Thursday, September 24, 2009

August and September Briefly
"If you watch how nature deals with adversity, continually renewing itself, you can't help but learn." -Bernie Siegel, MD

The experience of working on the Level 1 crew continued to darken like a threatening storm cloud. After our hitch up Big Creek, the smoldering coal of discontentment glowed red hot on our hitch up Bear Creek. Craig's girlfriend was visiting and was even more distant and difficult to work with over the four days that we were cutting out. Portia had just had tooth surgery and her jaw was swollen like a golf ball and her temper was running hot and cold. With the addition of Craig's girlfriend, we were able to run two crosscut saws at once. We worked efficiently, but I was on eggshells and shards of glass. Relief came when I was able to hike from Bryan Lake to the pass at Sky Pilot by myself. On my descent I was surprised by the arrival of my mother and father. They joined Portia and I for the night. Craig and his girlfriend had hiked out earlier and were taking the next four days of the hitch off. Portia and I were planning to leave the next morning and do other work for the rest of the hitch. Our plans were arrested in their tracks when Portia cut her hand with the sharp blade of the Pulaski that she carried on her backpack about a mile into our hike out. I bandaged her up and headed for the trailhead, and subsequently, the ER in Hamilton. I worked the next three days on my own. They were glorious. I brought my mp3 player with me and listened to music while cleared what I could with a Sally saw up Canyon Creek.

That week was the beginning of the end. I spent my 7 day weekend in the Beartooths with Whitney and forgot all about the odd dynamics that had formed between Portia, Craig and I. In fact, I forgot entirely about my aching pinkie toe and was only mildly bothered by my Achilles tendons. Unfortunately, the cleansing affect that the high altitude beauty provided carried me for about one day after our return. Then the doom of returning to work for two more months settled in. My anxiety was so high that I couldn't help but let on to Portia and she then she held a crew meeting that lasted about an hour and half. During this time, we got all our worries and gripes off our chests. I won't go into the gory details, but we were all having issues with each other. Craig was mad at me for working while I was hurt. He said that he understood how I was entrapped by the system but was still mad at me for not rising above it. I was the most worried about working with only Craig for the entire month of September because Craig was so unpleasant to work with. Portia would be starting school at the end of August and wouldn't be working with us much. Craig apologized for his poor attitude but refused to change it. Craig and I both let Portia know what we thought of her leadership abilities and how irresponsible and annoying we both thought it was that she didn't own a watch or an alarm clock. Our discussion had a cathartic effect but reached no plausible, or for that matter, implausible conclusions. We just decided to continue on and see if anything changed of its own volition between us.

I still felt nauseatingly anxious about work in September and was on the verge of quitting early. Fortunately, I didn't have to quit because, the next day, Craig did. His resignation left Portia and Steve stunned. I, on the other hand, felt like this had been coming all season and was overjoyed that it had finally happened. I felt that his absence would be more of a boon then a burden. Portia and I could get work done without his negative attitude and indifference ripping us apart like fire. Which is what we did: We worked day trips up Little Rock Creek in the pouring rain. Sure, it was cold and miserable but at least it was the weather affecting our moods, not Craig. During our trips up Little Rock Creek, Portia attached herself to me like a leech. She has been having some interesting personal struggles that she unloaded on me. She needed some advise and some lifting up. In the end, attending to her took more energy than working did. The work week was incredibly taxing, both emotionally and physically but none of that mattered because Taylor came to visit from Japan and provided some sunlight in the darkening work atmosphere.

He met me at the Brewery in Stevensville and we spent the evening chatting away over pizza and beer. He had been planning to work my last day with me but his excessive alcohol consumption made that impossible. We rose above all that though and spent the evening in Missoula's finest drinking establishments. Taylor and I had all sorts of adventures while he was here, including floating the Blackfoot River. That was a comical experience because I was under the impression that Taylor was a seasoned floater. It turns out that he is deathly afraid of rapids and that he has never successfully finished a float. Most of them have ended in capsized tubes or thunderstorms. This time, the temperature was a little too cold and my tube was leaking. Taylor's fear of rapids had manifested in full force and had gotten out to walk around several nasty looking rapids in wooden flip flops. Needless to say, we didn't float to the end of this trip either.

