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View From the Top of the Tower

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By Brittany Merriman "So of course if you find yourself too terrified to go up the tower, we can find some work for you to do on the ground".

As I looked up at the 89 foot watchtower (a mass of metal and rotting wood landings), I couldn't help but recall how stepladders had the ability to paralyze me with fear on a normal basis. Personally I was of the belief that humans belonged firmly on the ground; heights were for creatures with wings.

Our job contact obviously didn't share my opinion. Our assignment? To climb the tower, and replace the questionable-looking wooden boards that made up the tower's landings with fresh wood. This of course involved body-harnesses for our safety, as there would be periods of time when we would have nothing but a frame between ourselves and a 40 foot-plus fall to the earth.

"So who wants to get harnessed in first?"

I took a deep breath, and swallowed the heart that had somehow worked its way out of my chest and into my throat. Deep breaths Brittany: you didn't take this job to wait by the truck where life was safe and easy (Oh god, was the tower swaying the wind?). My hand rose almost of it's own volition, and I quickly found myself in a harness a good 40 feet above the ground, facing my fears literally head-on as I removed the first rotten board.

A week and two fire towers later, I found myself watching a sunset from a relaxed position above the tree line. Spread out on boards that I myself had help to replace, I no longer felt nervous about my state of groundlessness. My only thoughts were of the incredible view, and the wonderful feeling of a light breeze on my face. This feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction could only have come from forcing myself to try something new; from confronting a fear and coming out the other side a new, stronger individual.

Face your fears. Challenge yourself daily. Life isn't supposed to be easy, and as I've learned from experience: the view is definitely better from the top of the tower.

Photo credit: Dathan Tinney

Feeling the Burn

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By Carl Woody ERT member, Carl Woody, gets ready for the team's first prescribed burn.

The first fire of the season. It was hot. Much, much hotter than I was expecting.

The day started off normal enough. Making coffee, eating breakfast, prepping for our day. And then we got a call. Get your fire gear on, we're burning Tingler Prairie today. Chaos. I thought it was some kind of test of our preparedness. Nope, we were actually going to the years first prescribed burn. We could all feel a buzz in the air on the drive to the site. When we got there there was a whole MDC crew there to work the fire as well. I remember Neil turning to me, telling me he felt like a newbie. I agreed. These folks had clearly been here before. We were all green horns. Fresh off the boat. And We did a pretty good job too.

The back burn was tough to light. There was pretty high humidity, especially down in the wetlands. We had to go back and relight a few spots.

Keep moving -- Burn -- Eat smoke -- Move -- Burn -- Eat smoke -- Move -- Burn eat smoke -- Eat pizza (our contact Justin bought about 20 pizzas) -- Move...

Finally we get to the grand finale. The grass prairie. We all wanted to light it off. Olie took the lead. Savana behind him. Me behind her. We light and move. That was the most heat I've felt in all my life. We were trapped between the fire and a barbed wire fence.

Nowhere to go. The heat was oppressive. Pushing me back to the fence.

And in the blink of an eye it was gone. The 120 acre prairie burned to black in under three minutes. An incredible sight. I now have an incredible respect for fire.

Knocking Out Invasive Species

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By Max Prieto Trying to wipe out bush honeysuckle from the face of the earth can be a daunting task. Even equipped with chainsaws and potent chemicals all work can seem futile. The invasion has no end in sight.That is why the best way to overcome the feelings of hopelessness is to somehow make it fun and enjoyable! That is exactly what our Team Leader Sarah accomplished! Through a series of games (including fun pranks and "friends vs foes") we all had a great time working hard!

Photo Credit: Natalie Cohen