It’s amusing now to reflect on the day I crossed the Oregon border for the first time. Dougherty slide is one of the first landmarks one passes when driving into Oregon from Nevada. In addition to serving motorists as part of a highway, it serves hang-gliders as a drop point – steep is an understatement. Prior to reaching the slide, we spent hours on the straight, flat highways of Nevada’s desert. After this monotony, the signs warning travelers of the slide’s impending sharp downgrade seemed implausible. Suddenly, however, we drove out of a curve and Highway 140 appeared to drop away before us. From the summit the landscape plummets off the highway’s shoulder, impressively displaying the Lakeview Bureau of Land Management District. At the time, however, the land I surveyed through my windshield appeared anything but familiar. The high mountains, the lack of trees, and the expansive brownness of dry ground looked nothing like the mid-west and also nothing my preconceived notions of Oregon. On this day in June, I followed 140 in to Lakeview for the first of many times. In the following months, Molly (the other CBG intern) and I drove this road to and from our work sites almost every day. Over time its scenery, its sharps curves and its steepness over the two highest passes in Oregon became quite common place. Fittingly, in less than a week, I will drive this road one last time — back up Dougherty slide and home. As I reflect on my time in Oregon, I am most amazed at how quickly the alien ecosystems and experiences of my first few weeks here became familiar and comfortable – how I began to call this new place home.
In addition to the unfamiliarity of the landscape the people who I met on arrival in Lakeview seemed quite unfamiliar. During my first few days, I met character after character. Later in the summer Molly and I joked that the host of transient summer seasonals, quirky supervisors, eccentric town’s people and the “boys’-club” of post-adolescent fire fighters (stereotyped of course) we met here might make for entertaining reality television. Over the summer, my home, the government trailers at the Lakeview Interagency Fire Center, formed a center for a nebulous community of non-locals. In keeping with the reality TV metaphor, the trailers functioned as a “Real World-esque” pad where strangers arrived, lived, and worked before leaving again — forging relationships that produced both drama and merriment along the way. On the day I arrived, two Hawaiian fire-fighters greeted me to let me in. Prior to that day, I’d never actually met anyone from Hawaii and my two new roommates made quite the pair. One stood tall and skinny while the other cut a more compact figure –earning him the nickname “muscle hamster” later in the summer. The two maintained a constant, endearing banter and left our trailer noticeably quieter when they ultimately left. A few minutes later, a car pulled up and I met my roommate and crewmate, Molly. In some respects, Molly and I are opposites. She, for example, is quite quiet (especially with new people) and I, for example, am quite not. During the first few weeks, I mistook her silence for anger before learning otherwise. Building and maintaining a positive and effective working relationship with Molly may prove my most important personal growth experience of the internship. I have never spent so much continuous time with one person in my entire life and probably never will again.
For five months, Molly and I spent nearly twenty-four hours a day together – sharing a trailer camping, cooking, traveling and even grocery shopping together. This summer demonstrated that spending so much time with one person necessitates personal growth in order to remain friends at the end of the day. If communication felt strained to me at the beginning, over the course of the summer we tailored our phrasing to better understand each other. Furthermore, we learned to work through problems together – pitting ideas off each other and compromising to arrive at effective solutions. By the end, development of our non-verbal communication skills meant that we could even perform tasks without speaking at times. Our partnership forced both of us to evaluate the ways that we spoke or didn’t speak to each other so that we could work more efficiently and effectively as a team. While we learned to speak up to keep unhappiness from brewing and boiling, we also learned to let smaller grievances go – valuing the continuation of our positive working relationship over proving a point or “winning” an argument. We gained new respect for personal space – even when we had to find this space in silence at times. Over all, I feel lucky to have found a close friend in a person who I might not have befriended or ever chanced to meet otherwise. I feel a marked absence in our trailer and at work since Molly left Lakeview for home a week ago. After spending so much time working as a team it feels weird to work alone.
In addition to solid communication skills, Molly and I made an effective team because that our skills complemented each other. While I have experience camping and hiking, Molly holds a wealth of knowledge about Botany. By contrast, despite taking a number of biology and ecology classes as an undergraduate, my transcript exposes the noticeable absence of a botany class. Before I started my internship, for example, buying a plant guide to the Pacific Northwest never even crossed my mind and this foresight betrayed my inexperience. More importantly, without taking botany, I lacked a taxonomic basis to help identify the plants that I saw or to mentally categorize these plants when I learned their names. On my first day of work I felt over-whelmed by the sheer number of plants I needed to learn and to learn quickly. Thanks to the patience of Molly and my mentor Brennan Hauk, however, I picked up this knowledge on the job and gained a whole new skill set to take home. After only a few weeks, I could identify most of the plants I passed as I collected seed. By the time my mom visited towards the end of the summer, I felt a great sense of accomplishment as I told her not only the common names but also the scientific names of nearly all of the plants we saw. Although a different flora covers Iowa’s prairies, I am excited to apply my new understanding of plant families to those plants communities. I also feel confident extending my botanical experience to future conservation jobs.
Over all, I feel really grateful for the opportunity presented by this internship. I learned a tremendous amount about plants and disturbance ecology – invaluable knowledge as I pursue a career in conservation and land management. Moreover, as our mentor gave us progressively more freedom to plan our own schedules over the course of the summer, he pushed us to act confidently and independently in the work place – to grow capable of navigating the adult world alone (with support) and to grow up. I improved my communication skills and made friendships as I dealt with not only Molly but everyone in the BLM office and in the greater Lakeview community. Finally, I had an awesome summer in a beautiful place that I probably never would have even visited if not for this internship. Thank you to the Lakeview BLM and CBG for everything.