by Shannon Baker
*in anticipation of the March 8th release of the second in the Nora Abbott Mystery Series, Broken Trust, I'm reprising a blog I posted for last year's Tainted Mountain release. (and also because I've been traveling and time slipped away from me and it suddenly dawned on me I'm up on Inkspot today!)
“I’m not an environmentalist.” Eyebrows shot up when I announced that at a staff retreat. A shocked silence followed. But not too long of a pause since I was only an accountant and not very important to their real work of saving the planet.
In fact, I was only included in the retreat as a courtesy, and, I’m sure, in hope that I’d spend most of my time behind the scenes in the kitchen preparing meals and breaks. Not me. I sat in on every session, eager to learn about the Grand Canyon Trust, my new employer.
I’m a bone-deep, Atlas Shrugged, return on investment kind of gal. My father was a retailer and financial statements were his bible. I learned terms like margin, overhead, and breakeven before I started kindergarten.
So what was a profit worshipper, like me, doing at a non-profit environmental trust?
Accounting for their cattle operation. About now you’re scratching your head and wondering why a group of largely vegetarians and/or vegans would be running cattle.
It’s totally logical. There is a cattle ranch on the north rim of the Grand Canyon that controls nearly one million acres of high desert, forest, and the most questionable grazing land this Nebraska native has ever seen. It came up for sale and to keep it out of the hands of evil ranchers destroying the land by running too many cows, the Trust snatched it up. But of those million acres, much of it is public lands and there is a requirement to run a minimum of cattle. Thus, the environmentalists are in the cattle business and they needed someone to do the ranch accounting.
I’d moved to Flagstaff after completing my MBA, just off a run at a medical device start-up that had sold for millions. It never occurred to me I wouldn’t jump right into a job at one of the county’s most prestige medical device companies that just happens to be in Flagstaff. Alas, they didn’t want me. I have various theories about why, most of them centering around the wrinkles on my face. But I’ve been a writer for a while so rejection is nothing new to me.
There I was, unemployed in a wreck of a national economy in a town notorious for low wages and a tight job market. The Trust advertised, I interviewed and badda bing, I’m a de facto environmentalist.
To be honest, I’d been living in Boulder, CO just before moving to Flagstaff, so saying I’m not a tree-hugging, granola-cruncher is relative.
Like any good book, my time at the Trust was full of conflict. I never got used to the ebb and flow of finances at a non-profit. However, the perks of working with inspired, passionate, creative people in those amazing landscapes is an experience I treasure.
At lunchtime, while I reheated my leftover beef stew, and they’d quaff some kind of green, lumpy juice they’d made from CFS shares, I got to share laughs and learn about botany, biology, hydrology and Native American culture. They introduced me to quinoa for which I am forever grateful.
They taught me about composting and cold frame gardening. My world view expanded as they shared their travel experiences and knowledge of strange and beautiful places. One woman spent weekends in the southern Arizona desert assisting illegal immigrants. Another woman took me cycling up Snowbowl Road and through Page Springs outside of Sedona. I reached new heights of happy hour accomplishment with another. The ranch manager took me to places on the North Rim that few people ever get to see. Those field trips live in my heart.
Now I’m back up in Boulder living the capitalist dream with all the angst, challenges, rewards and struggles of another start up. I understand my spreadsheets and financial statements. I embrace the word profit. And yet.
I miss the people I worked with daily at the Trust. They believe in something bigger than themselves and are willing to work every day to make the world a better place. I miss the new perspectives they rained down on me daily, the laughter, the friendships. And not least, I miss their soyrizzo burritos!
They taught me a lot at the Trust. Maybe I’m still not a real environmentalist.
But Nora Abbott is.
(Just an update: the start-up, well, it didn't. So now I'm a stay-at-home writer living in the wildes of Nebraska.)