No Country for the Uncertain
                               by Mary Sanders

views from camp

Our group, tired and focusing heavily on the warm food in front of us, ate dinner quietly, enjoying the remaining hours of sun. It was day four of our project. Dinner was pasta, accompanied by the garlic knots I was assigned to make. Reminder, this is intern that is trying to get as much backcountry cooking experience as possible, there was a lot of effort that went into those knots. A group member was kind enough to compliment my work, and jokingly I responded “at least I did one thing right”. A lot of people laughed. One of the volunteers, Melissa, was not going to let that one fly though. She turned to me and corrected me for undercutting myself. It may seem so small, garlic knots for god sake, but all too often people, especially young women, as Melissa pointed out, brush off their abilities. It took only that moment for there to be a huge realization on my part. Here the group was, in one of the best scenarios to build on skill sets and confidence, as anyone in the backcountry has. It was time to take advantage of it.

the hard hats and rain boots we brought in
the group loading up the truck on day one
This was my very first Wilderness Volunteer Project, and second time backpacking, so to say the least there was a lot to learn. Being in a place like the Never Summer Wilderness, an environment so unfamiliar, a lot can happen. Moments like carrying a heavy cooler across a river on a narrow log, learning how to use a WhisperLite stove, and trying to convince myself the moose outside my tent isn’t going to kill me, were all major points, personally, during that week. The backcountry does not allow questioning of self. It doesn’t have time for frustration, selfishness, pride. It’s basically where the seven deadly sins go to die. Quite frankly, I worked hard to adjust, but what was almost more important, was to realize how much progress I was making through the week. It was apparent from Melissa’s comment that there was still some work to be done in that department.

volunteer Melissa working at crossing #2
 leaders Ben and Laura resting on a stringer
It wasn’t just the intern. Everyone in that pack of seven volunteers, and one forest ranger, got to grow a little. Each day members were checking up on one another more, not being so eager to be the first one served at dinner, and seeking out ways to help during down time. The communication got better too. Before picking up a log, there’d be greater clarification of where exactly it needed to be moved, and if the footing was good enough. There was also noticing that a volunteer’s mood was more of a reflection that it was day six on the project, than anything else. This seems to be the way of the backcountry. It doesn’t bring out the best in everyone necessarily, but it can. Because of the challenge, the fact that these individuals get put in such a foreign environment, the superhuman side sometimes makes an appearance.

 Trees plowed down from a previous avalanche, located near the worksite
That’s where the importance of Melissa’s comment comes in. It’s the acknowledgement of the accomplishment, the growth, that is so important. If I’d continued to undercut myself, as I was trying to learn and get comfortable with the work, well it’s like the saying: one step forward, two steps back. The volunteers give so much to the land during a weeklong project, but what might not be recognized, is how much the land gives in return. Would I say I’m a completely different person after returning from the trip? Of course not. Yet, I’m definitely more confident to take on the upcoming project challenges.

Mary is a sophomore at Michigan State University and is the Wilderness Volunteers 2018 Intern. Stay tuned for more blogs about her summer experiences on WV projects!