First Weeks: Blue Smurf Pee and the Coolest Work Ever

By: Sean Fleming

For our crew's first project this year, we basal-sprayed buckthorn at a section of Fort Snelling State Park. The project was an ideal introduction to a typical day in Conservation Corps. Gridding allowed us to familiarize ourselves while becoming equally acquainted with the shiny bark and spiny outline of our most common foe. As we stepped from sapling to sapling, bent over, visually focusing on each silver stem and mentally trying to focus on the riddles we shared with each other to pass the time, we occasionally came across blue patches in the snow near or beneath rabbit droppings. The blue patches were dark, darker than the blue herbicide mixture we left at the base of each buckthorn. Commercial jets flew overhead every ten minutes, landing at the airport across the river. We wondered if the blue patches had something to do with the jets—perhaps coolant or hydraulic fluid leaking from their deploying wheels. But each appeared suspiciously next to a patch of rabbit dung.

I did some quick research toward the end of the week that consisted of me Googling “blue rabbit pee snow” and hit the article Blue Smurf Pee, Rabbits and Buckthorn on the blog Bootstrap Analysis. Apparently, buckthorn bark contains a chemical that when exposed to sunlight turns blue. I can only hope that the rabbits and deer are developing a taste for buckthorn.

The blue pee was a great reminder of how much an individual can learn in a single day, a single week and a single year of service. I look pridefully at my service last year when I reflect on everything I learned about ecology, natural history, equipment and, most of all, human relations. I've noticed a change in me recently. Something that's becoming more pleasurable than learning itself is teaching and watching others learn.

I was blessed last week to be able to instruct some other crew members during our chainsaw training in a dense Scotch Pine grove. Nearly every falling tree snagged a neighbor. Standing back and looking at the corps members' faces as they analyzed the hung up trees, I could see the sprockets of their brains ticking. Everyone focuses. People shout out ideas, experiments, strategies. A synthesis of minds, bodies and environment forming a cyclical relationship until the tree finally collapses in a snowy explosion and everyone celebrates.

In between heaving on a rope tied to a stubborn pine, my fellow crew member, John, kept looking up with an uncontrollable smile on his face saying, “This is awesome.” We paused silently and looked out at the vibrant fluorescent green vests and orange chaps of corps members speckled across the snowy Scotch Pine plantation. “This is the coolest work ever,” John said. I looked up at the sunlight beaming off the shaggy Scotch bark illuminating the gasps of snow that shook off the branches and slowly drifted down, twinkling until they misted our faces.

And I thought, “Yes it is.”