What we share part two

I was thinking again about what metrics we use to describe an exciting life, and I think I’ve been sucked into a bit of “grass is greener” thinking in some ways. As I’ve said in other places, I’ve been blessed to be able to do some extraordinary things so far in my life, things that many people will never experience.  And yet somehow I’m unable to turn those experiences into self-confidence, or anything more than a few amusing stories I tell to close friends and family.

I’ve seen rainbows at midnight in interior Alaska. I’ve seen brown bears foraging for clams on the tidal flats of Chichigof Island, and walking on the glaciers and snowfields of Baranof Island. I’ve seen Orcas hunting in the Tongass Narrows from my office window, and I’ve seen humpback whales bubble-netting in the Inside Passage. I’ve stood on the sandy beaches of the “far north shore” in Yakutat Bay, and I’ve set foot on every major island in the American portion of the Alexander Archipelago.  I’ve seen a floating hot tub made of plastic fish totes, complete with a wood-fired stove and trolling motor, on Prince of Wales Island.  I’ve convinced the locals of a certain southeast Alaska town that the US Forest Service was looking for Bigfoot on their island, and I’ve helped make a lonely teenager’s summer by giving him an off-the-books helicopter ride. I’ve been crapped on by a seagull, and had ravens steal my lunch in a fishing town that keeps Scandinavian traditions better than they do in Norway.

I’ve traveled through most western states and two Canadian provinces. I’ve lived and worked in some of the beautiful parts of the west. I’ve heard wolves howl in the Idaho backcountry, miles from any other human soul, and I’ve seen more elk than I can count in the wild places of the west. I’ve heard things that go bump in the night while wrapped in a sleeping bag under the stars, and been woken by squirrels running across my feet in the early morning light.

I’ve skied in the light of the full moon in Montana, and I’ve hiked to the glacial lakes of the Mission Mountains. I’ve seen the subtle beauty that is the Missouri Ozarks, and I’ve waded in the clear spring fed waters that run through them. I’ve watched many a fiery sunset of pastel reds over the Powder and Tongue River breaks in southeast Montana, and I’ve seen Shakespeare performed in the shadow of a fire lookout tower. I’ve smelled rain on sagebrush after a thunderstorm, and felt the power of the wind in wide open country.

I’ve had several of my photographs published, and I’ve been on the 10 o’clock news in Boise. When I worked in Missoula, my helicopter and pilot made the evening news and local paper every time there was a wildfire close to town.  I’ve been humbled by the generosity of strangers bringing doughnuts and coffee to the fire station after a lightning bust, and I’ve been yelled at because I work for the government.  I’ve never been shot at, but I’ve worked places where it was a possibility.  I’ve trained with a rifle for use on the job, but I’ve never had to use it.

I’ve had moments I wouldn’t trade for the world, and I’ve had moments where I’d rather be anywhere else. It’s all part of the ebb and flow of life.

And yet when it comes to sharing most of these moments, I’ve been unable to do so. How do you explain to someone how the varied experiences you’ve lived through have shaped your mindset in so many subtle ways? How to tell someone you’re excited just to see a coffee shop in your hometown after spending months in places where an espresso is unheard of? How does one compare standing on a glacier in southeast Alaska for ones job to climbing peaks in the Cascades for recreation? They are two equally impressive feats, although for different reasons.

For some reason I can’t shake the feeling, possibly self-imposed, that my work accomplishments are somehow less valuable than similar accomplishments would be if they were done for recreation. I’ve put far more miles on my hiking boots with a fire pack on my shoulders and a pulaski in my hand than I ever have for fun, and for some reason that seems to lessen the experience of hiking my ass off in places most people take vacations to visit. I’ve been blessed to have visited so many places I never would have seen outside of work, yet again, because it was for work it seems lessened in my eyes.

I guess what drives this feeling is twofold: I am self-depreciating to the point of being absurd at times, and I have a wealth of experiences that few people I run across in life can relate to. I tend to use my time in southeast Alaska most frequently in my examples, but my time in southeast Montana and the Missouri Ozarks have also resulted in experiences that most people don’t have.

So the question is this I suppose: How do I view my experiences in terms of my own self-worth, and how can I project the confidence that experience has given me? How do I relate my unusual but not un-awesome experiences to an audience that may have no idea where Yakutat is, has never heard a meadowlark singing on a juniper fence post in the clean quiet after a rain, or has no idea what a hush puppy is? Or has never heard the words “There’s been a helicopter accident,” and had a connection with those on board? It’s all part of who I am, who I want to be, and who I want to share with others.

There’s no single answer I know, but perhaps by committing this all to the written word I’ll gain some measure of confidence from it. And that I suppose is what I’m really after right now. Self-confidence.

Until next time…

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About Justin Vernon

Fire and Aviation Specialist (aka jack of all trades) for the US Forest Service, based in Boise, Idaho. I'm also an amateur photographer, wanna-be writer, tech aficionado, and a classic introvert who values quiet time as much as I do the mountains and people of the Pacific Northwest. All opinions voiced are mine alone and do not represent those of the US Forest Service.
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