It’s that time of year again: change is everywhere. From the weather to the flora and fauna to the people, everyone and everything is gearing up for the sun to change positions on the horizon. After 15+ years of school, I’m used to fall being hectic; this time of year always means starting a new chapter with a schedule that has you buzzing around like a bee. However, working seasonally adds a whole new level of chaotic uncertainty. My days aren’t done when I’m off the clock; my evenings are filled with job hunting, resume writing, apartment hunting, packing all my stuff up (again), cleaning. I have to remind myself that this is the reality of freedom. I wanted to work seasonally so I could live and work in a multitude of places while I figure out which ecosystems I’d like to study in the future, and with that freedom comes the drag of job hunting and moving everything I own multiple times a year. When I look at it like that, I can’t be anything but thankful for my situation. I’m so lucky to be able to explore the country doing work I love, and I know I’ll look back on this time with gratitude that I let myself float around like a seed blowing in the wind before I put my roots down.
There are some things growing up in a city can never prepare you for. Driving on dirt roads and two tracks are one of those things. I’m not an absolute novice on country roads, but that’s certainly a skill I’ve had to work on during my internship. It seems like one of those things that comes as second nature once you know what you’re doing, but the learning curve is steep. On paved roads, the only impediments you have to look out for are things cutting in front of you like people, cars, and wildlife. Off the pavement, the road itself is sometimes an impediment out to get you. I’ve learned it’s all about angles and speed. Unfortunately, I had to learn that the hard way. It’s a sad thing to call your mentor an hour before your weekend is supposed to start to explain you’ve gotten your truck high centered and you need a rescue. Emma (my mentor) is thankfully very understanding and came out with another guy from the office to tow us out. From what everyone at the office has told me, this happens to everyone. Failing is a crucial part of learning. It still sucks.
My office has a great sense of humor with field work, so they have an “award” called the Golden Shovel that you get to sign and hang up in your cubicle if you have to get rescued. I’d like to say I only had to sign that shovel once, but we’ve had a couple other incidents out in the field regarding keys. We’ve locked ourselves out, and a key magically dropped off the key ring one day in the sagebrush. In terms of keys, I’ve learned that zippered pockets are absolutely ESSENTIAL. If the keys aren’t in the ignition, they’re in a zippered pocket.
As I write this post, I feel silly because it sounds so common sense. Of course it’s important to learn how to navigate the terrain and keep your keys safe. But truly, it’s been a big part of my summer. I take a couple seconds to stop and think about my surroundings and what I need to do to do my job well and keep myself safe, and this consistency and mindfulness has been key (sorry for the bad pun, I’ll see myself out).
If you’ve made it this far, here’s one of my favorite flowers to collect seeds from, Perideridia gairdneri ssp. borealis. Apparently, the roots were a staple food for Native Americans; I’ve yet to try cooking them, but I’d like to. Truthfully, they’re my favorite flower because the seeds are so satisfying to collect. They produce a lot of seeds per flower, and the seeds are surprisingly big for having so many on an umbel. It’s a wonderful little plant that I’ve enjoyed working with. (My coworker also thinks they smell like Diet Pepsi, which is a plus).
This weekend marked my fifth week in Lander, and with each passing week I find myself loving this little corner of the country even more. Last week I was able to meet some AIM crews from around Wyoming that were in town for training; after talking with them about the towns they’re living in, I feel even more grateful and lucky to be in Lander. There’s a wonderful culture with lots of things to do in town and even more things to do just outside the city boundaries. I have always wanted to live in a place where I can get off work and go on a wild adventure before the sun sets, and that has become my reality in Lander. There are so many unique places to explore within an hour of my front door, and even more the farther away I’m willing to go. I’m astounded with how beautiful this country is, and it reinforces my drive and dedication to help conserve the valuable ecosystems found throughout the Lander Field Office.
Shoshone National Forest, about 20 minutes from my front door.
So far, our days have been filled with exploring our field office scouting for wildflower populations we could potentially collect seeds from, as well as working on a couple rare plant surveys. It’s definitely been a challenge learning the different flora of Wyoming, but every day I retain a little bit more and get a little quicker at keying out unknown plants. While I’ve enjoyed the process of learning a foreign ecosystem, it’s satisfying when all my hard work pays off and I can put my new knowledge to use.
Views from Copper Mountain, a site in our field office.
