This is the third in a series of short essays on the theme of “Invasions”
I’ll be posting. See backstory here… -Sarah White
By Michael Sprecher
What if we humans are really a virus on the earth? And if so, what if some of us are the vaccine form of humans here to keep all of us from killing the planet?
This is a thought that goes through my mind as I am riding for a few hours in a state van going from Madison to any of a number of State Natural Areas. I am working as an LTE for the state with the Bureau of Endangered Resources.
Our main job is Invasive Species control. Early Spring is Burn Season, followed by Garlic Mustard pulling until early summer. Purple Loose Strife control is a summer job, with Honey Suckle and Buckthorn pulling in between, to give a break from mosquitoes and forever-wet boots and clothes. Fall is back to controlled burns, with winter cutting down Cedar or Box Elder trees. All of these events are to keep the invasive species from taking complete control over prairies and woods.
I loved this job because I felt like I have a purpose and I was doing something good. I could see my results every day with a nice burned prairie, a pile of Garlic Mustard, or a nice roaring fire. I also could eat as much as I wanted because no amount of food would make up for the calories I was using. I also was making friends.
This was also the ultimate Survivor job. Nothing more fun than Mud, Ice, Fire, Insects, and Sleep Deprivation. Some days you would encounter all of these in just a few hours. I don’t think I have ever seen a Survivor challenge as difficult as a controlled burn on a Mississippi River Valley bluff. This would include hiking up a Mississippi bluff in full fire gear with a 50lb water jug on your back, trying to contain a 20 ft flame fire behind a fire break. Complete insanity and a wonderful adrenaline rush.
Now with all invasions/Survivor challenges sometimes the battle does not go as planned.
This looked to be a simple uneventful day with invasive control. No fire, no bugs, no sleep deprivation, just some cold, but this was January and that is to be expected. I was working with two other guys, Jim and Greg, with a Wetland Reclamation project involving cutting down Box Elder trees from an old farm field ditch line.
We have been working on this for a few weeks, so all of us were on automatic pilot. I got all my chainsaw gear on: Boots, Chaps, Gloves, Helmet with Sound protection. I was thinking nothing could get me with all this on, except getting crushed by a tree, but today I’m working on all small trees so that is not a worry. I go over to where I left off the day before and start to saw away.
I can see this in my mind perfectly. The day was clear the air had that crisp and clean feeling it has at 0 degrees. I was just starting to reach a bit to cut a limb off a tree and then black, cold and panic.
I quickly realize that I am underwater, I somehow broke though the ice and I can’t touch bottom. Severe panic hits me because I know I’m wearing lots of clothes that are very heavy wet. I have branches all around me and I frantically pull on them. I recall no detail of how long it took or how I got out of the water, only that I did it very fast.
Once out on the snow in below-zero weather, I look to see if I still have arms and legs. Everything went so fast I did not know where the chainsaw ended up and was not sure if it went down with me and/or cut me. I see the chainsaw dry and laying in the snow a bit away from me. Subconsciously I managed to throw it as I went through the ice. Relief over having no injuries quickly changed to a new worry. It is very cold and I am very wet and a distance from the van or a warm building. I get up gather the chainsaw and walk to find the other two guys. I find them and say. “ I think I’m done for the day. I fell through the ice.” I’m very calm, but explain I’m getting cold.
Quickly, we get back to the state vehicle and head to Greg’s house. There I wash my clothes and hang out for the day.
That day I lost the survivor challenge. Tomorrow we would be back to start again with a new plan of attack that stayed off ditch line waterways.