Around January we start interviewing our summer staff. They come from….all over really. Some of them have connections to Tuscarora, some of them have connections to former staff, some of them see our ads on their college job sites, some of them have worked with us before, some of them just want to live in the north woods, so they find us.
We’ve collected questions over the years, for applicants and references, so we can try to figure out if the staff members are trustworthy….if they work hard, if we can trust them, if they can get along with others, if they are trustworthy, if they know how far into the woods we actually are. Secondly, we like it if they have a sense of humor, if they are trustworthy, if they are willing to scrub, and if we can trust them. Then…we invite them to join our family.
In May they start coming. Some years are exciting because we have a lot of returners, some years are exciting because everybody is new,…….. usually there is a mix. We share meals together—you know, the family dinners that all the literature supports for building strong families. And they start out a little quiet and a little awkward….and pretty soon…….well, basically, strangers become family.
Every week we have a staff meeting–and we go around the table, and bring up any issues. As in….Justin wants us to rinse the dishes before they go in the dishwasher, or Dave reminds us to double bag the fish gut trash can–that sort of thing. Only last weekend, it was the last staff meeting for a couple of our people, and on our way around the table there was a lot of appreciating going on…a lot of ‘awesome summer’ comments. It was a sweet moment as I looked around the table and wondered how I was now supposed to say goodbye to these kids I’ve grown to love. I really mean it when I tell them the Number One Rule is not to die. And as the seasons go around, a poignant moment like this where people go around the table and tell each other how much they care about each other is larger than life. It’s August again, especially in the morning when I sit in my office listening to the witty chatter on the walkie talkies I realize another summer has slipped by.
They make me laugh with their playfulness. I poked my head in the crew cabin a few minutes ago and asked if anyone was up for getting three canoes from Cross Bay. Twenty seconds later Caleb and Alex were madly racing to the truck, in ridiculously long gangly legs and sandals. They’re kids really, but when I see how hard they work, and how committed they are to Tuscarora guests, they make me a little limp with gratefulness.
Let me introduce you to this years’ Tuscarora Team.
Not sure Dave came to Tuscarora with a plan to be the outfitting manager, but…come on, he’s been here so many years….how can he NOT be the manager? Besides that, he’s a natural. He is gentle and kind, and almost never flusters. Except maybe once. He keeps track of everything, and he keeps us on track with all of those details in his head. He sports his widest smile when a tree falls-and he takes out his happy chain saw. Every once in awhile—after hours—you might see him with the roll of pink flagging tape, marking the dead poplars that will come down in the fall.
Elizabeth is sunshine personified. No kidding, I don’t think I’ve ever met anybody with such an optomistic outlook on life. One time, at lunch, we decided she might be the only true extravert on staff. Most of us were pretty deliberate about working in the woods—Elizabeth sort of stumbled on us I think (lucky us). I think she’ll probably live longer for this kind attitude. Definitely the people around her can’t help but absorb some of her cheeriness. It is fairly remarkable.
Shelby left first to start her tennis season. She had a blast on the housekeeping trio. When they told their stories at lunch, they filled in for each other, as Shelby and Elizabeth’s voices get higher and higher and faster and faster and they’d all just start laughing. They are full of inside jokes. Shelby is learning the big life lesson about saying goodbye to people she really cares about. I think it is the hardest lesson that there is.
Alex has been camping in the BWCAW since he was 6 years old, his family has been everywhere, and he can talk tirelessly about the rules video for a long long time. He has passion for the woods, and the details about portage etiquette and leaving no trace. I heard someone say we are all ages in our life, at all times. If that is really the case, well, when Alex smiles, he is a very charming 6 year old. Six years old, 6 feet 5 inches tall. He’s tidy and consceintous and he runs 80+ miles a week while collecting trash on the Gunflint Trail. When he does a trash run, they stop the truck (Trashy Pete) to get his current stash of road garbage from behind the mailbox.
Rachel packs the food and is fiercely protective of our fleet……both the canoes and the staff. She supervises general canoe maintenance, housekeeping, the store, the food room, phones, and ….is our all-around support person . You might think she runs the place, because honestly, she runs the place. What would we do without Rachel?
