July 18-24: Backcountry Rhythm

By this point in the summer, I have begun to feel more comfortable with my wilderness routine than my off days in Missoula. When I come home for my breaks, the internet, my phone, friends, appointments, scheduling, and catching up on the news turn my five off days into an overwhelming frenzy. Yet this hitch I recognized how smoothly and rhythmically my days in the wilderness seem to pass. Between packing my bag and setting up camp, I have established my own camping rituals. Everything I carry in my pack serves a specific purpose and has its own place in my tent and bag. I know the order in which I put things into my backpack and consequently the order in which they are unpacked. For a girl who can barley keep track of her car keys, it is unbelievingly satisfying to know not only that I have everything I need on my back, but exactly where things are. During each hitch, whether a day was spent sawing or backpacking, arriving at camp is always accompanied by a sigh of relief after a hard day’s work. Once camp is set up with everything in its particular place, I cook dinner, socialize with the crew, and try to stay awake long enough do some reading or journaling before I crawl into my sleeping bag for a much needed night’s rest. Yet despite the organized fashion of camp, each day and every hitch brings on new challenges and new excitements. Every tree we cut presents its own problems and puzzles, every crew I work with has it own dynamics and quirks, and every trail we clear reveals its own gems and challenges. These changes have kept my summer interesting and exciting even as I become at home in my tent and comfortable in my working routine.

This hitch, Claire Muller, Charlie Smiley, Emerald LaFortune, and I met up with Steve Hodgdon and Adam Washebek to clear trees in an old burn area along Storm Creek. The week flew by and before I knew it, I was back in Missoula filling out paper work — thrown right back into my unorganized and chaotic front-country life. Reflecting on the summer thus far, I feel so blessed to be a part of the Selway Bitterroot Frank Church Foundation’s internship program. I am constantly amazed that I am having all these experiences, meeting all these wonderful people, learning all that I am, and helping maintain the wilderness I love, all while being paid for it! I want to tell everyone I see what an amazing job opportunity I’ve found myself in and, simultaneously, I irrationally want to keep it secret in fear that anyone who hears about it will instantly try and steal my job.

At the age of 21 my life’s course is still largely uncertain, and as this summer flies by I wonder where I will be in a year. But there is nothing that can reverse the changes that working in the Clearwater has impressed on me this summer. That comforting rhythm of backpacking, my newfound wilderness knowledge, the people I have come to know, and my passion for the Selway Bitterroot are sure to steer my life in ways I would not have predicted even a year ago. However, despite the many doubts I have, I am absolutely confident that yesterday was far from the last time I will wake up to the smells, sights, and sounds of the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness.

     — Harper Kaufman, Wilderness Ranger Intern | August 8, 2012