Real work

  • Shaun C. Gibson
 

Depending on your perspective, my partner Laurie's resume is either impressive or disturbing. In her 20s, she worked as a wilderness ranger, hiking miles with a too-heavy pack, digging drain dips and toilet holes. In her 30s, she worked on a trail crew, chopping roots, sawing logs, clearing brush. Nowadays she works in an historic apple orchard, pruning, weeding, thinning. Not surprisingly, she's often in pain. But like most people who do real work, she rarely complains. She didn't, at least, until last year, when her wrists got so bad -- stiff and sore and bone-achy through sleepless nights -- that she could no longer work. Then she faced a dilemma.

She could go to the doctor on her own tab, or she could put in a worker's compensation claim. The problem with paying herself wasn't the cost of the visit; it was what the doctor might say. What if it was carpal tunnel syndrome? What if it required surgery? What if the condition was degenerative, debilitating?

"You have to make a claim," I said.

She groaned.

Among bureaucrats, an injured worker is too often presumed a faker, greedy, lazy and tricky. What's worse, among other workers, a claimant is too often seen as a failure, not tough enough or careful enough. Real work is about bucking up. Endurance is a source of pride. But Laurie had been bucking up long enough. So she sighed and filled out a dozen forms. She took a day off, had X-rays taken, and finally sat in a swivel chair to explain her job to an overweight orthopedist.

He waited impatiently for her to finish.

"You aren't going to like what I have to say," he began. "Your frame is too small for what you do. Your muscles and your skeletal structure are overtaxed."

She shrugged. She'd heard it before. We all had.

Laurie and I have lots of friends, men and women, all over the West, who do seasonal work in the woods. We came to the mountains from the great ubiquitous suburbs of America -- products of sitcoms and state universities -- because we wanted to be outside. Not just some of the time. Who knows where the desire came from? Maybe it was something in our genes, all those farmer ancestors. Or maybe it was plain middle-class privilege, the freedom we had to say: To hell with upward mobility!

You can see it on our faces in photos: the glee, the luster, the passion. We loved the pretty places we landed -- who wouldn't? -- and we loved the work: the independence, the challenge, the chance to use both brain and body. Tools, skills, results.

At first, even our parents glamorized it. A summer in the woods seemed like a healthful way to sow some wild oats before heading home to a mortgage, a marriage, a commute and a cubicle. None of them saw the change coming, the slow shift toward permanence. None of us did. Ten years passed. Then 20.

After a while, our families began to ask us gingerly: "But what do you plan to do with your life? What about when your body wears out?"

We didn't answer. We didn't even listen. Or most of us didn't.

My friends still stack rocks and saw trees and sleep in the dirt. They get laid off in the winter and save their money. Some have health insurance, and some don't. They are stubborn as hell. They will not quit.

But I did.

High Country News Classifieds
  • DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    Friends of Cedar Mesa is hiring a Deputy Director/COO who will have the overall responsibilities of general program management, staff management, financial & budget management,...
  • CUSTOMER SERVICE ASSISTANT - (PART-TIME)
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a part-time Customer Service Assistant, based at...
  • RURAL ACREAGE OUTSIDE SILVER CITY, NM
    Country living just minutes from town! 20 acres with great views makes a perfect spot for your custom home. Nice oaks and juniper. Cassie Carver,...
  • COMMUNICATIONS AND OUTREACH ASSOCIATE
    Communications and Outreach Associate Position Opening: www.westernlaw.org/communications-outreach-associate ************************************************* Location: Western U.S., ideally in one of WELC's existing office locations (Santa Fe or Taos, NM, Helena,...
  • OFFICE ADMINISTRATOR AND BOOKKEEPER
    Posted: July 19, 2021 Application deadline: August 27 or until position is filled. Western Colorado Alliance for Community Action is seeking a fulltime Office Administrator...
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
    Posted: July 15, 2021 Application deadline: August 21, 2021 or until position is filled Western Colorado Alliance for Community Action is seeking three full time...
  • A FIVE STAR FOREST SETTING WITH SECLUSION AND SEPARATENESS
    This home is for a discerning buyer in search of a forest setting of premier seclusion & separateness. Surrounded on all sides by USFS land...
  • CARPENTER WANTED
    CARPENTER WANTED. Come to Ketchikan and check out the Rainforest on the coast, HIke the shorelines, hug the big trees, watch deer in the muskeg...
  • AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT EDITOR
    High Country News (HCN) seeks an audience editor to attract and acquire new audiences and deepen engagement with them - in our newsletters, on our...
  • COMMUNITY MARKETER
    High Country News (HCN) is looking for a Community Marketer to build and strengthen relationships between HCN and other organizations and individuals, with the aim...
  • FINANCE & OPERATIONS MANAGER
    Job Announcement: Finance and Operations Manager Announcement date: July 16, 2021 Applications will be reviewed on an ongoing basis and first review will begin: August...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Job Announcement: Development Director Announcement date: July 16, 2021 Applications will be reviewed on an ongoing basis and first review will begin: August 9, 2021...
  • HECHO POLICY AND ADVOCACY MANAGER
    Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO) was created in 2013 to help fulfill our duty to conserve and protect our public lands for...
  • HECHO NEW MEXICO SENIOR FIELD COORDINATOR
    Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO) was created in 2013 to help fulfill our duty to conserve and protect our public lands for...
  • IDAHO STATE DIRECTOR
    The Wilderness Society is seeking a full time Idaho State Director who will preferably be based in Boise, Idaho. This position is part of our...
  • CAUCASIAN OVCHARKA PUPPIES
    Strong loyal companions. Ready to protect your family and property. Proven against wolves and grizzlies. Imported bloodlines. Well socialized.
  • DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    The Nature Conservancy in Alaska is dedicated to saving the lands and waters on which all life depends. For more than 30 years, TNC has...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY, CLIMATE AND ENERGY PROGRAM
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING https://westernlaw.org/career-opportunity-climate-energy-staff-attorney/ ************************************************** Position Title: Climate and Energy Program Staff Attorney Reports to: Climate and Energy Program Director Location: Helena, Montana; other...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY, WILDLANDS AND WILDLIFE PROGRAM
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING https://westernlaw.org/career-opportunity-wildlands-staff-attorney/ ************************************************** Position Title: Wildlands and Wildlife Program Staff Attorney Reports to: Wildlands and Wildlife Program Director Location: Portland or Eugene,...
  • DISCOUNT SOLAR PANELS
    New w/25 year warranty. Shipped anywhere in the lower 48. Minimum order of 10 units. Call, text or email for current prices. .50-.80/ watt