The winter after graduating from college I got a one-semester long-term job as a substitute teacher in my old junior high school in Jamestown, North Dakota. It was so much fun to see my old teachers again, and eye-opening to observe how a school works from the other side of the desk.
The next summer I worked for Tuscarora Outfitters, a canoe outfitter on the Gunflint Trail out of Grand Marais, Minnesota. My duties included packing trip gear and food for customers, guiding, hauling people to drop-off points, cleaning canoes, and answering questions. Again, it was educational to experience the BWCA from the other side. A commercial business has a radically different approach to the wilderness from that of a recreational canoeist. A business is out to make money–a canoeist is out to enjoy the wildernessresigned to spending money. The goals are usually at odds with each other.
The next winter I spent as a ski bum in Snowmass, Colorado, working at a chalet as a maid and waitress. I spent lots of time on the slopes and lots of apres-ski time doing fun things I probably shouldn’t have done. There was a lot of money rolling around (though not in MY pockets) and I was exposed to a lifestyle I haven’t seen again since. I left my skis there in the spring, fully intending to return the next ski season. I didn’t.
While in Colorado I interviewed for a job with the Minnesota Outward Bound School out of Ely. In my mind, this was the epitome of a BWCA job, and I was ecstatic when I was offered the position. I spent the summer of 1977 as an Outward Bound instructor, teaching groups of young people how to canoe, portage, rock climb, use a compass, perform first aid, conduct search-and-rescue maneuvers, and then leading them into the wilderness for a two-week trip. Part of this trip was a three-day solo when each student was isolated on a deserted lake with three matches and a safety pin. It was a heady thrilling summer. But again, one and done.
I had been toying with the idea of joining the Peace Corps ever since college. I finally gathered some addresses and wrote lots of letters. Although the Peace Corps did respond after about six months, the United Church Board of World Ministries wrote back immediately and said they had a job for me RIGHT NOW! I had about a month to get visas and shots, pack a trunk, say goodbye, and head for Izmir, Turkey. The school was sponsored by the United Church of Christ, and I was technically a missionary, although proselytizing in Turkey was forbidden at the time. I spent nearly two years teaching in a school for Turkish girls. I taught physical education and music. I lived on campus with Americans my own age, made excellent friends, traveled a lot, went scuba diving nearly every weekend, learned Turkish, played the organ in the only Christian church in Izmir, and even had a standing gig singing and playing guitar in a bar.
As soon as I returned from Turkey, I fell in love and soon married an Iowa farmer and moved to the farm. I got a job as the volleyball coach at the local high school while also teaching preschool in our church basement. Those local connections later expanded into a K-8 music teaching position along with being a track coach. That particular career ended with the arrival of two babies, but when the second child entered kindergarten, I re-entered the educational field as the music teacher at a Catholic grade school. I stayed there for six years, which was the longest-lasting job I had ever retained.
I got my master’s degree in Music Education from St. Thomas University, and immediately got the position of music instructor at Ellsworth Community College. My duties over the years included band director, pep band director, jazz band director, choir director, show choir director, and teacher of music theory, music history, jazz history, a student success class and a Thai Culture class. I also gave lessons on piano, guitar, and banjo, and was the volleyball coach for a few years. But my favorite class was one I designed called Experience and Expression. It was a fine arts credit class in which we took students to the BWCA for a week and then had them express their feelings about the trip through poetry, writing, art, or music. I also spent half a year teaching in Thailand on a sabbatical. I was helping to rebuild the country after the devastating tsunami of 2004.
After I retired from Ellsworth, we bought a cabin right next door to the Boundary Waters. By the third summer at the cabin, I was spending several days a week working for the Forest Service. My duties include trail maintenance, digging latrines, issuing permits for the BWCA, painting and erecting trail signs, answering telephones, cleaning outhouses, and manning the front desk at the Forest Service office in Cook.