“Just remember, this job is awesome,” said one of my co-workers as we dug in the dirt in the hot sun. It was unexpectedly warm and buggy despite the leaves beginning to change color. Morale suffered after almost a week of digging and shoveling gravel and mineral soil. My coworker reminded me that even at its worst, this job is better than most days in the office. We worked for ten days in the Essex Chain nestled between Fourth and Fifth lake building a handicap accessible trail. Birds were active in the area in song and flight, echoing in the valley of the two lakes. At night, we were accompanied by loons, coyotes, and field mice.
The handicap trail included a tent pad and water access platform. It was a new project for me with different standards set by the America’s Disability Act. The trail had to be four feet wide and as flat as possible, which required meticulous manipulation of the earth. It does and it doesn’t take much to change the grade a couple degrees, which is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, it took days to dig out a flat trail and cover it with gravel. But once the gravel was down, a few more scoops fixed problem areas that were off by a couple degrees. The perfectionists on the crew went a bit crazy; the trail could never get flat or smooth enough.
Every day we shoveled gravel into wheel barrows, pushed it over to the trail, dumped it out, leveled the gravel, and tamped it down. Our fingers hurt from the repetitive work; the pain woke us up at night. I slept okay, but every morning it took an aching minute to uncoil my fists into an open palm, joints cracking and swollen. To keep ourselves sane we played games and conversed about our families and relationships, movies, books, tattoos, and fate versus coincidence. These rolled into discussions about our experience with SCA and our lives afterward.
There is only a month left of this program. A bittersweet final stretch. It’s liberating to know I can go wherever and do whatever I want after this. Some of us feel pressure, others are excited.
I’ve told folks about what I’m doing with my life and they act like it’s the luxury of a post-collegiate 22 year old. They treat SCA as a wonderful little break before the inevitable fall into the depressing adult world. The real world with nine to five jobs in offices with festering politics and capitalist enthused attitudes and a stupid amount of stress and pressure from horrible bosses; lines in a grocery store and screaming kids and five o’clock rush hour and Walmart’s taking over the world with their migraine inducing fluorescent lights, creating anxiety among the masses through advertisements for products that are completely unnecessary. Yet as a consumer and young professional, I would feel pressure to keep up with news, beauty, pop culture, latest products and technologies, because it’s almost impossible to exist without a cell phone and a LinkedIn in this age.
Peace of mind wouldn’t be free or near or solitary, but planned vacations at faraway over-priced hotels with nauseating elevators and touristy beaches that insult the ocean with overbearing pools and hot tubs. The woods and earth would be a stranger, an ‘other’ to my concrete lifestyle. That’s a popular lifestyle of American adults; adults I knew growing up as parents and teachers etc. and that’s perfectly fine.
But what if I just don’t do that? What if I don’t go there?
Instead I’ll work on farms and live off what I grow. I’ll carry all my belongings on my back and the only thing I’ll need is a shelf for my books. I work seasonal jobs that let me travel, exchanging good times with people through deep conservations that rise in intensity over the fourth or fifth beer, but in the end, hardly know. My plan doesn’t go beyond age 24. You may roll your eyes, calling me an optimistic 22 year old, and that I am. I wouldn’t deny that I’m privileged, either. The fact that I’m able to choose freedom and deny conformity. Hell, you might call me naïve. But what if I’m not? Even if down the line I am proven wrong, I’d rather make the mistake.
This job teaches me that age is but a number. Working for and tending to the earth is both hard work and therapeutic. It’s one of the best things I could do with my life.
I’ve tasted the life of love, travel, and the outdoors, and I now I want to live it. It’s out there, I know it. Watch me pull it off.