A year in the life

By: Danielle Yaste

First off, I would like to forewarn you that I am getting a little overly sentimental about my Conservation Corps term winding down.  With that being said, I think the sentimentality is warranted, and I would like to tell you why. 

At our spring training our district manager told us this: “This year, it’s a once in a lifetime experience, you may not see it now, but you will.” 

I thought about it a lot over the next seven months, and she was right, at the time I really did not see it.  I was skeptical.  It was getting to be summer, we were treating invasives, planting endless amounts of trees, and I swore we were never going to leave the Munger trail.  I was tired.  But, as the months passed, she proved to be right in more ways than one.  Through the hot summer days of invasives, trail maintenance, and back country trips, to the cool days of chainsaws and construction projects, the Conservation Corps has proven to be more than a job, more than “something to do for a year.” It has been a challenge, a perception change, an opportunity to get to know myself more than ever before.  I have never truly had to test my physical ability or my technical skills, and have rarely been pushed out of my comfort zone.  This past year challenged that, my program staff challenged that, and my crew challenged that.  Jenna challenged my fear of trying something new when faced with the possibility of inadequacy.  Katie challenged me to keep trying when I felt weak (you should have seen me the first time I picked up an ax).  John challenged my occasionally linear thinking mindset, and Ben challenged the need to always be right (sometimes, at the beginning, I swore my chainsaw was broken, I really just needed practice).  And that was just our field staff; I cannot even begin to describe how thankful I am for my crew.  They pushed me to try new things, they made me laugh, often until I cried.  Many days they were my cheerleaders (in a really masculine, cool way), my teachers, and my honest, sassy critics. 

I gained so much from my term of service—more than I could have imagined.  So thank you Jenna, Ben, Katie, John, Jerry, and Chris—thank you for teaching us both technical and soft skills, for guiding us, and encouraging us.  Thank you to the entire Northeast District, particularly Arrowhead, for being quirky, unique, talented, and for letting me hang with you.  Most of all, thank you Amber, Nick, Josh, and Jack for being unapologetically yourselves; adventurous, crazy, hilarious, skilled, and most of all, an extension of my family.

Now that my sentimentality is over, I invite you to take a look at what a year in the life of a corpsmember looks like, through the eyes of the Moose Lake crew. 

The Detours: Fire, Flooding, and Frost

By: Danielle Yaste

As the amount of months remaining in our term continue to wind down, my time spent reminiscing over the year has already increased.  What I’ve began to realize is that the detours, the projects or events that weren’t originally a part of the plan, were some of the most memorable.  Three detours in particular stick out the most, and they involved fire, some flooding, and a little bit of frost.

During this past spring I wrote about our time working as a prescribed burn crew, but the morning I submitted that post was the first day of our Minnesota Interagency Fire Center or MIFC deployment.  We left our project on Wednesday and on Thursday we found ourselves in Nimrod, MN on the Lyons Fire.  We spent a few long days at the Lyons Fire, we arrived when there was still flames and the highest ranking incident command team in the state was present and when we left we were the last crew assigned to the cold fire.  We met new people, and crossed paths with DNR staff we had met before.  We even celebrated a crew member’s birthday.  From Nimrod we were resource ordered to the Cloquet region, where we stayed until it rained.  Our MIFC fire deployment was one of the road marks of the year.  During fire season we spent 28 of 30 days together, and it solidified us as a crew.

After the fire season, came the wet and stormy season that wreaked havoc in the Northland.  It began to rain one afternoon while we were working in our shop, within minutes we were running to our vehicles trying to get home before flooding stopped us.  The next morning required alternative routes to navigate the flood, the boys on our crew found themselves stranded from a washed out driveway.  The DNR staff divided to assess damage, and once our crew had all arrived, we were asked to check on a forestry road.  Through various unfortunate circumstances, we found ourselves rerouting around flooding for hours, turning an hour drive into a four-hour drive.  Amidst the stress, we found ourselves problem solving, and choosing to be positive together.

Lastly, As I was writing this blog post over a week ago, I experienced one of the best detours thus far.  Last Sunday, a crew needed someone to bump onto their crew for an eight-day spike in the Boundary Waters, maintaining the Border Route Trail.  I volunteered, and found myself packing for a trip in the last few minutes before I go to sleep, not totally aware of the adventure that lay ahead.  Two of my favorite things are hiking and crosscuts.  This trip involved a whole lot of both.  The boundary waters is a place that always bring me peace, and that feeling was intensified by the low number of travelers this fall.  And if you think the boundary waters are beautiful, you should see it with autumn in full swing.  The hills are speckled with green coniferous, and firey deciduous.  Add some frost to that, and its pure magic.  Our spike was filled with mornings where we couldn’t feel our toes, and days that took our breath away.  Each day brought new surprises of what additions Sean could make to the tarp shelter and we spent nights seeing how many clothes we could fit on our bodies.  We sat around a fire with wood split by Sean and the self-described “Swull Austin.”  One night, as we sat as close to the fire as physically possible could without being on fire, Austin posed the question “Despite the cold, sleet, and frost, is there really any other place you want to be right now?”  And the answer was unanimous, “No.”