This is Public Service Recognition Week.
Saturday I attended the Memorial Grove Ceremony, put on each year to honor Forest Service employees from the Rocky Mountain Region who have died in the last year. It’s a time and place to see new employees with tattoos and piercings doing some of the same kind of work as the oldest honoree had done when he joined the Forest Service in 1906. Over a hundred years of people history.
Tom Thompson, is a major mensch, both while working, and now, as he carries on honoring the soul of the Forest Service. He’s a major mover behind the Museum of Forest Service History, NAFSR, and so many other activities that I can’t enumerate them. One of the many things he does is to conduct all the research and contact the families each year for the Memorial Grove ceremony. He’s also a gifted writer and speaker. Saturday he said “it’s not the process or the policy that makes the Forest Service, it’s the people.”
Hearing the members of the families talk about their loved ones, it struck me how different their jobs had been, e.g. heavy equipment operator, receptionist, archaeologist, NEPA expert and so on. Through their stories, it also struck me that many of the administrative positions were appreciated as opportunities for steady and decent incomes for women at the time, even the adventure of working on fires, in a time in which women were not encouraged to get away from home for adventure. How much we all have changed since 1906! And yet there is something binding us beyond a paycheck..
People nowadays make fun of the “Forest Service family” idea, when people all lived together on districts, helped each other out, raised their kids together and so on. Perhaps that part of culture has run its course. But there is still a significant connection among people in the Forest Service. Call it a tribe, call it a community or whatever. Sometimes you can’t really feel it until you are not in it, when you leave or retire.
I remember a dear and wonderful colleague, with whom I had worked closely for seven years, whose last work act with me, at the behest of our mutual superior, was to give me a poor performance rating and try to remove me from my job. He has since gone on to the Big District in the Sky, but my memories of him are never of those bureaucratic machinations, but rather of everyday days working together, learning, laughing and having a beer and telling stories. As I reflect on this, those moments were absolutely what was real. The bureaucratic drama, even though it felt personal at the time (how could it not?).. was only a blip on the screen of our souls’ journeys.
For those of you working in the FS today, I hope you can take a day to appreciate your colleagues and your daily experiences in this moment. Even to the folks who aren’t big on mushiness, for once a year to say “hey, I appreciate this about you,” can’t be too bad.
And for those of you not working for the FS at this moment, we can freely tell any of those folks we’ve dealt with “hey, thanks for serving, I appreciate this about you.” And even if you don’t know them personally, you can write a note to the District that has your favorite campground, or your favorite FOIA folks, and just say thank you.
Finally, one thing that came through loud and clear from the families at the Memorial Grove Ceremony was that their family members “loved the Forest Service.” It’s easy for me to say, as a retiree with some of the fun and none of the bureaucracy, that I did and I do. For those of you currently working, today might be a good day to honor that feeling as well. In spite of …. and ….., I still love it, or not. Is that flame is sputtering, or strong, or out?