Yesterday was our first day collecting seeds, and it was quite the adventure. Ranunculus glaberrimus has a little yellow flower that dots many of the rolling hills in our field office, so I assumed it would be no problem finding a large enough population with enough seeds to collect. However, I didn’t take into consideration that the Ranunculus would not be in flower anymore when we collect seeds, which is how I ended up on my hands and knees scouring the rocky slope for a 4 inch tall brown seed head. To make things even more interesting, my coworker and I couldn’t decide if the majority of the seeds were mature enough to collect, even after cutting several open. A few were brown and definitely ripe, but most were still greenish and easily came off the seed head. I’m sure it will get easier to tell if a population has viable seeds to collect as we do it more often, and eventually I’ll chuckle about our first day of collecting seeds. The first few days of field work in any job always blindside you with questions and circumstances you never could have imagined. It just goes with the territory.
I’ve really enjoyed surveying for the rare plants as well. Our first survey was on a hill top with gorgeous bright red soil looking for Trifolium barneybi, a cute little mat-forming clover that’s endemic to the southeastern foothills of the Wind Rivers and southern Beaver Rim area. It’s only found in one county in the world! The other species we survey for is Yermo xanthocephalus, endemic to Fremont county as well and has an even smaller range than T. barneybi. I’m the type of person that enjoys the chase, so searching for these rare species has been the ultimate treasure hunt. We have a rough outline of the populations from previous surveys, so we know where to start looking and the hunt is on from there. Of course, one of the main reasons I like surveys so much is I get to hike around the beautiful rolling Wyoming hills, but it also is rewarding to assist in a project will help determine the land use and permits for these ecosystems in the future. It’s an important aspect of land management, which has been a great experience to be involved in.
Yermo xanthocephalus buds
Well, that’s all I have for now. Cheers to another month!
Seeds of Success Intern
I found out about the CLM Internship through my university’s email. I remember reading the email and thinking, “This sounds like exactly what I’m looking for right now.” I graduated with my bachelors a year ago, with a degree in Fisheries and Wildlife and a passion for conservation without a clear idea of where to go with that. This internship would give me the opportunity to work outside in a beautiful part of the country (all I cared about was moving west towards the mountains) and learn more about conservation projects in the federal government. I sent in my application minutes before I left for a rock climbing and camping trip in Red Rocks Conservation Area outside of Las Vegas. I remember standing in a Starbucks in the suburbs of Vegas with dirt on my face trying to connect to their WiFi to check if CLM had mailed me yet about the internship. The sound that came out of my mouth when I read that I was accepted was somewhere between a screech and a cheer, and I can imagine it gave the patrons in that Starbucks more of a jolt awake than whatever was in their cup. A few weeks later, I had been offered a position in Lander, Wyoming to collect native wildflower seeds for the Seeds of Success Program, and I was overjoyed to accept.
I’ve been in Lander for not even a week, and it has not disappointed so far. The people I work with are friendly and knowledgeable, the town has a great culture, and I have already learned so much about the region. I spent most of the week getting acquainted around the office and helping to digitalize the herbarium (essentially taking pictures of all of the pressed plant specimens). We even had the opportunity to travel to a BLM field office a couple hours away to assist with digitalizing the herbarium there as well. This was my first work-sanctioned road trip, and it went really well. The drive from Lander to Rock Springs was gorgeous (the drive back towards the mountains was even prettier), and though we had our work cut out for us, we were able to document over 2200 plant specimens collected from around the Rocky Mountain region to be added to the online database. The work itself was pretty monotonous; it consisted of numbering the plant specimens to keep them in order, shuffling the plants into the photo box one by one, and monitoring the pictures to make sure the camera picked up the details in the plants. However, the company I was with made the hours go by quickly and enjoyably. Larry, the librarian who was in charge of the herbarium project, was knowledgeable about the region and gave me great ideas about where to explore in my free time. He was also a rock climber, and he mentioned some hidden gems near Lander that I am so excited to check out. My coworker and I also get along great, which makes me feel so lucky because I know we will be spending a lot of time together this summer.
My coworker and I working with the herbarium specimens.
For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to live and work near the mountains. I didn’t have a clear idea of what exactly I wanted to be doing, which I think ended up working in my favor because I had an open mind about the opportunities that presented themselves. Though I never originally imagined myself working with plants, I think it’s a great fit. The work lets me spend time in beautiful places while helping contribute to an important cause, which I believe is the best of both worlds. I am so excited to learn more about rare plants found around Wyoming, the ecology of the different regions here, and the mechanics of conducting field work with the federal government. I think this summer will prove to be invaluable, and I am eternally grateful to the CBG for granting me this experience.
Views from the drive back to Lander
Danielle from the Bureau of Land Management, Lander field office