For the past two weeks or so, the members of the AmeriCorps St Louis Emergency Response Team (AC STL ERT) spent time up in Montana doing training, conservation work, and a lot of getting to know one another on a more personal level. There are hundreds of stories that came out of these past two weeks, and I can in no way capture all of them in words, photographs and emotions, but I will share some of each to catch everyone up on where I’ve been…
The morning before we departed for Montana we gathered in the Urban Activity Center and were sworn in as official members of AC STL ERT. We are an eccentric group, consisting of young men and women from communities across the nation, from different faiths and beliefs, different families and experiences, and different reasons for joining. But in the end, we have become a family, guiding lights for one another in a dark world. This is who I have the privilege of serving beside for the next year!
I guess there is a reason they call Montana the land of the Big Sky. It seemed endless. And each morning and night God painted the skies above in magnificent colors, capturing our hearts (and cameras) for a moment. Each time I was reminded how small I really am, but how I fit in this grand scheme of events.
The first morning in Montana we all awoke to a double rainbow that stretched itself over camp, Fleecer Work Station. We set up an army of tents and a Yurt in which, at one point, over 20 of us were sleeping within. Though it was packed, it was an adventure as we grew closer to one another.
Within the first couple days it went from sunshine to almost blizzard conditions. We had several inches of snow and gusts of wind that ripped through camp, lifting up tents and throwing the falling snow sideways. It did get cold at times, but I am thankful for having several layers of clothing, a good sleeping bag and a fleece liner.
At the end of the first week of conservation work, we received the opportunity to participate in S-212 Wildland Fire Chain Saws, a training required to operate a chainsaw on Federal land. While the government shutdown threw a wrench into many of the plans while in Montana, we were able to adapt and be flexible enough to go with the flow and still enjoy ourselves (and learn a little).
For the S-212 course, you have to fall a tree while being evaluated. Unfortunately, I was the first member to be evaluated in our group of 10 that went the first day. While I went in with the hopes of getting a B Certification with restrictions, my nerves got the better of me and I am perfectly content at staying at an A Cert for the time being. During the stump evaluation, it felt as if I got ripped apart, but in conversations over the next couple hours, and week, I have come to understand that while I know all the math behind felling a tree and can analyze the hazards with a critical eye, the technical application of experience is not fully developed. I know that I am not ready for the B Cert at the moment, and I felt (and still feel) good about the tree I fell, limbed and bucked.
The second week there, I got to depart from Fleecer HQ and the Butte area and head a couple of hours away to stay and work out of the Bear Creek USFS Cabin. Tucked away in the hills of the Sphinx, Helmet, and Black Mountains, it was a peaceful residing place away from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the ERT. The six of us staying there enjoyed the small cabin and the surrounding area and were sad to depart from the tranquility that it provided.
Our first day up at Bear Creek, we were asked to make a supply delivery of toilet paper up to Potosi Campground and check on a trail that requires maintenance. When we should have turned, we kept going straight and ended up realizing that we may not be able to continue down the road we were on. So we attempted to turn around. After almost 2.5 hours, we finally escaped the mud and snow-covered road and were able to go back the way we came.
We also got the opportunity to work on the Indian Creek trail, a beautiful hike through a valley with some amazing views. We were struck by the beauty and often found ourselves stopping in the attempt at taking it all in.
We also encountered several bear tracks, both Black and Grizzly Bear. We also saw elk, moose, and deer tracks in the mud, and almost ran into a pair of
Mule Deer [EDIT: I stand corrected, we saw Elk] on our way back to the trailhead.
Being that the majority of the Indian Creek Trail is in a Wilderness Area, we were not able to pack in chainsaws, but had to rely on Crosscut Saws instead. While a longer, more intensive endeavor, the Crosscut saw requires more patience, communication, and mathematical precision, especially when felling a tree that is precariously leaning over the trail.
I had the opportunity and privilege to cut with my roommate. We made a good team as we balanced one another out and were able to communicate effectively throughout the entire process. The crosscut has become my favorite instrument of trail clearance and maintenance.
The following day we installed trail signs to the Indian Creek Trail. Utilizing draw knives we prepped the logs, then inserted them into the holes that were dug out with the help of Rockbars and Posthole Diggers. We also utilized the gas-powered drill and some ingenuity to get the job complete.
While we returned back to St. Louis a week before originally planned, every single one of us enjoyed the time we were able to have there and were sad to depart. We all look forwards to serving in the mountains of Montana.
This was an amazing adventure that has served to launch us into another year of service.
God Bless and PEACE