There is a depth to the grey around Humboldt Bay that is returning, announcing that summer’s regency is fading. It is time again for the rainy season, for the kind of turning inward easily imbibed through cool misty silver clouds hanging low. I walk the oxidation ponds in sandals with cold feet, watching the Canada Geese return.
Seeds have mostly fallen, generally making themselves invisible once again. But I am still looking, along the edges of the trail and between cracked pavement. When I find a few dusty seeds, I may search for their parents nearby, or hold them close to my face to marvel, or slip them in my pocket, or put a couple in my mouth if I am feeling confident in my twenty-something imperishability. Seeds are the flowers of fall, as wholly mysterious as we can ever imagine – profoundly alive under their protective seed coat.
These are the patterns of a CLM intern coming to close and reflect on an experience that is a seed itself. The seed coat, that encapsulating article of this experience, has been passion for the more than human world solidified in the leaping of flowers, dense tradition of seed collecting, joy of wind, fresh flight of birds, excitement of discovery gleaned in each step. The nutritive endosperm has been those that keep the CLM program running and the diverse, challenging, wonderful Arcata BLM Field Office. The embryo – with a radicle of duties traditional for CLM interns in my field office, and cotyledons composed of my own unique contributions – is my emerging career as a conservationist.
In the past several weeks my work as a CLM intern has revolved around completing my commitments to the survey work I have been involved in on the Humboldt Bay Dunes, the satisfying high ridge of art and science found in herbarium work, and a few forays to the field. In these two weeks preceding my last day in the office, September 23rd, I am preparing a final presentation regarding my contributions to the Arcata BLM Field Office, spreading the final bits into their respective places and writing my experience into being. Today I stop and stare at the seed that is my seven month CLM internship at the BLM Field Office in Arcata, CA. This is my final reflective blog post.
I began my internship with March rain, deep grey and cold northern Pacific Ocean winds. In the preceding two months, I drove from my parents’ house in San Diego to New Orleans and back again, living lightly in my dusty car; following the border looking for birds with a dear friend. In the ebullient life inversion of arriving in Arcata I experienced the gamut – animation, eagerness, beautiful uncertainty, powerful grandeur, loneliness, cubicle-shock, rampant existentialism. These are the salts of life! I learned extensively about the BLM, my field office’s place within a national context, nearly every plant species on the Humboldt Bay dunes, and a newly decadent version of the redwood forest I already knew deeply. I contributed to the BLM Arcata CLM intern tradition of monitoring threatened and endangered plants on the Humboldt Bay dunes. I completed the 14 transects totaling ~2,800 individual quadrats and loved every moment of salt spray, morning fog, and cascading blooms as the dunes awakened for spring. I also contributed to my field office during this period in my own unique ways: teaching 7th graders about botany, leading Godwit Days Birding Festival field trips and logging botanical discoveries. Before I knew it I was sunburned and flower saturated.
My CLM internship furthered in gaining density as spring turned to summer. I came to reflect on the etymology and place of my stewardship, beginning in the simple and prosaic act of pulling broom along roadsides. I continued these pragmatic acts, which in themselves represent the traditional aspect of my CLM internship, because my mentor has been pulling from many of the same sites year after year. These acts coalesced in a week long backpacking trip with the Mattole Restoration Council along the Lost Coast, where we focused on invasive plant removal. I also had the extreme pleasure of spending my birthday in the backcountry. What seemed at first to be an unpoetic act of stewardship fed my inspiration to explore these acts of care, compassion, responsibility, and atonement.
Near this time I also began two of my most significant contributions to my field office, following the theme of traditional and unique contributions.
First, I began collecting for the Seeds of Success (SOS) program, which I began early, my first collection falling on April 20th. In my field office, each SOS collection season is an entirely new endeavor, as we strive to collect species and populations we have never collected before. With over six iterations of CLM interns in my field office, all collecting for SOS, finding new species and populations that fit the SOS criteria (>10,000 seeds from >50 individuals) is a journey of discovery! Gratefully, I managed to collect from 9 species that had not been collected from before in an area that had received very little previous study. To this end I was responsible for finding the plants/populations, identification, monitoring phenology, collecting, packaging, shipping, pressing and mounting! Managing the SOS program at my field office was a fantastic experience, training the skills of project management and implementation.
