Cory Tiger graduated in May 2015 with a degree in environmental humanities and anthropology.
I’ve been out of school for a little over a year now. After graduating I endured a journey of liminality, floating from job to job, refusing to commit to a long-term plan. I didn’t set out hunting for salary jobs or diving straight into graduate school, both of which were much expected of me. Instead, I decided to apply for a summer position at the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK). Seasonal jobs are not typically what my elders consider a stable career path but it’s one that I came to thoroughly enjoy.
Fresh out of college, I spent the summer as a Summit Steward in the High Peak Region with the ADK. This position involved hiking to the summits of Mt. Marcy, Algonquin, Wright and Cascade to educate hikers about the rare and fragile alpine plants primarily found on these high peaks. I loved this role and will always care deeply for the work of a summit steward, however, I knew if I worked for the ADK the following summer I would try something different. At the end of the season, I returned home enthusiastic and green and began applying to consistent jobs. Too few years of experience and the lack of a master degree left me waitressing and working at a local jewelry store.
It was a long, hopeless winter trying to figure out my next move. I grew restless. What would make my family proud? How will I pay off these loans? What will make me more appealing to employers? How do I put my degrees in anthropology and environmental humanities to use? Most importantly, what will make me happy? With the last question in mind, I applied to work with the Adirondack Mountain Club, only this time I put in to be on the Professional Trail Crew. Once hired and tied into my short term plan, my friends and family asked: “after this, will you finally get a real job?” I simply smiled and shrugged, without a response.
After ten long and challenging weeks, I formulated an answer. This past summer I redefined my role as a woman in the wilderness. I learned to see my body as a tool and not some object only present for unwelcome criticism. I came to terms with rain that drenched me to the bone. I fell in love with the sunlight that gleams through a freshly dampened forest. I accepted that certain rocks cannot be moved by one individual being, or two. I built bridges, felled trees, and set stones that will remain long after I leave this world. I hiked what felt like endless miles, carrying, on my back, everything I needed: food, layers, always a book, and yes, tools, a whole array of tools. And in a trade dominated by men, I felt equal. I felt necessary. Even during the week that an all women crew went out on the Avalanche Pass project and comments from hikers about the absence of men on our crew were ceaseless, I felt empowered. I felt damn proud.
By choosing to work seasonally with the Adirondack Professional Trail Crew, I am not only doing what makes me happy, contributing to the preservation of the wild places I love, but I am also writing myself into a narrative of evolving gender roles. I have joined an unspoken sisterhood of wild women around the world in labor fields, holding axes, shovels, rock bars and knowing damn well how to use them. Our hands callused, faces caked with mud, and dirt visible under our fingernails. The limitations are no longer what society tells us we can and can’t do based on our gender, not only because it’s untrue but also because we’re not listening. We are capable. So here is my response to those curious about when I will get a real job: being a woman on a professional trail crew is the most real thing I have ever done.