The initial excitement of accepting the intern position in Lakeview, Oregon, accompanied a feeling of ambivalence about moving to a remote town with a population of 2,500. I am in no position to feel superior to a rural lifestyle. I was raised in the country, attended high school in a town of 4,500 and spent the past four and a half years of my life in a Brookings, South Dakota, a university town of 20,000 (not counting the students). I am from South Dakota; a state with more cows that people. What I actually felt nervous about was leaving the life I had established in South Dakota, leaving my friends and family, and venturing out west on my own.
Although I was anxious about the move, I was absolutely stoked about the job. I recognize that I am one of the fortunate college graduates entering a paid position in their career field. I would just like to thank the stimulus money (ARRA), the SOS program, the Chicago Botanic Garden, the BLM and the Academy for this great opportunity. I have been given the chance to apply the knowledge that I have so laboriously crammed into my skull the past four and a half years. In addition, the whole making money instead of spending money part appeals to me.
Fast forward to my first month in Lakeview. Every day I find a new reason to like it here. The establishments in this town are classic; from the Adele convenience store filled with more animal heads than a Cabela’s to the local diner complete with mismatched chairs and homemade carrot cake. The people are classic too. Friendliness is not an optional personality trait in Lakeview: it’s a requirement. Strangers will literally yell something out to you on the street, if they think it’s pertinent, and pertinent is a relative term. For example, one day I walked past an old man washing his car in the heat of the afternoon. He offered, “a shower“ from his water hose. I politely declined. He muttered, not too softly, “chicken” and sniggered at me.
My job has turned out to be as wonderful as I had hoped. To put it simply, I get paid to walk around and identify plants all day. As I am one of those rare souls who enjoy physical labor, and keying out plants, I can’t wait to hike the field sites each day. The sagebrush steppe of eastern Oregon is a completely new ecosystem to me, and the landscapes are breathtaking. There are flat basins with lakes that exist one month, and the next are a torrent of dust devils, plateaus of solid sagebrush that seem more like forest than steppe to my 5’2” frame, distant mountains, pine forests, exposed fault lines and sassy creeks that wind through jagged valleys. This job has me excited to go to work each day.
I know this job won’t be all unicorns and rainbows forever. But lets hope the novelty doesn’t wear off too quickly. My mentor had a great response after the third day when I exclaimed, “Getting paid to be outside all day? Geez, this job is awesome!” He replied, “Yeah, it’s great. Let’s hope you’re still saying that by the end of the September. “ All I could do was laugh and agree.