A very long post about a day in my intern life, advice to future interns, a few things I’ve learned in one day, and thoughts in my head.
I’ve realized that my blog posts are mostly about an event that happens, or some project I work on. None of them are really about my life as a refuge intern, or my day-to-day schedule. The reason I haven’t written about a typical day here at Parker River NWR is that there is no typical day. Every day is a new adventure.
I don’t have a set schedule where at 8 o’clock I have to help do sparrow surveys, or at 12 o’clock I have to eat lunch, or at 2 o’clock I have to write my blog… Which is probably why work is fun, and I haven’t written a blog post in two weeks and have six more posts to write before August 9th. Oops.
Anyway, since I don’t have a typical day, I might as well tell you about today, Monday July 15th (though this post may be published later in the week). Since some readers may be prospective interns, I’ll throw in some future CDIP advice as well. First of all, get a calendar, or you’ll end up like me, with six posts to write in four weeks.
I think writing in present tense and including my thoughts would be fun, as if I am narrating today.
I wake up at around 6:30 AM, but stay in bed until 7:30. This is actually pretty typical, since I’m not a morning person. After hitting snooze on my phone alarm multiple times and accidentally dropping the phone once, I finally get dressed, gather a few things, and head to the main building to brush my teeth and eat cereal.
I walk by Frank’s office (he’s my supervisor) to say hi, but he’s talking to Jean (she’s visitor services). So, I just wave and meet Frances (biotech) in the bio office to tell her about some patches of pepperweed I discovered this past weekend. It’s too late to slay them because they’re seeding, but I put their location on a map so the Weed Warriors can destroy them next summer.
Frances has a cool USFWS hat, so I put it on. It’s brown (like every piece of USFWS clothing) and has a big brim. It looks like a ranger’s hat, which means it’s 110% cooler than any other hat in the world.
Isn’t this the coolest hat? Photo credit to Matt Poole.
There’s a tide pooling program at ten, so I print out the program documents I’ve worked on and start gathering the supplies. ID charts, handouts, coloring pages… While I’m assembling the materials, people start commenting on the hat.
“Nice hat. You know, I have one of those, maybe I should wear it today,” Matt (visitor services) says. He’s doing the tide pool program, too.
“Yeah, I have one too, but I never wear it!” Jean shouts. She’s not angry about her hat, that’s just how she talks.
And soon, I realize most of the staff members have this ranger hat. Nancy has one. Frank has one. Maybe it’s a USFWS trend. I wonder if I’ll have one someday. I hope so.
So Matt and I travel to the tide pool meeting place in the Tickmobile. I nicknamed the blue minivan Tickmobile because last week, I found three ticks crawling inside while I checked the vehicles’ gas mileages. The Tickmobile’s A/C also smells like mouse urine, and according to Matt, mice lived inside the A/C unit in the winter. This is also the vehicle I used to go to Thacher Island to poke smelly gull eggs. Today, it is filled with greenheads, biting horseflies that find the dark, warm interiors of cars irresistible.
Once we arrive at the site, Matt greets everyone with enthusiasm, and briefs them on today’s program. How does he talk like that? He chats with the visitors effortlessly, so genuinely. I don’t think I would sound that natural, not that I’m not excited about tide pooling, but that keeping up a lively conversation with strangers can be challenging. What would I sound like if I were in Matt’s shoes?
Me: “Pretty hot and humid, huh?”
People: “Yeah, I heard it will be like this for the next couple of days.”
Silence. I try to think of another topic.
Me: (To a kid) “So how old are you?”
Me: “Cool. Good age to be.”
Parent laughs a bit. More silence as we slap away at the greenheads. Only a few minutes later do I realize that I could have mentioned my age, and started talking about where I go to school. It’s a bit late for that, and we’re bleeding from greenhead bites.
Writing is so much easier than talking. Besides, when people talk to kids, they tend to have a higher voice. I can’t go much higher unless I talk to kids in a falsetto voice. And that’s creepy. So, here’s some advice to me and future CDIPs: get out of your comfort zone. For me, that means I should talk more and help lead a few more tide pooling programs. Connect more with the people I work with, and with visitors, too.
After everyone shows up, we go into our vehicles and make our way to Sandy Point, a state owned beach at the end of the refuge and Plum Island. Sandy Point is in an odd location, since to get there people have to drive through the refuge and go through our toll booth. Yet, our law enforcement officers don’t have jurisdiction there since it’s not federal property. At the same time, we can still protect the threatened piping plovers and least terns there.
Back to today. So now we are tide pooling at Sandy Point. There’s a lot of biodiversity here! That’s one of our main messages, but I am surprised by the things we find. Pam (a volunteer and master naturalist) and I share a bucket as we search for some critters. Actually, we don’t have to search. Everywhere we look, there’s something alive. We catch shrimp, crabs, a hermit crab, and a sea urchin. A sea urchin! I don’t think I’ve ever seen a living one outside of an aquarium. We also pick up a few periwinkles and limpets, which I don’t count as catching since they’re so slow. There is also an amazing variety of seaweed and plants. At the end, someone even finds a sea star.
