Some of us sit at our computers and watch the world from our windows, buttoning cardigans in response to the chilly winter view.
We gird ourselves for our small battles with Mother Nature, bundling up to trudge across the frozen expanse from office to automobile. Then we close the door, buckle up, and wait as the defroster warms up. Victorious against the elements, we may celebrate with a hot chocolate from the Dunkin’ Donuts drive-through.
Then there are those who work outside, all day, every day, season after season.
For some, it is a labor of love, particularly for those whose work brings them into contact with the natural world. The outdoor life brings them far more joy than they would ever find in a climate-controlled cubicle.
“There’s always something to look at,” said Dan Small, 53, the park ranger at Lynn Woods Reservation, who has held an indoor job for just a year and a half of his adult life. “If you work in a cubicle, you have the same view all the time, unless something changes on your computer screen. I’ve worked here for 13 years, and I just saw two barred owls, two days apart, in completely different parts of the park. I’d never seen one before. I was amazed.”
For those who work outdoors north of Boston, surrounded by and dependent on nature, this time of year can bring deep snow, stinging cold, and heavy winds. In six months, that might be replaced by scorching heat and mosquitoes. Whatever the weather brings, they pull on their layered clothing and Gore-Tex, or reach for sun block and bug spray. Then they go to work.
Kristen Herrick, farmer, Rowley
Kristen Herrick rolls out of bed every day at 5:30 a.m. to milk the cows at 6. Twelve hours later, she’ll milk them again.
“There’s the stereotypical image that the farmer gets up at 4 a.m., but that’s more if you’re doing the morning shift,” she explained. “For a family farm, you do both.”
Her father, Sam Herrick, 51, took over the Rowley farm from his father, but he started building the dairy herd from the time “he was little.” The herd numbers more than 200.
Kristen Herrick planned to become a teacher, but instead joined her dad and brothers on the family farm.
“I do everything I can,” said Herrick, 28, who is licensed to teach but opted to help during what has been a tough time for farming. In season, she’s in charge of vegetables — the farm has a Community Supported Agriculture program as well as a roadside stand on Route 133 — and in the winter she cares for the cows and plans for the growing season.
“When we get a lot of snow, you can’t do extra things, but you always have chores. The cows need to be fed, they need to be cleaned, they need to be milked, but we have to make everything accessible. When you have a foot of snow, [clearing it] takes up all the time between morning chores and afternoon chores.”
She dresses in layers to prepare for changing conditions during the day. There are times when she has to work in pouring rain or other adversity. The worst thing, she said, is being stuck inside on sunny days.
“When I’m working indoors, I miss working outdoors,” Herrick said.
Roger Thurlow, Mass. Environmental Police
The state’s Environmental Police officers enforce the conservation laws of the Commonwealth, protecting its environment and natural resources. Their broad set of responsibilities takes them out on the water and into the woods, enforcing catch-and-bag limits and making sure recreational activities are conducted safely.
In a typical week, an officer may patrol the coast in a boat one day and tromp through the woods the next.
“Especially at this time of year,” said Lieutenant Roger Thurlow, 53, who supervises the M-1 Region, a 15-municipality area that extends from Salisbury to Swampscott, “our job focus changes seasonally. The hunting seasons generally take us through the fall months, so we could be patrolling wildlife management areas during the stock pheasant season, checking deer hunting areas, and we could also be getting underway for a fisheries or boating safety patrol at any time of the year, especially with commercial fishing being a year-round business.”
Officers might also be on the ice, at an event like the annual fishing derby on the Artichoke Reservoir in Newburyport, checking equipment, limits, and fishing licenses.
It’s important to dress appropriately, Thurlow said, and while conditions aren’t always ideal, the officers don’t let the weather interfere with the job.
“Each officer has a district of responsibility, and it’s kind of an ownership thing,” he said. “The officers look at their district as their primary responsibility, to enforce the laws in their district.
“Duck hunters love the rain, for some reason. I was a duck hunter myself, and can look back on the days when I used to spend a lot of time walking the marshes in Salisbury and Newbury.
