Dispatches from The Wild: On Writing, Trail Work, And Falling in Love with The Challenge

June 2, 2017


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Nature and writing have a long history. Rebekah Morrisson is following in that tradition building worlds with her words and trails with her physical labor.

I’m a trail worker. When I tell people that, they don’t always know what to imagine. I’m sure they believe, as I used to, that trails form by mere foot traffic. After all, not everyone on the trail runs into a crew rolling rocks, creating a reroute, or hauling tree trimmings off into the woods. In reality, there are thousands of us dedicated outdoorsmen who wake up early to repair, create, or maintain the trails we all enjoy.

Trail work is tough. Let me repeat that: trail work is tough. It’s rugged. And it’s different wherever you do it. I’ve spent four seasons and 17 months doing trail work with the Maine Conservation Corps and California Conservation Corps, nine as a team leader. I’ve felled trees with a crosscut saw, slept wrapped in a tarp  under the stars, and lived in the backcountry without technology for three and a half months. There are other trail crews nationwide; some help eradicate invasive plants, some live deep in the woods, and some drive to a trailhead every day. They work through rain and snow and freezing temperatures because they’re committed and, for the most part, they like the work.

In 2014, I graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire with a focus on creative writing. Since then, I’ve been working out how to explain my experience in the woods through my words. In my first eight months doing trails, I wrote every day because I wanted to share my experience with people beyond my trail crews, to transport people to the trail with me. It seemed only natural.

There has long been a link between nature and writing. For proof, we need only read the works of authors like John Muir, Henry David Thoreau, Edward Abbey, Rick Bass, and Terry Tempest Williams—all of whom have long explored how woods and words go together. Sometimes a person’s words can affect the preservation of nature and other times nature can move someone to words. In a way, my trail work helps hikers create an experience similar to mine and the pieces of experience they lack, I’m attempting to construct through my writing.

They’ve done it and so can I, but in describing anything foreign to someone, I know it will take a lot of effort. Writing is tough, sometimes as tough as trail work, but as I struggle to work on trails, I also struggle to write about it. I try to keep in mind that neither is rewarding without a struggle and the finished product is always better when I take my time with it. I’ve realized that if I simply explain how to hammer rocks to bits or what it’s like to eat trail mix every day for a week, people won’t understand the collective experience as I do. 

Describing the one mosquito bite on my ankle doesn’t do justice to the twelve others I scratch at relentlessly. While some of my experiences are indescribable, my goal is to fully explain the ones I can.

As difficult as both trail work and writing can be, I’ve fallen in love with both.  And with a little more work and a little more time, I hope to one day have the words to give people a clear picture of what it’s like out here on the trail.





2018-02-10T23:11:31-06:00Tags: , , , |

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