August 18-25: Children of the Woods

Something that always inspires me is when someone, say an adult even, who has built up a life of success, accomplishments, and growth still seeks out and is open to learning new things. That was the theme of our volunteer trip that recently went into the Storm Creek drainage to clear a section of trail leading to the sub-alpine Siah Lake. Three SBFC interns and two staff members were joined by nine volunteers, mostly from Moscow, ID, who graciously forwent spending their vacation time relaxing lavishly on some sun-spotted beach and instead wanted to spent their precious free time in the dirt of the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, learning how to axe, saw, and brush. Unlike a regular vacation, this work “fills me up with a sense of accomplishment having made an impact in my own backyard,” one volunteer said.  

Volunteer Deirdre learns how to swing an axe.


For a group of people, many of whom had never used primitive clearing tools before, this group sure picked it up quick. By the morning of day three I was surprised to find us working as a team like a well-oiled machine. Small groups of brushing and limbing crews ploughed the way for saw teams, as the consistent sound of a running saw rang out from our ridgeline. Within only a few hours of work, I heard our volunteers saying things like “Maybe we should just under-buck this log,” or “Do you think this tree has any top bind?” It just went to show that no matter the age, an old dog can (and most certainly will) learn new tricks.


Intern Seth Bader and Volunteer Pat stand by a cut on a sub-alpine fir tree.

This trip was unlike any other I have experienced in the backcountry in any capacity. We were joined by folks coming from all walks of life, various countries, and ages. We were lucky enough to be packed in by Jon Binninger, a longtime friend of the Selway-Bitterroot Frank Church Foundation, and his family — meaning we were joined by Jon’s children who are seven and four. Not only did these youngsters keep the mood at camp light with their constant jokes and giggling, but they even joined us on the trail and helped with brushing. To me this hitch taught lessons of companionship and humanity, it proved that no matter someone’s age, we can all serve a purpose in this life — especially in regards to wilderness stewardship. Nature draws people together for various reasons, but in the end it teaches the same lessons indiscriminately of age. On a Wednesday night we found ourselves returning from another successful day clearing Trail #59 toward Siah Lake as a storm began to approach, up the valley from the west. We heard the thunder ring in closer and closer around us, until we were almost engulfed by sheets of rain as streaks of lightning crashed out on the surrounding ridgelines. Time, life, and age stood still for these fifteen minutes as we were all transfixed by the storm’s awesome power. It didn’t matter if it was the first storm any of us had seen, or the hundredth, we all stood powerless and aghast.


Jon Binninger's children Clem (left) and Flora (right).


As the storm cleared we quickly received word that the lightning strikes had started several new fires in our area, and that we needed to evacuate by the next morning. It was an unfortunate end to a trip that was going so well, since no one was really ready to leave the backcountry. We came in as a group of people with plenty of visible and internal differences, and left with the similar feeling of timelessness that only a week in the wilderness can transpose upon you. As we hooted and hollered at the trailhead which sat up 2,000 ft. of switch-backing trail, it was hard to know who was four and who was forty. We were all children of the woods.

     — Seth Bader, Wilderness Ranger Intern | August 14, 2012