This past summer I worked with Modoc National Forest through the Student Conservation Association. As a Wilderness and Trail Crew intern, I lived and worked in a team of five for twelve weeks. I soon learned that my time with this group of students did not terminate after the end of our eight-hour workday. Operating out of a remote guard station, a good forty-five minute drive across sketchy gravel roads from the nearest town (which was Cedarville, CA - population 800), we essentially functioned like a family: eating together, camping, together, working together. I had never spent this much time in close proximity to people I did not know before. And yet here I was, in the presence of a vegetarian, a Jew, a New Englander, and a Mexican, twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, whether I liked it or not.
At first we practiced the formalities, asking polite questions of one another and not stepping on anyone’s toes. But after a few weeks our facades broke down and we exposed our true personalities. Over campfires we discussed politics, on hikes, philosophy. As we cleared the trails we talked of banned books, musicians, and art. At night, we read at least twenty books by torchlight, and by day, discussed the Native American history as we sliced through logs with crosscut saws. There were debates too – lighthearted conflicts over what to cook for dinner but also intense ones that almost turned into fights.
Grueling work on the trail morphed my body into a machine capable of tackling anything. Minimalist backpacking lifestyle reinforced my decision-making ability and resilience, even in the face of every type of precipitation possible in a twenty-four hour period. Tough questions over campfires ignited the fire that has become my own voice. By the end of summer, beyond the experience of completing fulfilling work, I felt independent, self-reliant, and ready to take on the world - what I encountered in Modoc National Forest inspired me to explore even more.
As I look ahead to my semester abroad in Santiago, I know my experiences in California will no doubt influence my time there. Like my approach to interning with the Forest Service, I am open to new experiences and will retain a sense of adventure. I also hope to accomplish a few goals I have. I aim to master my grasp of the Spanish language so I can immerse myself in the culture of the region. In my coursework, I’m eager to learn more about the economic development in Chile, and its associated environmental and social implications. Lastly, I hope that I can capture some of the beauty of my experiences with photography, video, sound clips, and journaling, the highlights of which I will post on a weekly basis.
I first found out I was accepted to SIT’s Economic Development program in Chile while I was working for the Forest Service in California. Extremely excited, I spent hours on our hikes daydreaming about the adventures I’d be having. From one beautiful place to another, I feel like one lucky girl.
I fly to Santiago on Saturday. Until then, ¡hasta luego!