Editors Note: This is a blog post I wrote back in the Autumn of 2012 during my first sojourn south to New Zealand. Though slightly dated, the concept is one that is still pervasive in my life as a NOLS instructor. I also post this today in honor of the Summer 2016 WRAP (work request and plan) portal opening…seven months in advance.
“Are you working this fall?” “What did you request for spring work?” “What’s next for you?” These questions, and variations there of, seem to be common conversational gambits pervasive at NOLS branches and between instructors everywhere. In other professions, these types of questions are often only asked after retirements, resignations, or firings. Both the transient nature of the faculty and the inconsistent nature of fieldwork however, combine to make these excellent and appropriate conversation extenders (or starter).
Three times a year I submit a work request to the NOLS staffing office. This happens several months ahead of when the work will actually take place. Therefore I plan my life only several months in advance. The fall wrap sheet was due March 31st 2012. That means that by that date I had to know what I want to do not only in early September but also December. These days filing out the work requests has gotten much much easier. The branches post the contract dates on the faculty website. This allows folks to ask for work specifically, knowing what courses overlap, where courses will be run, and how many instructors are needed for each course. The work requests are sent in electronically. It is kind of luxurious and almost frivolous. I think I appreciate it so much more because I remember a time before all that happened.
Planning my life only seven months in advance has its ups and downs. Some people plan their lives years in advance, planning to spend their working years with a certain company or setting up a career track. I don’t know what I will be doing next spring where as others could plan their vacation for that time and cross off the days on the calendar until then. The up side of having to look off into the future is that it promotes goal setting and planning. The down side is that I often can not give others a straight answer when they want to incorporate me into their plans.
One nice amenity to the Durango Hills YMCA complex in Las Vegas, NV is that it has free wireless. My co-instructors and I had taken our students there in order for us to shower. Yeah, we get stinky, so we shower before we resupply our groceries. I pull out my laptop and open it up as I wait for clean students to make their way out of the locker rooms. Checking my email mid-course is not something I generally like to do; it tends to take me out of the present and it is also not a luxury that students really have. But since I was writing a book and was expecting an email from the publisher, I snuck a quick peak. Nothing from Jason, but an email from Clair Parrish caught my eye. The subject, Fall Work, was intriguing so I opened it. Now this is April 14th or so. She wrote “Jerry, it doesn’t look like the Smith Rock camp is going to work out, but we were able to get you your Unaweep and mountain section.” Immediately I am transported from April to November and my mind starts swirling around what to do with a free November and even more importantly how will I work enough in the spring? I shoot her a quick email in return, commenting that I would need a bunch of weeks in the spring in order to reach my 25 required weeks. Then lower down, another one catches my eye. Dated a few days after the first, Clair emails me once again, asking if I would be interested in going to New Zealand for some mountain contracts. Looking at the dates I realize that I would miss my cousin’s wedding. I fire her off another reply, respectfully declining on the grounds that I want to go to my cousin’s wedding. I close the lap top, but not before sending an email to Scott, who is sitting next to me.
Showering once again at the Durango Hills YMCA at the end of the section allowed another quick check of the email inbox and another email from Clair. “Jerry, no worries, we got you the three that you wanted…” I shut down and slide the silver Mac into its case and zip it shut. Once again, my mind swirls and I start concocting plans as to how to get from Seattle to NY for a wedding, Thanksgiving, and how to once again get to Patagonia. My life for the next seven months has started to take shape.
Back in Lander I put a note on my clipboard to go visit Clair in the staffing office to thank her for getting the work I wanted for the fall. A few days slip by and it doesn’t seem to happen, but then I find myself there, walking in and being greeted by smiles and hellos. “Hello Clara” I smile, using the name that she often gets called by confused people.
“Why hello Jerry.” She responds with the same. “Don’t you really want to go to New Zealand?”
“Well, I really want to go to my cousin’s wedding” I respond “but tell me more.”
Traveling to another country and a working at a new NOLS branch is an awesome and always exciting opportunity. To travel halfway around the world at someone else’s expense and then get paid to work there makes it even better. This truly is one of the best parts of the “compensation package” that working for the NOLS affords me. While I may not get to spend time tramping around the islands and visiting the other cultural and recreational sites that the country is known for, I will get to see a lot of stuff that is off the beaten path. The truth is she doesn’t really have to twist my arm that hard.
Clair seemed genuinely excited when I said yes, though she said she would have to run it by Jordy first. And the rest of the office seemed to be happy too. She called me later that day and said it was a go. I tried not to sound to excited.
Now that I am here, I sit and contemplate my future once again. I am between forays into the Arrowsmith Range of New Zealand’s Southern Alps and in checking my email on my 24 hours in town I see a NOLS program supervisor job opening that I want AND that I am on the docket for February, April and May work. Given my one night out of the field timeline, only the spring work seems like a feasible choice; the program supervisor application will have to wait. Once again, my mind vacates the present and takes a trip first three months and then seven month down the road. Plans for flying to Patagonia in January, parking my car in Tucson, driving back via the Creek, then a spring at Split Rock. Now, despite the forthcoming venture into the Arrowsmiths, a range I have only barely scraped the surface of, I find myself yanked out of the spectacular beauty of New Zealand’s present and deposited squarely several months into the future.