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Dirt Work

An Education in the Woods

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Description

A lively and lyrical account of one woman’s unlikely apprenticeship on a national-park trail crew and what she discovers about nature, gender, and the value of hard work
 
Christine Byl first encountered the national parks the way most of us do: on vacation. But after she graduated from college, broke and ready for a new challenge, she joined a Glacier National Park trail crew as a seasonal “traildog” maintaining mountain trails for the millions of visitors Glacier draws every year. Byl first thought of the job as a paycheck, a summer diversion, a welcome break from “the real world” before going on to graduate school. She came to find out that work in the woods on a trail crew was more demanding, more rewarding—more real—than she ever imagined.
 
During her first season, Byl embraces the backbreaking difficulty of the work, learning how to clear trees, move boulders, and build stairs in the backcountry. Her first mentors are the colorful characters with whom she works—the packers, sawyers, and traildogs from all walks of life—along with the tools in her hands: axe, shovel, chainsaw, rock bar. As she invests herself deeply in new work, the mountains, rivers, animals, and weather become teachers as well. While Byl expected that her tenure at the parks would be temporary, she ends up turning this summer gig into a decades-long job, moving from Montana to Alaska, breaking expectations—including her own—that she would follow a “professional” career path.
 
Returning season after season, she eventually leads her own crews, mentoring other trail dogs along the way. In Dirt Work, Byl probes common assumptions about the division between mental and physical labor, “women’s work” and “men’s work,” white collars and blue collars. The supposedly simple work of digging holes, dropping trees, and blasting snowdrifts in fact offers her an education of the hands and the head, as well as membership in an utterly unique subculture. Dirt Work is a contemplative but unsentimental look at the pleasures of labor, the challenges of apprenticeship, and the way a place becomes a home.
 

 

Publishers Weekly Review

Dec 17, 2012 – This chronicle of years spent as a “traildog”—a seasonal worker doing the underappreciated, backbreaking work of maintaining wilderness trails—first in Montana’s Glacier National Park, and later in Alaska’s Denali National Park—blends beauty and crudeness, grit and grace. Successfully articulating the satisfaction of physical labor and the camaraderie of the people who do it, Byl organizes the book around her beloved tools, starting with whimsical descriptions of each and using her experience to launch stories about how she learned to do the myriad unseen jobs that keep park trails navigable. Byl is just as likely to be sentimental about backhoes and boots as about the gorgeous vistas of Alaska, but her most obvious love is for the people who work the trails with her, whose taciturn behavior, practical jokes, and machismo she must navigate, whose internal culture she learns as she becomes a part of the team, and whose mentorship is invaluable. With language that is lyrical despite the earthiness of its subject, Byl turns the words of work into found poetry (“brake on, choke on, pull, pull, fire”), offering a bridge for readers to those “who would not speak like this themselves”—a beautiful memoir of muscle and metal.
Dirt Work
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  • $16.99
  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: Nature
  • Published: Apr 16, 2013
  • Publisher: Beacon Press
  • Seller: Random House, LLC
  • Print Length: 256 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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