Every Hitch is the Same, and Every Hitch is Different

This past hitch to McGee Creek Natural Scenic and Recreation Area (NSRA) was the third time we have worked in the area. This time, like the others, we were tasked with clearing trail corridor. This consists of walking up and down long stretches of its trails network with chainsaws, brush-cutters, and hand tools to cut back the constantly encroaching forest. On the whole this work is monotonous and emotionally unfulfilling. However, this is the work that needs to be done for continued safe enjoyment of these natural places by the general public. Competing emotions assault a crew who has done the same work, in different capacities, in the same place, for three different hitches.
One such emotion is weariness. We are tired of doing the same thing day in and day out. Some of this is offset by the creativity that nature possesses. Each tree presents a different set of problems for felling. A dead tree is a hazardous tree. Every vibration of the saw can compromise the structural integrity of the tree. Three cuts; a face-cut, a horizontal cut a third of the way into the base of the tree and a sloping cut meeting the corners of the horizontal cut, and a back-cut on the reverse side of the face-cut, is the standard way to fell a tree. What if the tree rocks onto the saw in an unexpected way? What if the sawyer, the person handling the saw, does not anticipate the natural lean of the tree correctly and the tree falls in the wrong direction? Such moment-to-moment events are part of the creative capacity of the forest to wreck the habitual practice of felling a tree. Weariness is mostly about habit, and the trees themselves each break the habit.
A second emotion comes from investment in a single project, pride. This place in Oklahoma that most people will never see is ours. We have poured sweat and, sometimes, blood into the ground of these trails. Of the network of trails that make up McGee NSRA, we have cleared corridor along perhaps seventy percent of their trails. Like weariness, pride in our work is complicated. We are proud of our work. After months of work and investment in this park’s trails, so few people will every see and know what we have done. The greatest frustration about pride is that our pride does not seem to be matched by equal public appreciation. We all want our work to be appreciated, and so far only the “Atoka Trail Riders Club” seems to have used these trails we have worked so hard to keep open. Many trails in the park are accessible to horses, which, in terms of trail maintenance, means that the corridor needs to be at least twelve feet high and six to eight feet wide. Forest has a nasty habit of eating away at the corridor, and, given enough time, the trail will cease to exist. Our work is a stopgap measure. Another crew will be needed to keep the trails open, ad infinitum.
Half the crew, after work, will go out and explore the area, while the other half will stay in camp to wait on dinner and rest by getting off their feet. Each day started to feel like a clone of the day before. The days started to blend together, and still the days themselves always had new details. Chainsaws would break, brush-cutters stalled and died, and people had different reactions to different events within routine. Weariness and pride are just two examples of the range of emotional responses by the crew this past hitch. It is work, and the paradox of work is that it is always different, and always the same.

-J.J. CrumplerIMG_0964 IMG_0976 IMG_1016

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