Second, I began to make weekly (and sometimes bi-weekly) trips to a BLM property known as Butte Creek, an area that had previously received little botanical attention. Butte Creek is magnificent, resting in the Klamath Mountains foothills region, containing a number of diverse habitats, threatened by the cultivation of cannabis from all sides, and under-botanized on a regional scale. I used my strengths in field botany to create a plant list for this area, thus far containing 159 species, with more to add! I also made 31 of the 46 herbaria collections I contributed during my internship to the Arcata BLM Field Office (part of the California Consortium of Herbaria) at Butte Creek, making several interesting and unique finds.
Discovery and botanical exploration have been a cornerstone of my internship experience, a prevailing wind that is both deeply part of the seed and intractably nourishing to it. In the simplest of terms, we cannot steward that which we do not know exists. As cut up, mowed down and paved over as our country can at times feel, we still live in the wild wild west; a place constantly unfolding where wildness is all around and in between that fallacious hem of the civilized. It stands that we have a relatively poor understanding of the plants occurring on our public lands, even in California. I had the great privilege to continue to develop my skills as a field botanist while creating botanical inventories and contributing to our understanding of where plants are, a basal node to protecting them.
The collective gain composed by the CLM internship program is staggeringly ingenious. Each year, hundreds of interns with a seed of experience, hundreds of repeated tasks and hundreds more entirely new, hundreds of thousands of seeds collected… Field offices imbued with new enthusiasm, light, life, perspectives, inclinations. Moreover, the opportunity for powerful mentorship is a core aspect to the CLM program — speaking for myself and my cohort at large, mentorship is what we need. Mentorship from those who truly care and are willing to at times travel between the realms of how to key plants and the different ways to live a life. There have been several recent calls for the urgent need to train the next generation of botanists, plant conservationists and herbarium managers. CLM is certainly a potent answer to that call.
Traditional and unique contributions by each intern, in each field office, in each iteration. This has been a wondrous aspect of the CLM program — just how heterogeneous it is, there is a staggering distinctness in every intern, every time, at every office. If each CLM internship is a seed, and that seed is the bolstering of a life in relation to conserving our natural heritage, this is seed collection — for the long haul.
That wonderful internal fluttering has returned again, my heart making its own seven-month turning back to where I began, arriving at another life-transposition. I will soon be travelling down to San Diego to see my marvelous parents, and packing, before setting off for Argentina on October 3rd. I am heading to Central Patagonia, to a region known as Neuquen, to a ranch I visited 2 years ago during a course on the botany and natural history of Central Patagonia. I will be working there as a gardener, ranch hand, carpenter, mill-worker, tutor and naturalist — it is sure to be a rich and diverse time! I am deeply looking forward to life immersed in a different country, and a simpler, more rough-hewn sort of living. The ranch is called Estancia Ranquilco (http://www.ranquilco.com/). Come on down for a visit!
Beyond that? I am returning to California on March 27th, just in time for the bustling spring. I hope to work as a botanist during that time, and continue in the coming seasons my post-baccalaureate work in botany and plant conservation before starting graduate school in the next 1-3 years. The greatest question in my life at this moment is: “how can I make the greatest impact in conservation with my knowledge, privilege and particular talents?” CLM has certainly influenced that question, but as we know, there are no clear answers. Down the path we wind.
My limitless gratitude for this experience — to all those in Chicago making this program turn — Krissa Skogen, Rebecca Johnson. To my mentor, Jennifer Wheeler and the entire Arcata BLM Field Office — this has been a warm and wonderful home. To my academic mentor Kathleen Kay, and all those who supported me at UC Santa Cruz. Gratitude to those who made my journey on the North Coast bright, my brother Gabe, my parents, the lovely Sierra, and all those I shared a house and town with. Gratitude to plants — giving us all we have — food, air, companionship, discovery, joy, satisfaction. Gratitude to wind, air, blood, feather, bone, sun, the innumerable endless self-replete processes…
“I had no idea as I lay on those caribou skins that evening precisely where wisdom might lie. I knew enough of quantum mechanics to understand that the world is ever so slightly but uncorrectably out of focus, that there are no absolutely precise answers. Whatever wisdom I would find, I knew, would grow out of the land. I trusted that, and that it would reveal itself in the presence of well-chosen companions.” — Barry Lopez, Arctic Dreams
All my best, see you in the field!
Arcata BLM Field Office, California