On the road…again!
Afghanistan to Zambia
Chronicles of a Footloose Forester
By Dick Pellek
Working As A Career
Sharing personal stories with family and friends about where we worked is an easy topic to open a conversation. Each of us has a treasure trove of stories locked away in our memory banks. The subject matter about jobs threatens neither the story teller nor the audience; and might include the good, the bad, and the ugly in a single session of storytelling.
At some stage, our curiosity about where our listeners worked also works its way into the storytelling session. It is also presumed that stories about the lives and careers of our forebears and what they did for a living also rises to the surface; and usually becomes relegated to a special category of tales that are passed down to younger generations within our families. But unless we ask the oldsters themselves, they may never take the time to tell us; and the snippets of their legacies may never come to light. If they don’t volunteer on their own to provide a written record or an oral history, nobody is any better informed. It would be very sad if we miss out on learning our family history just because we didn’t take the time to ask, to listen, or to interact with them.
Make no mistake about it, everyone who lives long enough to mellow into their golden years has stories to tell; and a fair number of those stories are about the people, places and circumstances of past jobs and career highlights. Hardly anyone would admit to being bored throughout the whole of their working lives; despite the possibility and nature of a boring job. The trick, therefore; is to engage others in conversation in such a way that the information just pours out like an open spigot. The more colorful the anecdotes about the jobs, the professions, or the callings; the more satisfying the wide sharing of legacy tales becomes.
Some people, however; are truly averse to recounting their personal stories. On the one hand, that might be because they are self-effacing individuals who do not want to be perceived as self-serving braggarts. On the other hand, some people don’t want to be labeled as boors--or just plain boring. Ultimately, however; there are stories to be told by everyone in our families; hence there are potential listeners and readers for those stories.
The Footloose Forester has held more jobs than most people during his 60+ years in the workforce. And his personally archived employment record of the chronology of 44 jobs is testimony to that assertion. Sometimes there was a need to present that written record of his employment experience. The FBI, the CIA, the National Security Agency and the Army Intelligence Agency all wanted that record, so little wonder that a copy of his work experience still resides in his files. His career of working began early and continued well beyond the normal retirement age of 65.
As a 10-year old growing up in New Jersey, the future Footloose Forester starting earning his own spending money when he took over a newspaper route from his older brother Ronnie. It was also an opportunity to learn about personal responsibility; for keeping a schedule; and for meeting the expectations of the customers. There were only 26 customers at that first job, but it did require going out in all kinds of weather six days a week—all 52 weeks a year. A couple of years later, he added another paper route to his chores and combined the routes and delivery schedules.
During high school he chose to defer organized sports in favor of taking on other work; as a pin-setter in a bowling alley; as a part-time janitor in the local post office; and as a milkman’s assistant. At one time there were three daily, sequential jobs: milkman early in the morning before school; janitor after school; and pin-setter in the evening. After five years as a paperboy, the work hours outside of school eased into the jobs that required a little more maturity. Along the way, the Footloose Forester realized that he was not a quitter who gave up any job just because it was difficult or distasteful. He remained in every job for at least two years; but transitioned out of part-time work after he graduated from high school and was preparing to enter college. During that last summer after high school, he was earning the princely sum of $65 a week for 65 hours of work, at two jobs.
During the college years, the Footloose Forester was privileged to be put in charge of the tools and equipment in the Department of Forestry and Wildlife in the College of Agriculture, Rutgers University. The tasks extended to working in the woods to conduct thinning of the woodlots, hauling logs out with a farm tractor; and cutting firewood for sale. Proceeds went to the Forestry and Wildlife Club, with the blessings of the Department of Forestry and Wildlife. There was also planting and caring for seedlings, as part of experimental programs around the state; and keeping the tools sharp.
During the first summer after his Freshman year, the Footloose Forester got “On the road….again!” with a job as a US Forest Service brush ape in a makeshift work camp at the edge of a ridge on the Nezperce National Forest in Idaho. In the following year, he moved on to a job as a Timber Management Aide on the Kootenai National Forest in Montana at the Warland Ranger Station, where he spent most of his Montana days and nights. The tiny town of Warland Montana is no longer on any map. It was submerged when the adjacent Kootenai River was dammed 25 miles downstream at Libby, Montana; and the water backed up all the way into British Columbia. The lake formed by backing up the Kootenai River was subsequently named Lake Koocanusa.
