You have surely seen those folks clad in orange vests, carrying heavy backpacks in the sweltering summer heat, scaling the steep terrain along the roads and highways in Teton County. After passing the TCWP pickup truck with the large water tank in the back, you probably realized you were seeing the TCWP seasonal spray crew hard at work. Did you ever wonder how they came to be spraying weeds and mosquitoes in Wyoming? Where were they from? Did they plan on doing this kind of work in the future or was it just a summer job adventure in the Tetons?
I experienced some hard days in the field with our seasonal crew this summer, and found surprising answers to some of these questions.
The Summer Spray Crew is hired by TCWP each summer from May through October, to spray weeds and mosquitoes in the county. This year’s crew of 18 includes 14 “returners” who have worked on the spray crew previously, one of whom is here for his 9th consecutive season! Clearly there is something about this work that brings them back year after year.
Though the majority are in their early twenties, you may be surprised to know, they are not ALL college students on a summer job adventure. The crew also includes a college professor, a school teacher, a bee keeper, even a monk!
You might think this type of work would only appeal to those planning a career in something similar. Not necessarily. Members of this highly educated crew are studying Public Health, Philosophy, Nursing, Dental Hygiene, Exercise Physiology, Political Science and Robotics! Many have their Master’s degree and a few are working on PhDs!
So, what brings these intelligent and motivated individuals from all over the country out to Wyoming to spray weeds and mosquitoes for the summer? What keeps so many of them returning year after year? Answers include: The beautiful views while you work. The mountains. The free housing in Jackson. The great pay! Getting to work outside. The satisfaction of working for such a worthwhile mission.
All of that is great, but I really wanted to know how they were able to cope with the overwhelming tasks they were faced with daily. How did they not become discouraged by the endless swaths of spotted knapweed along the highways, and the acres of flooded fields, teaming with mosquito larvae, as far as the eye could see?
Working with them this summer, I was impressed by their contagious positive attitudes about their work. When I pointed this out, they shared clever ways of staying positive and having fun while coping with the physical and mental hardships of their work.
Many donned ear buds and listened to music or podcasts saved on their iPhones while working. Some changed tasks frequently – even just changed the weed they were spraying – to avoid burn-out. More than a few used meditation and breathing techniques to stay in a positive mental space. One espoused practicing a Buddhist philosophy of living in the present, taking one day at a time, and repeating the mantra, “all of these mosquitoes will be dead in a few months!”
We all face challenges in our work lives – some physical and some mental. When things get tough, the TCWP Summer 2017 Spray Crew reminds us to take some deep breaths, pop in our earbuds and listen to some cool tunes, and remind yourself, “this too shall pass.”
-Meta Dittmer, Office Programs and Communications Manager