Nature of the BEAST

Well, March turned out to be quite a busy month for us here at Lake Berryessa. With our schedule packed full of awesome work projects and incredible trainings we brought the term “March Madness” to a whole new level. Not to mention four of us were rooting for our respective teams in the tourney, which fueled a fun, friendly bracket challenge amongst us. We even enjoyed the company and help of the Oakland Community crew for a day of collaboration between the Corps and Community programs. To start things off, the crew jumped immediately into “trail weird” mode and finished the last of the re-routes on the Smittle Creek trail – a whopping 200 feet of hypothetical questions, “returning” items to customer service and Emilio Estevez jokes. We spent a day fixing/replacing a section of timber steps and doing some finishing touches to the trail before switching locales and making the daily commute to Markley Cove. Our focus for the rest of the week turned back to rigging and rock steps at the dreaded pullout #12, where we had begun staging rocks in the previous hitch. It was slow going, and at times very tedious and frustrating trying to get rocks to fit the right way in the holes or gargoyles to match up and have at least three points of contact. Tensions rose and fell like the waves lapping at the shore where we gathered our rocks. Thus is the nature of rock work and as such we grew to have better and more effective communication, increased patience and a greater awareness of our own personal responses to stress. The final result gave us sixteen beautiful rock steps that make the path from the pullout to the water safer, more user-friendly, and hopefully with minimal erosion. During the following hitch we quickly finished setting a final step and bid farewell to pullout #12 for bluer waters and shorter slopes right down the road at pullout #13. We took a quick detour back to Smittle for a day to replace a small bridge, and then shifted our attention to preparations for the arrival of the Oakland Community Crew to help with 2 rock projects: a retaining wall and more steps. We began figuring out the highline system and getting things into place and everything was going relatively smoothly. Perhaps a little too smoothly, so of course I found a way to shake things up which is how my finger ended up caught between a rock and a hard place, or more specifically, a rock bar. This led to a whirlwind afternoon trip to the ER, 7 stitches, a splint, and a bit of perspective to remind us of the dangers of our work. This also gave the crew a chance to practice their WFR (Wilderness First Responder) skills in the field and made for a great teachable moment for the Community Crew when they arrived 2 days later, I did not catch a single member without gloves on the whole time we were working. It was fun having fresh faces at the work site and I know we all enjoyed the chance to put the leadership skills we’ve been developing to the test. We were fortunate to be able to spend our off time with not one, but two wonderful trainings with the infamous and masterful Dolly Chapman, learning all the ins and outs of crosscut saws. (I knew I could work a pun into this post if I tried.) The first break we headed to Pollock Pines Ranger District in the Eldorado National Forest and spent 3 days in the lap of luxury staying at the fire barracks, complete with big screen T.V. and all manner of ridiculous movies. (Big Trouble in Little China, anyone?) We learned the proper way to use crosscuts and got lots of practice bucking and clearing downed trees with a variety of different saws and implements. The second break was another journey, this time north to Calpine, CA where we disperse camped on Tahoe National Forest land with only the smallest remnants of snow still left on the ground. Here we were bestowed with all the knowledge and tools necessary to properly sharpen and tune crosscut saws. This has fueled once again the desire of some folks on the crew to become “a slave to an age old trade,” and this may now actually provide them with a feasible opportunity. When all is said and done, the hard work, frustration and lack of sleep was well worth it to see the completion of structures that will be here for decades, gain knowledge and skills that are becoming a lost art and be rejuvenated by the spark in the high-schoolers who are well on their way to being some of the next great conservation leaders.