The Swiss Meadows of Wyoming

It’s a three-hour drive from Salt Lake City to Afton, Wyoming, up through the Wasatch Mountains and over the plains that separate the high desert of Utah from the wide-open expanses of southeastern Wyoming. Following I-80 east out of the city, the interstate cuts northeast to the town of Evanston, Wyoming, and from there on out, the drive is exclusively on state highways. And boy howdy, does it cover a shit-ton of highways. From Utah to Wyoming to Idaho, back into Wyoming, then somehow back into Utah again, and then one final switchover across state lines into Wyoming for the last time.

            I’m in Afton for yet another seasonal job for the US Forest Service, serving the nation’s best interests (and, according to my signed SF-61 form, protecting the Constitution) by ratting on shitheads who leave open flames behind in abandoned fire rings. Of course, things are never quite that easy with the feds. After meeting my supervisor, who gives me the lowdown on the local cuisine (“The Chinese place’ll have you shitting through a screen door,”), I’m informed that HR in Albuquerque has disowned me as a federal employee. I plead with them to reinstate my status and maybe even let me get paid, and the man thousands of miles away on the other end of the phone promises me he’ll do everything he can.

            The next day HR deletes my file from the federal database. Technically, this solves their issue. Not mine, though. Not fucking mine.

            My supervisor sticks me with the wilderness trails crew, for the time being, mostly to get some basic training done (“Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals: How the GHS can Help YOU!”), but also some more fun stuff: small-motor training with chainsaws, learning how to oil a leather saddle from a man three times my age, stringing barbed-wire fencing in the mountains around the Greys River in a rainstorm. Basically, all the things I’ve been missing while I stacked liquor boxes in Salt Lake City for the state (read: Mormon) controlled liquor department.

            The next few days are packed full of hour-long drives over dirt roads that are tough to maintain in the alpine environment of Afton, a town that sees snow every month of the year. The head of the trails crew drives the rest of the crew and me around, doing his best to familiarize us with a ranger district the size of a small state in no more than three days. Cutting across mountain rivers, up through passes, and across beautiful green mountain meadows, the roads are rough and full of potholes, exacerbated by the occasional deep muddy rut left behind by irresponsible 4-wheelers from the cities nearby.

It’s incredible, this experience of working in an American town that seems straight out of a Swiss fairy tale. Every morning, I wake up to freezing temperatures. Every night I fall asleep on a government-issued bed while freezing winds whip through the town’s main street, rendering water to ice in the early days of June. It’s an incredible job in a beautiful place, and as much as I’d love to say it’s hard but worth it, it gets a whole hell of a lot easier every day.

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