By: Sean Fleming
After a week long break for the 4th of July and a relaxing week spent at Baker Park Reserve, the field crews are back at work. One topic floats around every morning and every afternoon at the shops—the heat. The Romans used to sacrifice a brown dog to the star Sirius at the beginning of every July in hopes of staving off the blistering heat waves that accompany this time of year. They believed that the dog star caused the heat; hence the term “dog days.” We've since developed kinder rituals. Working outdoors for a living turns a person into a compulsive, perhaps even paranoid weather checker. But just like slaying dogs, glancing at the heat index on a smart phone every hour doesn't make the day any cooler. Water, shade, frequent breaks, and the occasional trip to an ice cream shop or a nearby lake are the best auspices.
This is the time of year when a lot of accidents occur. The work often becomes repetitive. Swinging a Pulaski on ninety degree days floods the eyes with stinging sweat. Complacency settles in and small annoyances with fellow crew members or project hosts or the weather can start boiling blood. But all of that can be mitigated by slowing down and reviewing safety practices.
This is also the time of year when a lot of crews hit their stride. By now, everyone is proficient with chainsaws and hand tools. Some crews have fire experience; virtually all have buckthorn experience. Recurring project hosts are becoming familiar faces, and the separate crews have begun interacting with each other more—taking camping trips, hosting barbecues and discussing future plans for adventures, careers and life goals. At this point in the year, friendships will begin flourishing. Hidden crushes and romances become not so hidden anymore.
During dog days I melt into lazy reflection. I relish the summer thunderstorms that blow across the state, despite their damage. In my tent I listen to the whipping winds, the rain falling and the slow but powerful thunder rolling overhead. Last year our crew traveled to North Dakota to build barbed wire fences for the Bureau of Reclamation. Temperatures rose to 110 degrees at the peak of the day, all while we toiled on a wide open range—our pickup truck and tarps serving as our only shelter. I feel fortunate this year working on the water trails crew where silver maples shade almost every bend, and after bucking through a snagged log I can douse my head in the river to cool off.
Despite the heat, I'm glad that for the most part I don't live in a climate controlled environment. We have become scholars of the coldest winter days when your body wakes up sore from tensing its muscles, and we have become intimate with the muggiest dog days, deer flies biting at your hands, every thought opaque as it melts into the land.