By Andi Kur 2015 Field Crew Member
Southern Regional Crew
It has been a little over four months since I last hiked out of the Citico Creek Wilderness with my crew for the final time, and I miss them and my time spent in the Southern Appalachians dearly. In retrospect, my summer spent with SAWS left a greater impression on me than I had originally realized.
Before I joined the crew, I had never even had gone backpacking much less done trail maintenance, and to be entirely honest, I didn't even like sleeping in tents and often got nervous around sharp work tools.
And yet here I was, applying for a job that, as far I could tell from their website, involved hiking with large saws and axes in the middle of the woods for ten day stints. You may ask, why on earth was I applying for a job so far plotted outside of my comfort zone? Believe me, I asked myself this too, but it ended up being this exact question that pricked at my pride and gave me enough courage to apply. I remember questioning in response, well why am I so content with the narrow parameters of my comfort zone? Yes, I have a soft bed to sleep in, and there really isn't a need for me to seek out manual labor. I had no reason to step outside of my boundaries, and yet, this lack of need bothered me. I read once somewhere how important it is in life to not just to be strong but to feel strong, to measure yourself against raw experience, to feel what it is to be wild and real. I realized that the boundaries of my comfort zone existed not because that was how I was capable of living, but because I placed them there and presumed as much. I could become comfortable getting dirty and staying dirty; I could learn to embrace hard work and callous my hands.
Looking back, I cannot help but to laugh at my presumed, idealized notions of what it would be like to actually live in the Wilderness for a summer, and to be honest, I am thankful that I really had no idea of what I was getting myself into. Truthfully, the work was much harder and less glamorous than I thought it would be. It is one thing to imagine yourself trekking through the Wilderness with a righteous badge of environmental preservation and a completely different thing to actually haul a backpack half your body weight up a mountain to log out a trail, or to then find your water source has gone dry and the nearest is down the other side of the mountain, or to step in multiple wasps nest in a row and continue to work despite the pain and exhaustion. No, trail work is not easy, but it taught me something invaluable. It was somewhere nestled between the freezing nights and early mornings, and woven into the countless hours of brushing and logging that I gained an appreciation for what it is to match my work ethic with my environment. The wilderness is like a mirror: what we put into it we shall see reflected back. I realized that to be a voice of protection for such an enduring yet vulnerable Wilderness, we must allow ourselves to become equally vulnerable, wild, and enduring.
And so, almost an entire year after applying for this job, I am writing in an effort to address those of you who don't know about SAWS or even about Wilderness, to those of you who want to do something but aren't so sure that you have the opportunity, skills, or even courage to do it. If this is you, I ask you to consider this: I joined SAWS with little to no applicable skill, no experience, and no gear. All I had to offer was enthusiasm and a willingness to step outside of my comfort zone. The people of SAWS trusted in my eagerness to learn and desire to experience, lending me gear and not looking at me with disbelief when I no idea how to swing an ax or that cat holes are most definitely not holes that cats sleep in. I will always be grateful to SAWS for this and for all they have given me: knowledge, skills, experiences, and even a slightly-dysfunctional yet endlessly passionate family of Wilderness misfits. To those of you who are like I was, I urge you – do not let a slight fear of stepping away from comfort keep you from taking steps, because you never know what wild things you might find.