On to California the following year, by thumb (hitch-hiking) from New Jersey. On the road…again…and again… for the 10 days it took to get there. Then, it was two more US Forest Service employers, but in different localities. It was goodbye to California at the end of summer and back to Rutgers until graduation. He recalls having his bags packed two weeks before a mid-winter departure from college. He did not wait until the formal cap-and-gown ceremonies in June; and never did attend any college graduation ceremonies. This time he took a bus to return to California to resume where he had left off working on the El Dorado National Forest.
By then, the 1960s had appeared on the calendar and he was a prime candidate for being drafted into military service. His classification was IA, eligible for the draft. Thus, after only 5-6 months working for a forest consultant (he left the Forest Service because the chances of getting a Civil Service appointment at that time were slim to zero); he was drafted into the US Army. But the short time at Cal-Pacific Forest Consultants was great fun with lots of travel up and down the state of California. He changed his residence 26 times in six months, although he learned to keep his essentials in the back of his station wagon. The old 1951 Ford station wagon also served as lodging on the several occasions when he was “On the road...again!” between far flung jobs, sometimes hundreds of miles apart.
forester using diameter tape to measure a tree
There is no attempt in this chronicle to verify or discuss all 44 jobs held by the Footloose Forester over the years. The enumeration is still there to be researched, by those who wish to probe. The details no longer matter. He does remember, however; having so many successive titles that it was a bit embarrasing mentioning the previous one(s), starting with the title Assistant Professor at Cook College, Rutgers University. Then it was Terrestrial and Aquatic Vegetation Specialist; then Terrestrial Ecologist; then Soil Conservation Specialist; then Senior Forestry Advisior; then Natural Resources/Policy Advisor; etc. But when he changed residences 26 times during a six month period while he was still working as a rookie forest consultant in California early in his career, he knew that titles were not very relevent. It was always one job at a time; and many clients; not 26 different employers at Cal-Pacific Forest Consultants. Likewise, when he later worked as an Ecologist and subsequently as Staff Ecologist for a consulting firm in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; he worked on 21 different projects in several states, and in Venezuela. It was also a case of many projects but the same employer.
Subsequent assignments as a Soil Conservation Specialist in Cape Verde; as Senior Forestry Advisor in Haiti; and as Regional Natural Resources/Policy Advisor in Kenya; all brought with them extensive field travel and consultations with government officials, scientists and executives from several countries. In the Kenya assignment alone, his area of nominal responsibility spanned 13 countries in East and Southern Africa. One employer in each assignment; but multiple projects and extensive international travel was part and parcel of his master contracts. The travel budget for his advisory position in Kenya was over $50,000; and he arranged his own trips, as needed, to project sites as far away as Namibia and Madagascar.
Needless to say, the Footloose Forester learned early on, about the need to have good project records and verifiable journals of travel; as a way to justify his lone wolf forays into obscure project sites where important environmental and development programs were usually just beginning. Often, he was asked to write project concept papers that described why international development projects were justified; and then to further explain how to make them work; what resources would be needed; and then to devise ways of monitoring the implementation.
Looking back, the Footloose Forester can recall conducting research; pursuing individual studies; and being involved in projects and programs in 27 countries. Some of them were short and sweet; and some of the projects/programs continued over a course of several years. He was proud to get his hands dirty in most on them; then again, he was quite content to work as a career. After all, if you asked him how he would describe himself, he would say that he was and still is a dirt forester. The short 18 years he spent overseas were half as many as he had hoped for; because he never wanted to retire from doing work he loved. In the end, international development work left him; and he never voluntarily left international development work. Reluctantly, he retired from forestry consulting at the tender age of 73, but not before he wrote over 40 land management plans for clients in Pennsylvania; and monitored a couple of dozen logging operations that put him "On the road....again!!!"