I loved the seasonal life. Until I didn't.
As a seasonal, I had ready-made friends. Because we all worked at the national park and lived there too, there was none of that uneasy, awkward getting to know you stage. We all liked to hike. We loved hot springs. We were up for anything that involved being outside: canoeing down the Shark River, laying our sleeping bags out to watch meteor showers, going for long trail runs. We talked about what kayaks to buy, where to spend our winters, and things we had seen on our last hitch. We all agreed fervently on one thing: we would never, ever work in an office.
Because we all saw them when we trooped in, sweaty and covered in dirt to fill out our timesheets. There they were, the office people, tapping away at computers. We felt sorry for them, these ancient drones who sat pasty-faced under the florescents, surrounded by stacks of papers. We didn't know what they actually did all day, but we were pretty sure we wouldn't like it.
The seasonal life was a good one. It taught me how to say goodbye. It taught me how to hang on to the gossamer thread of friendships separated by mountain ranges. It taught me what kind of love was worth returning for and which wasn't. It taught me how to drive cross country solo in an iffy car in snowstorms. It taught me that I could learn to do something new: run a swamp buggy, crawl into a cave, fight fire.
There comes a time when the seasonal life loses its luster, when you start worrying about the lack of health insurance and retirement benefits, when you get tired of saying goodbye, when you want to have a bed and a room of your own. That is when you start making bargains, when the desk looms.
I have a co-worker who is getting ready to pull the plug. Thirty-three years with the outfit, and she is done. I sit at my desk and wonder. Due to the arbitrary rules of the government, I am unable to buy back any of the seven years I worked as a seasonal after 1989. In order to receive my full, not-so-hefty retirement, I would have to work another fifteen years or so. If I had stayed in full-time firefighting, I would have only four. But I didn't, choosing instead to work in the wilderness.
Fifteen more years. As much as some parts of my job are wonderful (paid backpacking!) any job that requires you to give up forty hours of your life a week seems like too much. This probably seems like self-indulgent whining to the generation before me, which grimly put in its time because that is what you did. You didn't sit all self-absorbed at a computer, wondering what you wanted to be when you grew up.
Fifteen more years. There has to be something else out there, some way to live in a place you love, and really experience that place instead of trying to carve out time between meetings and conference calls. To live like a seasonal again but without worrying about your dental bill. I hope I find it.