Memoir
6:38 am
Wed January 15, 2014

Dirt Work: Christine Byl's Education in the Woods

Dirt Work: An Education in the Woods, a memoir by Christine Byl

During this program, Christine Byl talks about her memoir, Dirt Work: An Education in the Woods, which describes her experiences working on trail crews in national parks in Montana and Alaska.

Christine Byl first encountered the national parks the way most of us do: on vacation. But after she graduated from college, broke and ready for a new challenge, she joined a Glacier National Park trail crew as a seasonal “traildog” maintaining mountain trails for the millions of visitors Glacier draws every year. Byl first thought of the job as a paycheck, a summer diversion, a welcome break from “the real world” before going on to graduate school. She came to find out that work in the woods on a trail crew was more demanding, more rewarding—more real—than she ever imagined.

Returning season after season, she eventually leads her own crews, mentoring other trail dogs along the way. In Dirt Work, Byl probes common assumptions about the division between mental and physical labor, “women’s work” and “men’s work,” white collars and blue collars. The supposedly simple work of digging holes, dropping trees, and blasting snowdrifts in fact offers her an education of the hands and the head, as well as membership in an utterly unique subculture.

The music in this program was written and performed by John Flordis.

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Lucy Capehart photo: Christine Byl

Christine Byl lives in Healy, Alaska, where she and her husband run a trail-design and construction business. She received her MFA in fiction from the University of Alaska-Anchorage in 2005, and her prose has appeared in literary magazines, journals, and anthologies including The Sun, Glimmer Train Stories, Crazyhorse, and others. Byl lives off the grid with two old sled dogs in a yurt on a few acres of tundra just north of Denali National Park. When she isn't working outside or writing, she loves reading, homestead projects, wilderness adventures, and anything that happens in the snow.