The following conversation has little to do with the CLM internship, I just think it is quite funny.
I was visiting a friend out in Miles City when I ran to the grocery store to grab supplies for our barbecue. As I was passing a bag of Cheetos to the cashier, the woman in line behind me squawks, “Don’t feed Cheetos to babies!”
“Yeah, something about the cheese they use upsets their stomachs. I used to get stomach aches, but after I cut Cheetos out of my diet: nothing.” She drew a line with her hand to illustrate her lack of digestive distress. I stood there, unsure of the correct response to a woman whose cart was full of Oreo’s and potato chips. She kept talking.
“I’m just waiting for the American people to wake up and sue the FDA for the chemicals they are allowing in our food. Or, really what we should all do is stop paying our federal taxes.”
She was talking to three BLM employees, paid by the federal government.
“When the government shuts down, then we’ll see what happens,” she was nodding sagely at me, taking my shocked silence as agreement. My friends had already turned their back on her. “When China tries to invade, we’ll meet them at the border. If you know what I mean.” She cocked an imaginary shotgun.
Eastern Montana aside, things in Dillon have become more familiar now. I know what I’m going to do any given day, the squeaking sink in the office no longer makes me think the fire alarm is going off, and parking the long box truck in the overcrowded lot does not gives me anxiety anymore. In a typical week I spend about half my time collecting seeds or scouting populations by myself and the other half conducting various riparian surveys and upland studies with the range techs. When my family and friends ask what I actually do, I tell them I mostly hike around and look at plants. It is a nice balance, and although I’m still learning constantly, the deer-in-the-headlights-am-I-doing-this-right feelings have mostly subsided.
Occasionally, I mix up the routine and go out with the wildlife techs. I’ve gone out on ferruginous hawk surveys several times, but have yet to see a ferruginous hawk. Another day I participated in the office spray day in the Bear Trap. Armed with our spray packs (Ghostbusters?), about 30 of us set out to exterminate that pesky knapweed. Unfortunately, I encountered my first rattlesnake (right by my foot!), forgot to stay calm, and ran away yelling profanities in front of the renewable resources manager. Pat understood, although she still teases me about it.
Living in Montana has been awesome. Initially it took some adjustments: many restaurants close at 8 pm, driving an hour is “close,” and there is no recycling (the Portlander in me dies a little bit every time I throw away a piece of paper in the office, although I’ve set up my own efforts at home). Besides this, the mountains are incredible and the people are friendly. I hiked the Sphinx outside of Ennis and could see 14 mountain ranges from the 10,800 ft peak. I had a dress altered and the seamstress invited me in for gumbo and we talked for hours about skiing. People say the pace is different than city life, but I’ve found that really it’s a whole new walk.