Amidst Taylor's visit, I took Mike out to eat at the Red Bird and then I took him to my first Osprey baseball game. We had champagne cheese fondue and expensive red wine at the Red Bird and cracker jacks and beer at the game. It was perfect. We even got to see the great big South African, Floyd, participate in a base changing game. Floyd and I have known each other for a while but Mike had just met him earlier at the Farmer's Market and was delighted to see Floyd kick-ass in the competition. We capped the evening off by reuniting with Taylor and prowling around the downtown bars. The weekend also consisted of mad Farmer's Marketing, wiener dog races and a chili rellanos cook off between Mike and I. I wrapped up my weekend with a potluck at Taylor's hippy mom, Christina's house. Taylor and I had attempted to set our single mothers up with each other last Christmas. We had a double date at Sean Kelly's and we thought they hit it off quite well. Unfortunately, they didn't see each other again and Christina had a boyfriend at the potluck so Taylor and my dreams of being siblings will have to be accomplished through some other means.

Craig's departure, along with the fact that I would be working with the other trail crew, lifted some of the doom and gloom from my outlook on work. The next 8 days would be split up between doing rock work up Little Rock Creek and doing level 1 clearing on Trapper Creek. The hitch up Little Rock Creek was very fun. We fixed some really rotten pieces of trail and did a lot of rock crushing with a sledge hammer. This type of work is very satisfying and cathartic. Teamwork is required but there is also a lot of opportunities to work alone. Mark, Kristin, Jenna and I had a really good time in camp too. Mark and Kristin brought some really plush things with them on the hitch such as two person tents, thick thermorests, cans of food and tennis shoes. They are used to being packed in by a string of mules and perhaps brought too much on this non mule supported trip, especially since we left 4 days early! We had a very nice hike up to the lake and the weather was hot and nice enough that we all went swimming! I think that we had all been waiting all summer for an opportunity to swim in a cold mountain lake!

I took the last day of the hitch off to turn in a teacher's aide application at the Stevensville Public School District. I had spent a lot of time prior getting TB tests and filling out the application. It wasn't easy to get the test due to my work schedule and the limited times that the country health dept. offered TB tests and readings. The secretary at the school was very curt when she told me that had missed yesterday's 4:00pm deadline and that there was no way she would put it on the pile. I was so sad. I had blown 20$ on a TB test, $30 on a background check and taken a whole day off of work. What a bummer. Part of my late application was my own fault but I still felt horrible about it and cried pretty hard in the parking lot. That bitch! And if that wasn't enough for the day, I had a colossal beer bottle explosion in the kitchen. One exploding bottle hit me in the stomach and knocked me down. The last bottles of my precious dunkleweizen exploded all over the kitchen ceiling, walls, windows and floor. Beer got on everything. I am still finding sticky spots. The whole ordeal took me hours to clean up and I got a pretty good cut on my pinkie finger from a piece of glass. Mike tried to comfort me by renting a feel good movie called Marley and Me. The movie is about the life of a dog and his owners. Mike's intentions were certainly in the right place but the movie was not my kind of movie. I am not allowed to watch animal movies at all. I began to cry as soon as Marley started to show signs of aging. I didn't stop until Marley was safely buried beneath a tree in the back yard and the credits had finished rolling. Poor Mike had fallen asleep at some point and awoke to my body-racking sobs. He had no clue what was going on but he held me just the same. That was two days before my birthday.

The day before me birthday will count as my real birthday because it was a lovely day, perhaps the most lovely of the summer. I made huckleberry pancakes in the morning. The huckleberries had been an early birthday present from Colleen and mom. Then I floated the Blackfoot River with mom and dad on the sit on top kayaks. We started at Thibideau rapids, a minor waterfall that I haven't floated since my 11 or 12th birthday. Then we refreshed ourselves at the Kettlehouse with Mike. Dad retrieved Isabella and we all had dinner at Biga Pizza. We got a table outside and were able to enjoy the wonderful late summer evening.

