July 18-24: Pushing Further in Storm Creek

It’s the heat of an Idaho late afternoon, and every cell of my dehydrated body is begging me to turn my boots around, hike down the steep trail, pound a liter of water, and fall face first into ice-cold Storm Creek. Instead, my saw partner and I approach a large, burnt log set into the ground. It’s hour ten of a long day of limbing, chopping, shoveling, and sawing. “This will be our last log of the day, okay, Em?” says my saw partner.

The trail gods hear our mention of the “last log,” and to spite us, nothing goes as planned. Our saw gets stuck, a wedge disappears, and there are too many roots to dig a trench to finish our cut. The soot from the burn covers my hands and legs and leaves black streaks across my face where I push away sweat. Finally, we brace our legs against the section of 20-inch diameter log we have cut, and push in a direction we can only hope is downhill. The log doesn’t budge. I’m discouraged, but my saw partner remains optimistic.

“Let’s just try it one more time, Em.”

Again, I push with all the strength I have left in my tired legs. There is a cracking noise, then a pop, and the log rolls free.

In five years, when someone mentions Storm Creek, I probably won’t remember most of my time working in the drainage. I probably won’t remember the cool morning hike to our work site. I probably won’t remember listening to a coworker play a favorite folk song on the guitar under a pink and orange July sky. I probably won’t remember the logs that easily rolled from the trail. I probably won’t remember laughing as two hobbled horses sprinted across the creek with a forest service employee close behind. I probably won’t remember eating freshly picked bolete mushrooms, fried in oil. I probably won’t remember the view of Ranger Peak and the rest of the Bitterroot crest.

But I will remember the woody “pop” and sweet release of a big, burnt log being cleared from the trail. I will remember that it’s usually the things we fight and struggle for that are the most rewarding. I will remember pressing the soles of my boots into a stubborn log and when I thought I could push no more, pushing further.

     — Emerald LaFortune, Wilderness Ranger Intern | August 14, 2012