cover image Dirt Work: 
An Education in the Woods

Dirt Work: An Education in the Woods

Christine Byl. Beacon, $24.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-8070-0100-4

This chronicle of years spent as a “traildog”—a seasonal worker doing the underappreciated, backbreaking work of maintaining wilderness trails—first in Montana’s Glacier National Park, and later in Alaska’s Denali National Park—blends beauty and crudeness, grit and grace. Successfully articulating the satisfaction of physical labor and the camaraderie of the people who do it, Byl organizes the book around her beloved tools, starting with whimsical descriptions of each and using her experience to launch stories about how she learned to do the myriad unseen jobs that keep park trails navigable. Byl is just as likely to be sentimental about backhoes and boots as about the gorgeous vistas of Alaska, but her most obvious love is for the people who work the trails with her, whose taciturn behavior, practical jokes, and machismo she must navigate, whose internal culture she learns as she becomes a part of the team, and whose mentorship is invaluable. With language that is lyrical despite the earthiness of its subject, Byl turns the words of work into found poetry (“brake on, choke on, pull, pull, fire”), offering a bridge for readers to those “who would not speak like this themselves”—a beautiful memoir of muscle and metal. Agent: Janet Silver, Zachary Shuster Harmsworth. (Apr.)