Happier Outside

Story by Evan Pierce, 2014-15 CivicSpark Alum, Sierra Nevada Region

The temperature is dropping below freezing as I do my best to get a fire going. I throw a log onto the glowing embers and retreat into the relative warmth of my sleeping bag. My colleagues and I are glad the rain from yesterday has abated, mostly so that we may dry out our boots and gloves. The lack of cloud cover, however, also has the added bonus of revealing the dramatic spectacle that is the Milky Way.

We are camped in the Black Canyon Wilderness, a ten mile long tract of land in the heart of the Ochoco National Forest in central Oregon. Our last few weeks on assignment with the Student Conservation Association had been spent out here clearing fallen logs and restoring the trail system to working order. Three weeks prior, we were slogging up and down hillsides studded with Douglas Firs the width of small cars, and bushwhacked through chest-deep sword ferns characteristic of the Pacific Northwest landscape. This time our objective was to conduct carbon inventories of biomass for landowners who were seeking a climate friendly alternative to selling off their properties for development or clear-cutting. Earlier this summer with the same organization, I found myself leading backcountry student trail crews, focused on conservation projects on our public lands and teaching an environmental education curriculum.

Anyone who shared an office with me during the inaugural CivicSpark year can tell you I was happier outside. Due to pent up energy and excessive caffeine consumption, I fidgeted incessantly while poring over Greenhouse Gas Inventories. Lunches were spent on runs, and days were often started earlier so I could go climbing after work and wring every ounce of activity out of the waning daylight. Regular sojourns into the Sierra Nevada landscape were my necessary reminder as to why the daily grind was worthwhile.

As many of you Sparklers are coming to terms with (or already have), climate planning work is hard. Between long hours logged delving into emissions spreadsheets, calling volunteers for support in policy initiatives, or driving to planning meetings where sometimes the people you want to help want nothing to do with you, it is often a thankless job. It is also arguably the most important work of our generation. CivicSpark’s mission is to foster the next generation of climate professionals. For me moving forward, that meant finding meaningful work getting my hands dirty on conservation projects. I know the take away will be different for each and every fellow, but the skills and experience you bring with you from this program will be invaluable wherever you decide to apply them.

If I may be so bold, I’d assume we got into this line of work because of a strong connection to the natural world, or a desire to protect the environment for current and future generations. In the face of difficult times, get outside to give yourself that gentle reminder of why you committed to this work in the first place. If you don’t want to hear it from me, take it from my favorite crusty environmental activist:

“One final paragraph of advice: Do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am—a reluctant enthusiast…a part time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourself and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still there.” – Edward Abbey


Photos: (Main photo) Crosscut Crew; Ochoco Black Canyon