Russ Hanbey

SCA hitches: too many to count

Ranger, Author, Teacher (retired) | Shoreline, WA

In 1984, Russ – a career teacher – stepped in to run SCA’s Seattle office on an interim basis, and that started a quarter-century run with SCA.  Since then, Russ has led SCA high school crews in Yellowstone and Denali, taught Wilderness Work Skills to hundreds of grateful students, and consulted on SCA’s award-winning Mount Rainier flood recovery program in 2007-2008, among other roles.

Russ has just published “Walking on Trees: Views from the Back Country,” a collection of essays and reminiscences from his years with SCA and the US Forest Service. 

Great title – where did it come from?

When walking the high country early in the season, you’ll often be traversing snow fields.  Some are so deep that you are literally walking over the tips of deeply buried evergreens.  On my first trip out with the Forest Service we worked our way up an avalanche chute onto a spur that was covered in snow.  I felt like I was “walking on trees.” 

What do you want readers to take away from your book?

They’ll hopefully get some insights into the working life of a back country worker, especially in the wilderness areas of the Northwest where the weather, topography and history run deep and varied.

To your mind, why is the outdoors such an effective classroom?

John Muir suggested that “going into the mountains was like going home.”  For me, extended trips into the mountains or desert, especially with a sense of purpose, are so comfortable that I feel centered, clear of head and ready to be transformed by what is in front of me or on the horizon.

What is the most dramatic case of “transformation” you saw with SCA?

When my five children returned from their SCA experiences, they carried a mantel of self-confidence, physical fitness and outdoor patina that the urban environment couldn’t erase.

Lots of people talk about our growing “disconnect” from nature – how do we solve it?

My wife, Jeanne, and I were in a campground in Alberta, Canada a few years back. Next to us were two families. One family was “camped out” in a 30 foot RV. The children never left the confines of the RV or the picnic table area, nor did their parents. The other family had an old tent and sat outside the whole time.  Their kids stayed within sight, but wandered at will all day. The first family of kids played with electronics or bickered.  The other kids played with old pieces of wood and rocks, got dirty and sang songs by the campfire at night.  Need I say more?..

For more on Russ and “Walking on Trees,” visit russhanbey.com

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