Mike and I went to see a Ween concert in Bend Oregon with some of his buddies for the weekend. Bend is a really cool town. The concert was in an outdoor amphitheater on the river. There is a river walk with a bunch of art stalls along the way and plenty of restaurants with outdoor seating towards the river and the amphitheater. We had cheap hors d'oeuvres and cocktails at one such restaurant. The sky darkened and it sprinkled rain a little before the concert. Mike and I made or way to the front mosh pit and stayed there for all of the concert. The show was great! Gene and Dean Ween certainly know how to put on a show. Ween attracts quite a spectrum of people and I got almost as much of a kick from people watching as I did from the performers. They performed some of my favorites too! Zoloft, Your Party, Bananas and Blow, Buckingham Green and Push the Little Daisies. We went out on the town afterward. We went to the Dechutes brewpub and we also checked out a club called Blacksmith. The place was not my kind of place at all. So we hit the road and partied at the hotel with Mike's buddies. The next day, we met up with some of his other friends and spent the whole afternoon on the patio of one of the riverside restaurants drinking margaritas and watching the perfectly happy people go by on the walk or on the river. We began calling the place happy town. Mike and I went for a swim in the hotel pool and were lingering in the hot tub when a family with small children took to the pool. We were about to re-enter the pool when the dad told us that one of his kids had just had an accident in the pool. So we stayed in the hot tub and watched him fish pieces of poo out while his children screamed from the strollers. After that, I took off on my own for awhile and discovered that another favorite band of mine, Pink Martini, was playing at the amphitheater that night. I found a patio with a nice fire pit and settled in to watch the concert from across the river. A couple songs into the concert, Mike joined me. It was perfectly romantic.

I went to work for the next eight days without a hint of anxiety. Steve, Portia, Craig and Level 1 were all out of the picture. Instead, I was looking forward to a luxurious 8 day, mule supported hitch up Sweeney Creek doing tread repairs, building rock bars and blasting with Kristin, Mark and Dan. The nights and mornings were so cold and I was thankful that we were mule supported so that I could bring my full length thermorest and heavy sleeping bag. We also brought a wall tent and a wood heating stove. Even though we were cold at work, we were comfy at camp! Nick came up on the coldest day to blast. He brought us pie and ice cream and we sat and ate and shivered in the midst of a minor snow flurry. Blasting day was quite boring for me. I was stationed up trail of the blasting site and was tasked with stopping anyone who might be trying to hike through the blasting area. Important job, but slow nonetheless. It was really cool to come and clean up shards of rock after the blast and see how easily is pulverized the unyielding stone.

The last and final hitch of the season we installed gabions up Big Creek. Kristin was in and out at various times with her mom and dogs. My mom and Baylea, the Beagle, even came to visit. It was really fun to see Baylea at home in the woods. She's going to be a hiking dog yet! We also did some tread work and installed several check dams. Dan and I felled a large cedar with a crosscut saw for steps. We also had a morning of helicopter fly overs. It was dropping cement on the structure that dams Big Creek Lake. There was also a massive wind storm that caused several trees to fall down within earshot. On fell across the trail and I had to spend a morning retrieving the crosscut saw from the place that we had cashed it 4 miles down the trail. It was a really nice walk though. We spent our last day cleaning up and storing gear and tools at the West Fork Compound. It was sickly sweet to be ending the season. On one hand, I was very ready to be done with the drama and the nights on a hard ground and the monotony of clearing level 1. I think that my mentality was akin to race runners. I set my mind to make it to the end of 3 miles and by the time I get there, I am exhausted and want to run no more. I feel as though I couldn't go on, even though I could probably run 5 or 6 miles, no sweat. It's the same with the season. I set my sights on 5 months and now that it is almost over, I feel as though I could not continue. Working with the construction crew was a much needed change. It was certainly a renewal and I am glad that my supervisors and I had the ability to adapt in such a positive to the difficulties that the Level 1 crew faced. The construction crew is solid. Kristin, Dan and Mark will all be back next summer. Steve asked me if I would be coming back. A huge part of me does want to come back and lead the Level 1 crew and make it a great season. But another part of me wants to find something a little more permanent and a little less hard on the body. Only time will tell.