Trees lost limbs, but we kept ours. Our crew lost members, but ten of us made it to the end. After eleven weeks of chainsawing and lugging around branches, we have the scars of Russian Olive Tree thorns dancing up our arms and a summer spent sweating under hard hats and chaps left to memories.
The Trail Blazing crew spent the last weeks of summer at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal where deer roamed our worksite and our sharpened chains sliced through hundreds of Russian Olive Trees leaving sealed off stumps where thorny thickets once reigned.
For some of us this was our first summer job. For others a way to earn an education award to use for college in the fall. For some it was the first time working outside, a first job in the United States, the first time using a chainsaw or chipper. But for all of us it was hard. Demanding. Hot. And ultimately, incredibly rewarding.
Armed with work boots, gloves, hard hats, eye protection, chaps, ear protection, chainsaws and, most importantly, a positive attitude, we set out each morning to rid the arsenal of villains disguised in dainty sage colored leaves. Russian Olive Trees, with their winding branches and pretty fruit trick you at first glance. They hide their keen thorns — known to stab all the way through the thick soles of boots — behind branches of small fluttering leaves attached to trunks curling in every which way appearing better suited for a fairytale than a chainsaw. But sweet and endearing, they are not. Thin branches didn’t go down without a fight; they whipped back at us leaving red and tender welts. And thorns clawed toward us grasping clothing and tearing through skin. But this invasive specie met its match. By our last day of work, we had conquered over four thousand Russian Olive Trees.
Amidst the turmoil of tree removal, we got to really take in all the Arsenal had to offer. We had an unforgettable visit to the Repository, where illegal animal products confiscated across the country come to be sorted and either destroyed, donated, auctioned off or stored. We saw tables made of whole elephant legs, rugs of every specie, benches covered in zebra skins, a rhino head, shelves filled with stuffed cheetah heads, drawers overflowing with ivory jewelry and stacks and stacks of snake skinned boots. We also got to glimpse the bison, blue herons and deer living at the Arsenal, spot a massive bald eagles’ nest, and even managed to have a few raging dance parties in the van on the way to and from work.
At the end of our ten-hour days we were covered in sweat, sore in places we didn’t know existed and covered in dirt. But through all the sweating and heat, we still managed to form bonds and friendships that will last far beyond our eleven weeks spent together. This may be the hardest summer job we will ever have. This may be the first of many. But we made it through and we are better because of it.