Day Zero: the Real Work


Indian Creek Rec. Area near Markleeville, CA

Number 11: Appreciate and choose, when possible, meaningful work rather than just making a living.
-from Arne Naess’ “Lifestyle Trends Within the Deep Ecology Movement”

Five days ago, all of this around me – the land, the people, the flora and fauna – was foreign. And now, I feel as if I’ve spent a lifetime here, growing up with the raucous clacking of Acorn woodpeckers and Steller’s jays by morning and the warm-blanket-and-herbal-tea scent of sun-baked sagebrush in the evening. My co-leader Rebecca Saunders and I have spent the last five days here in the most remote corner of California (Alpine County, pop. 1,200) throwing all of our individual and collective energy into preparing for thirty days of new trail construction and communal living with six volunteer high school students from all over the United States (and Italy). Truthfully, these five days have felt more like five weeks. There have been late nights and early mornings, many caffeinated beverages consumed, many miles driven and dollars spent, and countless hours spent brainstorming, discussing, and planning for the next thirty days, and in less than twelve hours our preparations will officially be over and we will be in the thick of the crew life.

Being somewhat familiar with the crew leading experience, day one arrives with equal parts excitement and apprehension. Probably because you know that shortly you will be at the airport meeting six individuals for the first time and from that moment forward none of your lives will ever be the same, that all of you are entering into an experience with each other and the land that is a deeper experience than can be found anywhere else.

Some may ask: why spend a summer communing with seven strangers, sleeping on the ground, and digging in the dirt for eight hours each day? Why spend a full day grocery shopping for quantities and combinations of bulk foods that would fluster Stephen Hawking? Why voluntarily expend every ounce of your physical and mental energy for a job? Well, there’s “work”, something everyone does as daily necessity. Then there is what poet Gary Snyder calls “the real work”, something I feel is at the heart of what we are out here to do, something that touches, connects, and transforms the human and the wild while respecting, preserving, and strengthening the inherent beauty of each.

So, even though we may emerge from the mountains thirty days from now a little dirty, a little tired, a little sun burnt, we will also come out stronger, wiser, and with the knowledge that we have taken part in the real work, and for that we will receive a paycheck that cannot be measured in dollars but in an understanding of ourselves, each other, and the wider world that will stay with us forever.