Thursday, March 11, 2010

HIKING THE CENSUS TRAIL

Did I mention that I have a temporary job canvassing homes as a Census Enumerator? They used to call it "Census Taker." I guess "Enumerator" sounds more official. I think it sounds like an Arnold Schwarzenegger role: "I AM THE ENUMERATOR!!!!!"

If the outer reaches of Garrett County, MD were not still under snow, checking off the address list would be so much easier. The area I had today.... well, some of the houses were plowed out. Some of the roads were passable. Some addresses I could reach by driving around the long way and accessing them from the other end of the road. Some I could see from the road but what I could not see was a driveway or anything resembling one.

The reason they were not plowed out was, these are mostly vacation homes in an upscale resort community. No one lives there. But they have addresses so they have to get a Census questionnaire.

Actually a few people live there. I actually contacted a person at a couple of places. Mostly I left questionnaires in plastic bags on doorknobs, after hiking up what might have been their driveway, or just through the woods, in knee-to-thigh-deep snow.

The Census Bureau had better be grateful. They can't be, though, because they won't know. The people who made the maps don't know that road signs have disappeared, as have the roads they identified. Whoever did the initial canvassing to ascertain addresses, last year, didn't do it through 2 feet of snow. Yes, that's what we still have. I used our GPS a lot. I hiked a lot.

If someone had to go out there, it should have been someone with a lot of endurance, someone strong, maybe some kind of athlete, a marathon-runner or backpacker or something, because they would have had to hike the Appalachian Trail to be ready for this. Oh, wait, that's me.

And because it was so like hiking (although on the Trail, I only had to deal with about 3 inches of snow) it was actually pretty enjoyable. Figuring out the best route through the woods to the house, post-holing through, knee-deep one step, then the next step hitting a low place and sinking to my hip; falling, grabbing branches for balance and leverage -- it was right down my alley. The funny thing was, along with my hiking boots, wool knee socks, and waterproof hiking pants, I was wearing a sleevless top and light sweater because it was 60*F, and charging through the snow like that got me all sweated up. But my boots have lost their waterproofing, and my feet got soaked. I was driving with my windows open and the heater going full-blast on the floor.

For my lunch break I drove back out to the community entrance where there was a parking lot in front of a closed office building, poured water out of my boots and wrung out my socks. Water streamed from them. Then I ran the heater full-blast from everywhere -- put my socks over the defroster to dry out a little and warm up, my boots (filled with paper napkins) on the floor and propped my cold feet up in front of the dash vents, with all the windows open because it was so hot in the car. I ate cheese and Rice Krispies Bars and drank water from a Powerade bottle. It truly felt like a Trail lunch, complete with sock-airing. When I was done for the day, I poured water out of my boots and wrung out my socks again, and then wrung them out again when I got home, because they had gotten so wet again just from being in my boots.

As on the Trail, there is no way my boots will dry overnight. They're beside a heater vent, but the weather is now unseasonably warm, and the furnace will probably not come on during the night.

Well, I have been homesick for hiking. And I get paid for this.

But it's sorta nuts.

2 comments:

bunnygirl said...

Wow, that's dedication! I know it's a fun challenge for you, but most census workers would probably give it a miss.

Nice to see you posting!

fiberjoy said...

This is a great story! You should submit it to various places, starting with your local newspaper - now that you have a byline with them. :)