean” and the guy i’m into followed him out of the bar and told him what’s up, but that’s all bullshit in the reality that this happens. it just fucking happens, and i am amazed and sad and tired by it all.
part of my plan to get as fit as humanly possible before the members get here is cutting out weekday drinking, but today, i am breaking all the rules. 13 hours in the basement of a comfort inn starting wilderness advanced first aid, and goddamn i could not deny myself that shower beer.
one thing i really love about this job is that it makes me the tough, resilient version of myself i had always dreamed of being, but on the flip side of that, i’m given a lot of room to be human, which i really cashed in on today.
anything involving the vulnerability of the human body is something i am totally weak and squeamish over. once i saw my brother get a shot, and i woke up sweating with a nurse standing over me. another time my mom got a fish hook stuck in her leg, and once again, i woke up on the ground wondering how i got there. i wasn’t allowed to visit dannie in the hospital when he had open heart surgery because the nurses got tired of taking care of me every time they changed his bandage. in high school, when we dissected frogs, i did a worksheet instead.
so today being all about pretending to take care of our crew members who were fake passed out with soup in their mouths to simulate vomiting, and we had to watch a video of people dying in a car crash, and then we had to dissect pig heart and lungs, i was a fucking wreck.
i gave myself a long pep talk about how dissections are an honest thing, and if i can eat bacon, i can cut up a pig heart and stop being a goddamn twink. it worked for a while until i got too brave and picked up a piece of lung and remembered that time george had a pet pig, and on my way to the bathroom to try not to faint, one of my crew members told me about the time in middle school he got sad about animals being used in class, and he had to leave, and then i cried. i CRIED. this awful, laughing, cold, clammy sweating cry.
this is day 1 of 5, but i am hoping and thinking this was the hurdle, and it will improve, and this will turn into another thing i’ve faced, but in the meantime, someone was always around to hold my hand or give me a hug, and it’s hard to be too upset or scared with support like that around every time.
also, fuck it, i’m gonna drink some weekday shower beers.
“Decide in your heart of hearts what really excites and challenges you, and start moving your life in that direction. Every decision you make, from what you eat to what you do with your time tonight, turns you into who you are tomorrow, and the day after that. Look at who you want to be, and start sculpting yourself into that person. You may not get exactly where you thought you’d be, but you will be doing things that suit you in a profession you believe in. Don’t let life randomly kick you into the adult you don’t want to become.”—