Five firsts

By: Jennifer Kaiser


The transition from idealistic college student to full-time employee is not typically smooth. After all, student life gives us the freedom to wake up at 10:00 am, write essays about Godzilla films and live blithely on loan money. Needless to say, having to be somewhere before sunrise, work 40-50 hours a week, and labor in snowstorms and rain did not come easy to me.

Crew members and leaders with previous full-time job experience are sometimes more prepared than recent college graduates for the kind of hands-on work the Conservation Corps offers. I didn’t have any experience working full-time or outdoors, but I thought that this AmeriCorps year would be an adventure. And this year was an adventure – with a fair share of twists and meaningful moments.

Out of all the ‘firsts’ this year, here are a memorable few to add to my repertoire:

1.      Using a chainsaw. I thought I was an outdoorsy person before this job, but that was limited to hiking when the weather was nice and camping once every two years. Becoming a sawyer had never crossed my mind until working with the Corps. Naively, I didn’t think revving a chainsaw could very be difficult. Yet, it took two months to develop the muscle strength just to start the saw. Eleven months later? I can brag that I not only can start a chainsaw, but I’m a bona fide lumberjack. (lumberjenny to some.)

2.      Driving a huge truck. I don’t particularly like driving, and the thought of driving our elephant-sized Corps truck made my stomach churn. Somehow I suppressed the fear and drove, and survived to write this post.

3.      Working in North Minneapolis. I had never spent time in this underrated part of the city before this year, and was swept off my feet by the beauty of Theodore Wirth Park. It’s unlike any other place in the cities – perhaps because it is such a large park that you easily forget you’re not in a backcountry forest. Discovering Wirth’s urban escape of rare oak savannas, bogs and pre-settlement wetlands was one of the highlights of the year.

4.      Witnessing rare weather phenomena. Remember the ‘ice tsunami’ on Miles Lacs during the spring? Well, I saw a similar occurrence while working at Lake Calhoun a couple days before. Suddenly the ice started crackling and moving rapidly and piling up on the shore, having something to do with the perfect recipe of wind and drastic temperature shift. I also experienced the strange phenomenon of ‘thunder snow’ early in March, which was accompanied by winter lightning (and thirty minutes in the truck.)

5.      First time seeing a baby raccoon. We found a baby raccoon in Theodore Wirth who did not at all mind the roar of chainsaws. His name was ‘Jeff’ – the cutest raccoon of all Minneapolis. 

I can’t say if this is the perfect job for every recent college grad, but it was for me. Good luck to the next generation of Corps members!