On the road near Independence Rock (WY).
It’s been just over a month now since I left Burns, Oregon. Sometimes one needs time and separation to get a proper perspective on past experiences, so it may be that my impression of Burns will change with time. Regardless, as I look back, there are a few key things that I think will be important for me going forward.
1) People. This is probably the go-to answer to the question of what is most important out of any experience. But I don’t think that makes it too cliche. It was easy to connect with my 3 fellow interns, especially since we were all the same age, worked and lived in the same place, hailed from generally suburban areas, and had all just graduated from college. It was sometimes harder to connect with people at work who were mostly older than me, disagreed with most of my political views, shared a much more rural background, and mostly disliked visiting cities let alone living near them. However, when you spend 10 hour days in a pickup truck in the hot, dry sagebrush with someone, there is plenty of time to talk about and get over differences. And I think that, for me, coming from a bastion of urban liberalism, it was vitally important to hear a different side of the story.
2) Systems. For an ecologist like myself, each new place is a new system, with similarities and differences to other systems. This was the third major system in which I have had the privilege to do fieldwork, and it spreads my understanding over a larger swath of the country. To the eastern coastal ecosystems and the Missouri forests and glades, I can add the vast sagebrush steppe system to my list. In a way, its fire suppression problem is similar to the problem of juniper encroachment in Missouri glades, however its current problems surrounding wildfire and invasive species are unlike any I have seen before.
The sagebrush steppe
3) Land. This internship gave me the chance to drive cross country twice- once from St. Louis, MO to Burns, OR and once from Burns, OR to Lexington, MA. These two trips took me through at least 17 different states, and my travels during the internship took me to two more; 5 were states I had never been to before. In all, the two cross country trips plus the internship allowed me to visit (if I’m not forgetting any) 6 national parks, 4 national monuments, 2 national historic parks, and many national forests, wilderness areas, BLM lands, and scenic areas. The amount of federally owned land in the US is enormous, far more than I realized at the beginning of the internship. The opportunity to see so much of it up close and in person was more than most people get. I can’t help but hope to spend more time traveling the country in the future.
The moon at sunset, Crater Lake National Park
So that’s it in a nutshell, whatever that means, but of course it was so much more… I hope some of the people I met in Burns enjoyed meeting a few outsiders, and perhaps learned something from conversing with someone so different from themselves.