Well, a lot has happened since my last post! There’s been fieldwork and new sites, weekend adventures and the Chicago workshop, where I met fellow interns and participated in seminars.
I’d never been to the Midwest, so the workshop week was full of fun experiences for me. One of the first things I noticed was that northern Illinois reminds me a lot of the northeast, with its lush, green forests full of trees and plants familiar to me.
The same trees I climbed as a child, the same forests I built forts in, ran through trying to spot wildlife and pretend I was an explorer roughing it through the wilderness and living in nature alone.That was really neat, like a quick taste of home. The gardens in the Chicago Botanic Garden were beautiful, with a place for everyone to enjoy. In between activities and seminars, I liked walking around and getting lost, taking way too many photos and geeking out on the plants. Watching other visitors, there were people of all ages—elderly couples, children, younger people, it seemed like they all found a place in here. Whether it was sitting by a bubbling fountain, walking through the dwarf shrub gardens or my personal favorite, the vegetable gardens and English wall gardens, everyone had that look of contented enjoyment. Perhaps I am projecting myself a tiny bit, but I distinctly remember walking by a pair of older women chatting animatedly on a bench, purses abandoned and gesticulating wildly. They caught my attention because they reminded me of the elderly ladies in Argentina during the afternoon siesta, exchanging gossip from across their verandas or out on the plaza. Giggling like schoolgirls, their banter can always be heard over the silence of sleepy afternoon as they happily share information and camaraderie. I also noticed people walked slower in gardens, like all the needs to rush about and make it to one place or another did not matter within the confines of the sculpted hedges and rose bushes. I liked that. Sometimes I wish people were more like that outside in the real world, journey-lovers versus destination seekers. It’s something I think all of us forget from time to time and I try to incorporate in my own life. Stop and smell those flowers! 🙂
Anyway, besides the garden, I liked meeting my peers, hearing about their work and attending the lectures. My favorites were definitely the population genetics lecture, a topic I find fascinating, especially in plant ecology, and Dean Tonenna’s talk on Numa culture and history. I love learning about new cultures and the artifacts he brought were beautiful. So unique to a people and each basket or jug had a story.
It was interesting how some interns had been at their offices as long as I had, while others had just started a week ago. I tried putting myself in their shoes, remembering what it was to have finished my first week and thought about what I’d like to accomplish now that I’m about two months in. I certainly want to explore Idaho a bit more and learn more of the alpine forbs that we may encounter soon. I also realized that I am not as quick to identify trees in the northwest as I would like (mostly because we don’t encounter them regularly), so I checked out a guide book, which I think will be handy to learn from in case we come across more trees. Haha, and also simply because I like trees.
But going back to enjoying the journey and maintaining enthusiasm for simple pleasures, before going to Chicago, my crew and I bade farewell to our Diamond A campsite. I was surprised at the little tinge of sadness I felt as I saw our Cottonwood campsite shrink in the rearview mirror. The Diamond A was a rugged allotment, that’s for sure. We had cold, rainy days when the thunderclouds seemed to roll out of nowhere and biting winds that made you want to just snuggle deeper into your sleeping bag. There were muddy roads and long drives to get out into our sites. But the snowcapped mountains, the new forbs and thrill of being out there in the wilderness were beyond all of that. I loved the warm glow of the sun on my cheek when it managed to break through the grey sky and seep down through the ridges of the rocky canyons. The colors on the cliff rocks and the lighting as the sun lowered in the horizon…indescribable.
Coming back to the camp at the end of the long day, I’m sure it meant different things for everyone. For me, seeing our clunky white trailer, the fire pit and the picnic table in our campsite clearing—I had the sense that I was being welcomed home. Welcome to unpack our gear, change clothes and settle down to id plants, chat with my crew mates or sit by the Bruneau River to watch it roll by. To step back from our narrow focus of the task at hand (our vegetation monitoring) and drink in the vast mountains and landscapes unperturbed by the urban sprawl less than three hours away, feeling the solitary wilderness we were living in.
Even after a long day, I enjoyed an evening walk down the twisted canyon road away from the campsite to marvel at all the rock formations and reflect on the day. I had a special spot further down the road tucked under some junipers, where a twisted branch provided a perfect spot to for a girl to curl up and listen to the river and the birds. As the horizon darkened, the star-filled night and moon caught high up in the cliffs made me feel incredibly small, yet thankful to be a part of the moment.
I’ve always been amazed at how quickly one phase of life can unfold into another and our bodies and minds shift with it. I suppose it’s a testament of the human ability to adapt and hold on to memories of people and places we care about as we move along on this earth. This week we are headed to a new camping site in a sheep corral, which will be a mostly grassy area with—you guessed it—sheep. Our trailer is already there and I’m excited that it will be our new home site. I have yet to live in grassy wide-open area, so can’t wait to experience that. I am picturing this vast expanse of crested grasses rippling in the howling wind and an endless sky of rolling clouds and beautiful starry nights. But then again, that is classic Maria Paula romanticized imagination. Anyway, I’m excited for our new home and adventures!
‘Til next time!!
Jarbidge Field Office
Twin Falls, ID