“The rain didn’t bother me, and when I came on this job I knew there’d be duck hunters out, even in the rain, so I got out there, and dressed accordingly.”
Dan Small, park ranger, Lynn Woods
As park ranger for the city-owned Lynn Woods Reservation, Small is responsible for the maintenance and management of approximately 3,000 acres of forested land, including the nation’s second-largest municipal park and abutting woodland.
“Right now, I’m still cleaning up after [Hurricane] Sandy,” Small said recently, before last weekend’s massive snowfall, which added some problems. “The roads are open, but there’s still 23 trees left on my list that are blocking the side trails. So, I literally have to take the saw, throw it over my shoulder, and go for a hike. Sometimes it’s three-quarters of a mile out and three-quarters of a mile back just to cut one or two trees, but I have to get the trails open again. We can’t leave them blocked.”
The only ranger at the reservation, he works five days a week, from 7:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m., maintaining the grounds, leading educational tours, and troubleshooting any problems that might arise, from coyotes getting aggressive with dogs to squatters setting up camp in the woods.
For the most part, he said, there are very few issues at a spot that has become increasingly popular for dog walkers, runners, and hikers, even in winter.
“It’s packed,” Small said. “I was walking out to one of the parking lots the other day — not even on a Saturday, but a Thursday — and there were 37 cars in the parking lot. When I first started working here, on a winter day like that, there might be three people here. I couldn’t believe it.”
Small enjoys the work, even in the bitter cold.
“You learn to dress for it,” he said. “I may not be a fashion plate, but I’m not cold. I may look like one of those guys from Stalingrad, but it gets the job done.”
Nate Levie, boat-yard worker, Gloucester
Like Small, Nate Levie is still cleaning up from Hurricane Sandy, which struck in October.
“We’re repairing some docks that were destroyed,” said Levie, 27, a boat technician at Cape Ann Marine Sales and Service, located at Cape Ann Marina. “We actually have to drive all new pilings, because the pilings got broken off during the storm. We’re lining them up where they’re supposed to be, and the pile drivers are here now, so starting next week we’re going to start putting them in.”
The work takes place on the outside docks, which are the same docks where he fought off 60 mile per hour winds as he pulled boats in after the pilings broke during the hurricane.
Levie layers as effectively as he can, but he admits the cold stings his hands.
The crew may find indoor projects on the most extreme days, if there’s a safety concern, but otherwise they are outside, even on the coldest days. “If it has to get done outside, then bulk up and do what you can,” he said.
Levie grew up around boats in Gloucester, and he spent a lot of his childhood at the marina, where his father worked.
This is the slow season, with employees catching up on maintenance, boat repairs, and other projects so that things run smoothly in the summer. This time of year, the schedule is more relaxed, and while the weather can be severe, there’s a payoff when the weather gets warmer.
“There’s nothing better than when its 85 degrees and your buddies are in an office and you’re bombing around the harbor in somebody’s boat, making sure it runs right.”
Chris Garland, Bradford Ski Area
Chris Garland started working at the Bradford Ski Area at age 14, picking up trash in the lobby. Now 30, he works, “inside, outside, wherever I’m needed.”
During ski season, he estimates that nine to 10 hours of his 16-hour workday are spent outdoors. “Normally I’m in at 5:30 and hopefully out any time after 7, depending if we’re making snow,” he said.
If the crew is making snow at night, after the skiers are gone, Garland will make sure the operation is running properly and then head home to sleep, maybe at midnight, knowing that when morning comes he’ll be back to push out the piles and groom the trails. The snow-making crew numbers seven or eight, and usually there are four groomers on the hill.
He also supervises a four-person crew at the ski area’s terrain park, maintaining the rails, boxes, and jumps and making sure it’s safe.
When natural snow falls, plowing, shoveling, and other tasks must be done to get the facility ready for the 500 to 700 skiers who use it in a typical week.
“If you dress for it, it’s like being anywhere else,” Garland said. “I enjoy it. I’d rather be cold than hot.”
For him, working outdoors in the winter is one of the best things about the job.
“How can you not, living in New England?” he said.
“It’s part of living here.”