Daniel I overheard Pumper Pete, our local saint who pumps the septic system once a summer (whether we need it or not) telling Andy that Daniel is as “good as they come”. Well, coming from Pete, that is the no small complement. It sort of choked Andy up, in the tough guy with a shovel in his hand kind of way. When Danny gets too serious, and he gets his scrubbing face on, I must step up to the very important job of taking him down. I still can, you know.
Granny and Gramps/Sheldon and Jane (my mom and dad) came to help cook, pick berries, fix stuff, maintain the calm, and do any dirty work they could find. I still lean on them-and they’re as steady as they have ever been. I sometimes wish that all people in this world could grow up with the kind of support that I’ve had. And also…they’re pretty entertaining.
My nephew Tommy is between med school semesters, and is our summer handyman, volunteer, and happy hippy. I like it that he likes it here, because he’s a good kid, and I get to see him, and he loves the stuff that I love. I’m just really sorry that I missed him singing Mack the Knife at Karaoke Night.
I’ve never met anyone so excited to become an old man and putter. So, if Alex is 6, then Karl is 85. He’s a very kind young man who already has an old man chuckle. He plays the guitar like a pro, and makes up songs about Denali on the trolly, which I understand is very entertaining at the bonfires. It turns out that his proclivity for puttering is perfect for re-surfacing kevlars, and fixing low-riders, and taking the time to listen to people of all ages.
When we realized Justin might actually come back as crew cook, we thought we’d died and gone to culinary heaven. He keeps it simple, he’s great, and he leaves stashes of cookies and lasagnes and meatloafs and pies in his wake. He laughs hard, and he can tow, clean, paddle, and charm just about anybody. As if all that weren’t enough………well, there is always pizza night.
Jen is actually the naturalist at Bearskin, but she joins our family on weekends. She’s such a solid boost, matter-of-fact about any job. She’s a Tuscarora veteran. I hear her called on the radio “Jen to the outfitting yard please” and I can also almost hear her shrug and say…”OK” and off she goes. We like her style, and we like the way her presence marks the passing of the weekends.
You might wonder if Caleb is a farm boy or a suburban Indanapolis kid, and you are right. We still wonder about that. His grandparents homesteaded then sold land to the suburban development where he lives. Yet he can’t remember a time when he wasn’t riding on a tractor, and still helps his family maintain the piece of The Homestead that is left. We like to tease him about Jimmy, his 4H hog…but we also realize that he works as though Tuscarora is also his personal farm. He sat in my office at the beginning of the season, when it was raining too hard to fish, and I said….”Well, Caleb, what are you going to do now?” And he shrugged and said “I’m used to working sun-up to sun-down, is there anything else I can do for you?” (add in ma’am here, to get the true picture). He’ll be here all winter, and next summer too… lucky us.
Allie: Easy going Allie notices everything. Sometimes when she quietly makes a comment, it is so surprisingly witty and ironic that I look twice and wonder if she really meant for that to be funny, is she really that smart? Yes, she is. She’s calm, professional, hardworking, and effective. On her way to becoming an architect, we’re hoping she’ll pass through Tuscarora for another summer–and bring all her Pladson sisters.
Mata cleaned bunkhouses during the summer of 2004–and this week…she’s at it again. Her family worked for Tuscarora back then and the I’m still hearing stories about the antics that summer-with Shelby and Daniel and her siblings, Allison and Joe. She was about 10 at that time. In between her summer job and starting college she’s become a full time housekeeper, server, all around everyjob. Since she’s a Tuscarora veteran, she fit right in—and she has brought an energy with her that has been a big boost.
There you have them………We like our TEAM!
What a wonderful post about your staff. Its a tribute to you and Andy that they all so perfectly fit as family. As a “customer” it shows in every facet of the Tuscarora experience.
I’m proud that I got to meet your staff again this year and play them a few songs. Please tell Allie that I hope she’ll be back on the front row next year when I come up.
(By the way, didn’t someone take a pic of me and your staff? I would love to see that).
Thanks again for a moving post.