We often hear “chainsaw” and automatically picture horror movies that have left us with a fear of people with chainsaws. Fortunately, that didn’t scare away Lauren Johnson, a Mile High Youth Corps (MHYC) Alumna, who began at MHYC in 2011 as a Fall Forestry Sawyer and continued to serve with MHYC as AmeriCorps Leadership and Conservation Corpsmember in 2012. She reminisces about her experience as a Sawyer throughout her two terms at Mile High Youth Corps.
There’s no denying that moment of nervous hesitation when accepting the offer to be a sawyer on a summer chainsaw crew for MHYC. For a large number of people the fear resides in never having touched a chainsaw, let alone ever using one. For others, it’s in the unaccredited notion that cutting down trees is a man’s job. These fears are quite normal. The greatest thing though, is when these fears transform into a powerful eagerness to do what you thought you couldn’t do.
I am an advocate for the Mile High Youth Corps saw crew experience. There is just no way words can justify how uniquely special this job can be. As a Fall Forestry sawyer in 2011 as well as a saw crew ACLC in 2012, I created some of the most memorable moments of my life. From the moment I wrapped my fingers around my first STIHL MS362 power head, or Michelangelo as it was so affectionately called, I was hooked. Any fear of not having operated a chainsaw escaped me. Being a girl just made me that much more powerful and eager to prove myself. With chaps on my legs, gloves on my hands, plugs in my ears, helmet on my head, and Michelangelo clenched in my grasp, I took down my first tree within three days of training. Once I took down one, I wanted to do another. It was an instant addiction, and to say falling trees is anything less than a passion of mine would be an understatement.
The best part of being a sawyer, for me, was the variety in daily challenges. Every tree is different. Every location is different. One week you might be at Cherry Creek State Park cutting Russian Olives. Another week you might be at Golden Gate Canyon State Park fire mitigating pines. Each tree is encompassed by factors that lead to a safe fall of it. What worked on one tree won’t necessarily work for the one standing right next to it. No matter what, I controlled how each tree came down.
However, being a sawyer at MHYC is more than just cutting down trees. The people I worked with are some of the best people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. I have never met a group of individuals so dedicated to their coworkers, their work, and its purpose. Whether it’s a saw partner struggling through a tough project, or the crew pushing to meet a goal, someone is always able to motivate a person or the crew to finish strong. The toughest days and the toughest projects are the ones that you’ll remember and be the most proud of when it’s all said and done.
One of my favorite memories was at Genesee in October 2011. My crew had been working at Genesee for a couple weeks and we were close to finishing our project goals. As luck should have it, Genesee got six or eight inches of snow on the first day of our last week there. So, with six inches of snow in a rock filled mountainous park, we had to finish. Quitting was not an option. We bundled in our warmest clothes, assembled the saws, and trudged through. Ten hour days spent in thirty two degree weather, snow up to our knee caps with the saws blazing along. We spent our lunches that week crammed in the van trying to warm up. The crew leader would pass out hand warmers, but nobody’s gloves escaped the viciousness of the cold, wet snow. No one quit, and at the end of the week we looked back proud at what we had accomplished amidst the unruly circumstances.
Being part of a saw crew gave me the opportunity to help the community and environment I live in. I went into Mile High Youth Corps with the drive and passion to make my little section of the world a better place to be, and left with so much more. I learned a type of work discipline that can’t be taught behind a desk. I transformed from a more self-centered individual, to a more self-sacrificing individual with a greater consideration for the people around me. I built a variety of uncommon technical skills that set me apart from the everyday workforce. I created a network of contacts that were helpful while seeking an enjoyable job after the term was over. I went out of my comfort zone, which readied me for the new and exciting, nerve wracking situations I was sure to encounter. I made friendships that will last a lifetime. The motivation to make my world a better place made me a better person.
You get out of the Mile High Youth Corps and Americorps experience what you put into it. My advice to anyone thinking about joining on a summer saw crew: Do it. Have passion for it. Go to work, do your best every day, and motivate others to do their best. Make friends, and create memories… Most importantly, you have nothing to lose from this experience and everything to gain.
The views expressed in our blog represent that of the individual and do not reflect the opinion of Mile High Youth Corps.