First, let’s go back to the beginning and I will describe why it was such a big adjustment for me to move to the desert and Carson City, NV. I grew up a block from Lake Michigan in a small town surrounded by woods, crop fields and dairies. My predominant memories of this time are of the expansive lake, snowy winters, morel mushroom hunting in spring, the smell of fresh cut grass in humid summers, and apple picking in the fall. For the last five years I’ve been in the Pacific Northwest where it rains for nine months straight, resulting in varying shades of green so thoroughly covering the outdoors that sometimes you forget there are other colors. So, based on color spectrum alone, Carson City and the Great Basin in general are very different than what I’m used to. There are many more purples and browns here, and my eyes took time to adjust to the lack of green. The air is drier, the smells are more aromatic (sagebrush!), and the city itself, well, people are big on guns, gambling and pawn shops. For the first few months I daydreamed about summer in Wisconsin, fresh peaches and moss/lichen-covered bigleaf maples in the PNW. Eventually, I adjusted and even came to love some of what was around me, but I can’t truthfully say it ever felt like home.
My botany internship at the Bureau of Land Management began ten months ago in the office, team members trickling in over the following weeks from different states. Actually, I think my first day was a field day picking saltgrass, but overall the first few weeks were office-training-protocol-centric. It was pretty tedious, but helpful to set a knowledgeable foundation for the rest of the internship. The field season slid slowly in with small projects here and there. I clearly remember what felt like our first big field day scouting for post-fire mountain mahogany planting sites. We trekked up and up until, heart pounding and lungs burning, we reached the top of a slope in the southern Pine Nut Mountains. The view of the surrounding mountains was awe-inspiring, and as the sun set, the day was imprinted in my mind. So this is Nevada – mountainous with wide valleys and a great view of the Sierra Nevada and beyond. The deep hues in the sky blended seamlessly with those on the landscape. A bright, full moon rose in the east and I thought, “This is a pretty cool job.” Then volunteered to drive the long road home, because even after the long day, I couldn’t have felt more awake.
THIS is Nevada (and CA in the distance…)
For training I saw Boise, ID and Yosemite National Park in CA and all the road and scenery in between here and there. We drove far to collect plants and seeds in the White Mountains and the Sierra Nevada. I visited places with names like Turtle Mountain, Hardscrabble Creek, Sand Mountain (where we drove past The End of the World, and kept going), the Petersens, Dixie Valley, Pah Rah, Silver Springs, Virginia City, Winnemuca, Washoe and Inyo. I sat, stood, hiked, trained, drove (and drove and drove), navigated, monitored post-fire vegetation, taught kids, talked to the public, planted, collected data, entered data, wrote reports, annihilated weeds, plotted maps, learned GIS, attended many meetings, and especially, I identified many, many plants and collected a lot of seeds for SOS. In 10 months I worked in freezing temperatures to 100º+ heat and everything in between; there were seemingly unending hours of scorching sun and occasional snowstorms, thunderstorms, windstorms, rain and hail. I’ve gotten to momentarily see places I wished I could explore for weeks, and explored for weeks places I had wanted to only momentarily see (if that).
In the end, it’s the places and things I wanted to spend the least time on that taught me the most. In the hours of tedium, frustration and utter discouragement, vital drops of wisdom were squeezed out of my perseverance. As the great Bill Watterson wrote in my favorite Calvin and Hobbes comic, “Go do something you hate! Being miserable builds character!” Calvin is mocking his dad when he says that, but the truth rings clear, and it always makes me feel better. Now, leaving sagebrush country, I find that the jagged edges of frustration and disagreement slowly weather into learning experiences, and moments like the one in the Pine Nut Mountains stand out enough to make me think, “Yeah, despite the hardships, that was a pretty cool job.”
A big thank you to everyone at CLM, BLM and UNR for their hard work that helped make this internship what it was.
Balsamorhiza sagittata covering a hillside in the Petersen Mountains
Carson City, NV BLM
View from the office parking lot on a frosty morning.