In Dirt Work: An Education in the Woods, Christine Byl tells the story of her years working as a “traildog” in the National Parks of Montana and Alaska. On Thursday, November 7th Byl will share her experiences at Tiny Terra Ferma for a book reading and signing, co-sponsored by The Spiral Bookcase.
Throughout her memoir, Byl explores the language, tools, skills, and fraternity of traildog work, writing candidly about the harsh living conditions, injuries, and insecurities that come with the job. A complete novice when she started at Glacier National Park at the age of twenty-two, Byl quickly learned how to clear brush, dig ditches, build bridges, clean up after forest fires and blast snow. Divided into six sections, each chapter in Dirt Work begins with a profile of a toolasso ciated in the trailwork in that particular region. In a field traditionally dominated by men, Byl learns firsthand about the division between mental and physical labor. She questions the common assumptions about “men’s work” and “women’s work,” while dealing with criticism from her male coworkers and handling her own insecurities on the job. However in time these insecurities make her stronger, giving her an appreciation for working with her own hands and making time for nature.
After working on the trails for over sixteen years, Byl now lives and works in Alaska with her husband Gabe, where they run a trail-design and construction business. What started out as a post-graduation summer gig turned into a decades-long job, where Byl, who was once a novice, eventually became a leader and mentor to other trail dogs. She writes about her education in the woods and how “a strong body can usher in mental clarity. Noticing how the world works keeps you open to it.”