A summer in Bridges

By: Lauren Waldrip

The day was Friday. It was the 18th of August, which marked the end of Bridges’ summer term. Our rag-tag group of 9 was gathered around the large table in the conference room at Conservation Corps’ office. We hadn’t had a proper shower in several days and our mouths were salivating in anticipation for the take-out feast we were about to enjoy.

Nick, Maggie, and Hollis joined us with notepads and pens in hand, prepared to record our tale.

It has been a long summer. Probably the most adventurous, productive summer I’ve had in several years. Bridges has been running at full-speed since the beginning of June: taking on projects near and far, camping, laughing, and guzzling Sriracha like nobody’s business.

“What was your favorite project, pre-Superior National Forest, and why?
How would you describe working on your crew?
What was your favorite education day?
What was your favorite project in the Superior National Forest?”

Oh, the feels.

I listened as we went around the table, each person sharing their experience. Some answers were serious, slightly solemn as we felt the experience was really ending and knew we would miss it; others were light-hearted and brought out a good laugh from everyone as we remembered inside jokes and memorable moments. I felt warm and bubbly hearing everyone’s answers, like a little volcano was gurgling in my chest.

I’d gained a reputation over the summer for being intensely-emotional and quick to cry. The silly part is I don’t think I even cried in front of anyone, it was just the weekly stories about a movie I had watched over the weekend- “Lion” got me real good.

I could feel myself choking up as I answered what it was like to work on our crew. I quickly reverted to humor and laughed about how Justin had to keep us in check whenever I decided to instill chaos (ex. only replying to questions by meowing).
Or how some days there was so much singing that it felt like being in a Disney musical.
Or how forgetting to buy a) Sriracha b) Salsa c) Mayo or d) Jalapeno Cheddar Kettle Chips was more than enough reason to mutiny- shudder to think forgetting them all. That day was terrifying.

I remember there were a few times Justin and I had help grocery shopping from Tess and Andrew. It’s so laughable to me that I have everyone’s favorite lunches and snacks memorized. They like the strawberry-lemonade fruit strips, but not the mango fruit twists. But they looove mango.

On our first spike trip we went to Tettegouche State Park on the north shore. One afternoon we went out to Lake Micmac by the historic Camp Tettegouche where Kurt- who is the best dang park naturalist I’ve met- led us on a canoeing and fishing trip. We had a small haul for nine people, but considering that this was a new experience for many of our crew members (myself included), I was more than impressed. Time, who is our resident expert on all things fish-related, quickly helped Kurt filet the Bluegill and Perch. Justin took over from there, battering up the afternoon’s catch in Shore Lunch and frying it over the camp stove. Our flock of youth members quickly gathered around the stove, snapping up the filets before they had a chance to cool. I tried my best to distract them between batches by continually slicing up mangos, which disappeared in the same fashion.

That was my favorite trip. Talking to Zahra about what our future goals are. Hearing Mai See excitedly cry out in the middle of the night because she saw fireflies or the Big Dipper. Hanging out with Sam in the van while they did Calculus homework. Christell’s constant reminders to close the tent to keep the bugs out. And, oh, the ticks. So many ticks.

But hey- this summer we learned how to identify the sex of American dog ticks, which is a skill I never even considered having. After all, the only good tick is a dead tick in my book. I digress- adult females (left) appear to be wearing a necklace, adult males (right) appear to be wearing suspenders. The more you know. Thanks Dr. Caitlin Potter and Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve for encouraging us to ask questions for curiosity’s sake.                                                                                                                                      

Speaking of things Bridges never expected to learn, we learned how to play Dungeons and Dragons on our Superior trip. Andrew acts as a DM (dungeon master/dude with a plan) for his friends, and was kind and patient enough to teach all of us how to play. He even helped Zahra create her own werewolf queen character, Queen Zahra. We evaded zombies, ran from a horde of goblins, brutally slayed a dragon, and used the power of hugs to overcome more than half of our enemies- not even kidding, Kayla was a monk (Sunshine ‘N Rainbows, SNR for short) who’s strongest attack was a hug.

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It was a culmination of these subtle experiences that made my summer so special.

While I would highly recommend Bridges to anyone simply for the opportunity to explore Minnesota, work on a variety of projects, and develop professional skills, I know that there is so much more to gain from this experience if you make yourself open to it.