New beginnings. It seems that when we reach a point in our lives where our jobs, a relationship, our family, or something has gone wrong we begin talking about a new beginning. It often happens around the start of a new year, we make a promise, a resolution, that we will take certain steps to a new beginning.
Life was OK, not great, not perfect, had some problems but we just said it was time for an overhaul of our lives. Time to go some place else and do something different. This idea didn’t just crop up one year, it had been floating around in our lives for a few years but nothing would ever take form, become substance.
But one day it happened. It wasn’t something that came as I showered, sat on the john or while making love. It just started being something of form, had substance and I moved on it. Somehow I recognized it from all the other false starts and I began to believe something was happening.
So plans were made and they actually came about. It required that I stick my neck out. I stuck my neck out.
I had lived in Albuquerque, New Mexico going on twenty-one years. We actually owed a house(a minor miracle in itself) and enjoyed a comfort that comes with familiar surroundings. Some call this a rut. But I wanted to go someplace different and do something different. How do you completely overhaul your life? I was about to find out at a magnitude no one would intentionally ask for. Remember the old saying “Better watch what you wish for, you might get it? Well I got it.
A trick question. That’s what I called it when someone asked me what I did for a living. Scattered through my nine year college career were Forest Service jobs fighting fire and working at a research station, running twelve lawn maintenance crews and keeping the Arabian-American Oil Company supplied with Igloo coolers. Most people don’t know it but Mount Saint Helens blew because that was the day I graduated from college, really, it’s the truth. I left that day with a Bachelor of Science degree in Forest Ecology and then moved to the desert.
My cavalcade of jobs would first take me to a remote edge of the Navajo Indian Reservation doing ecological studies to permit coal mines. I loved doing field work, especially on remote lands of the American Southwest. And though I knew nothing of range science I completed three projects classifying desert grasslands. One project area spanned 800 square miles, which I got to go over twice, sometimes on my hands and knees with my nose in the dirt. I got to know that land.
"The Big Leak" along the Flathead river, Mission Mountains in the distance
You can’t talk about the West without talking about water. And so it was that I fell into the unique science of determining water rights on Indian Reservations. I would end up working on more than a dozen reservations. The last place I worked was the Flathead Reservation in Montana. I would work nearly three weeks in the spectacular Mission Valley then take two weeks off to wander Glacier National Park or up into Canada to Banff or Jasper parks. But it was all stupid. A great place to work and an even better place to hike and climb, but it was all incredibly stupid. We determined the irrigation works lost around 80 percent of the water put in them. If you fixed the irrigation system you could double the amount of water delivered to the farmers and ranchers, you know..to grow crops, but the big bucks went to the lawyers and to us to determine who would get the dwindling water supply, the twenty percent of the water that didn’t leak out of the system. So that was it for me.(and it really was the end of the road for the guy I worked for too)
So I decided to start a business , a tour business that would take people into the American Southwest to experience its incredible landscapes and rub up against the cultures that live there now and those lost a thousand or so years ago . This might be called New Beginning I, no it would be NB II, NB I started when Saint Helens blew and no more scientific mumbo jumbo for me. And so it was. I led van tours, hiking tours, trekked with llamas into the Rockies and rafted rivers in Utah, Colorado and New Mexico. It was a grand time and through it all and at the end I was flat broke. Maybe it was here that the “overhaul my life” notion came into my head but I worked in outdoor equipment stores and the Gods smiled on me by giving me my first real job in my life. It happened just a little more than a month before I turned forty.
I was to build an environmental department within a tribal government to handle all the environmental affairs of the tribe. My office had a desk and two empty file cabinets, that’s it! The office was so small me and my staff of two could not fit in it all at once. I had no idea how to develop an environmental department but neither did the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). Things started happening. I had more money in my budget than I knew what to do with, and unlike other government funding, if I didn’t spend it this year that was fine they just rolled it over and added to next years funds. Yes I had a good time and accomplished an amazing amount of work. I got to travel all over the U.S. to more great hiking places. After the two years I worked at the job I made a list of the projects I had completed, it was three single spaced pages long. Even now when I pull that list out I cant believe what fun it had been and how much I got accomplished.
I became an expert in how environmental regulation is applied to Indian tribes and worked a couple of contracts over the next three years. Between my wife and I we were able to put up the money to buy our first house in a part of Albuquerque we had only dreamed of. I had some great gardens at that house. But then the tug began. That tug that says ” yea this is just great but lets go”. This was followed by a small shove, the shove that comes when you run out of work Then it happened, it took form and had substance.
Twelve years before my wife and I had taken a women on a backpacking trip through Glacier National Park in Montana.(remember the water rights job, The Big Leak ?) Though the women lived in Albuquerque, we had had little contact with her since we visited her family in Louisiana after our return from Montana. It was after I returned from Alaska where I took a course to become a Marine Safety Instructor I found an invitation from this women. It was strange to be invited to a family gathering twelve years later, but the gathering was a bit beyond what one would expect. It was to be a “welcome to the community”celebration for the baby of her significant other. I had covered a lot of ground in my life up to this point but this was a bit, well...... different, so my wife and I accepted the invitation.
At the gathering I had a chance to catch up with the women’s brother whom I ‘d met on the Louisiana visit. During our chit-chat he asked what I’d been up to and I’d said I was looking for marine safety work. He gave me the phone number of a guy in Maine that offered me a job in New Orleans as a water survival instructor.
Are we seeing some substance and form here? Remember I have for the past 20 years been living in the desert 800 miles from the nearest salt water. I’d been doing ecological and environmental work and now I would be training people that made their living on the sea. I would need Coast Guard acceptance too. I would be doing this in a place that has lots of greenery, like trees, swamps..... bugs.... humidity. I would be leaving the vast deserts, the mountain ranges I had stumbled around for thirty years and the native people that taught me much without saying a word. So of course this is what I did, I left. Once again I put all my eggs in one very thin basket based on a shoe string of an offer with the longest of odds of success. Yes, I did it, I set out for a new beginning.
Listen to the heart and soul of Jazz, NOLA and Mardi Gras
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