Oh, sorry I don’t have pictures. I left my camera because I didn’t want to drop it into the water by accident.
Finally, Matt brings the group together again, and works his visitor’s services communication magic. Once we have gone through identifying our critters, we let them go, and the group disperses. Apparently this group isn’t as excited with learning about tide pool creatures as with catching them. That’s when I learn that every time visitor’s services has a program, the outcome is largely dependent on the group of visitors you’re working with. With some groups you can talk more about biodiversity or environmental science, with others not so much. It all depends on the nature of the group, and never turn something fun into a lecture of main ideas. However, one big idea we always tell our visitors is that this is not a preservation, or park, or reserve, but a national wildlife refuge. Here, wildlife comes first.
By noon we are back at headquarters, eating lunch. Today, I eat a PB&J, which is typical. I have to go shopping soon. Last week I told Frank I had enough groceries for two weeks, but I forgot that I don’t cook for lunch, and I’m running out of bread for PB&J’s. Oh, but I have tortillas in the fridge. Maybe I can make PB&J wraps and put off shopping.
Nancy (the biologist), Bob (the maintenance man), and Sarena (the new manager on detail until August) talk about their kids at lunch. Apparently, their kids are all at that age where they don’t like wearing clothes and the only way they move is run.
I remember a few weeks ago Nancy and I were out at night, checking on the moth traps. To be exact, she was checking on moth traps and I was tagging along to see what moth traps were. Anyway, Nancy said she liked to work here because everyone in USFWS was down-to-earth, and just enjoyed the simple pleasures of life. People here liked time with their families, and were not overly concerned with getting more money, or a higher up job. People here already like their jobs, because their jobs protect natural resources. Nancy makes the USFWS sound like a giant family of people who love what they do, because they do what they love.
Frank, Matt, and Frances join us at the lunch table, and start talking about Friday’s potluck. “I might bring some jambalaya,” Frank says. Everyone else seems impressed. I don’t know what a jambalaya is, but maybe I do need to go grocery shopping soon. I planned on bringing my fudgsicles to the potluck, but that doesn’t seem as appropriate. Besides, with the heat wave this week, I don’t think they will last until Friday.
After lunch, it’s back to work. This afternoon, I help Frances and Josh (a volunteer) fix our nekton traps. We will use these traps and nets to catch nekton, which includes living things in our ditches and pools. I’m excited to start nekton sampling. It sounds like we will spend a day in the salt marsh, catching fishes and other critters. I’ve realized with this summer’s fieldwork that I like small habitats, like the pools in our salt marsh or the tide pools, because they have interesting and often overlooked life.
Our nekton traps are in rough shape. Sharp metal mesh sticks out, the screws don’t go in quite right, and they are pretty dirty. But, what’s the point of getting them clean if they are just going to get thrown into the muck and algae of our pools? More advice to future interns: don’t worry if some equipment never gets cleaned to your standards. Like the Tickmobile, for example. Or Jean’s office space, which isn’t dirty, but it’s full of stuff. Years and years of stuff, some of it quite interesting. It’s fun to look at her office, which is right behind mine.
So Frances, Josh, and I are struggling with the nekton traps when Lauren (a sparrow researcher) walks into the bio room. “Hi! Mind if I put some samples away?” She says in an upbeat voice as she heads to the freezer. In the bio room, there’s a large freezer, the kind people use if they have lots of meat from hunting or if they buy everything from a Sam’s Club. In our case, the freezer is filled with dead birds. Lots of dead birds frozen solid, from songbirds to chicks to hawks to an egret to a snowy owl that people have found dead and given to the refuge. It’s like the birds are all asleep. Lauren adds her sparrow blood and feather samples to our collection of beautiful, creepy, dead things. Then I laugh, because now that I think about it, it’s kind of funny and freaky that a few feet away from me is a freezer full of dead birds, not frozen chickens or turkeys but birds that still have feathers and organs. I mean, where else can I work where it’s normal for someone to drop off tubes of bird blood from a lunchbox into a freezer full of dead birds? Just as normal as if a businessperson comes by an office to drop off paperwork from a briefcase into a mailbox.
One perk about working in a wildlife refuge is that I got used to creepy dead things. (Wow, that last sentence makes it sound like the refuge is full of dead spiders or zombies. Don’t worry, if we have zombies, they’ll be adorable plover zombies.) I used to avoid dead bugs or other bodies. Ugh. I couldn’t stand the stiffness of a dead animal, or how insects crunch and crumble. Now, I pin insects, and I can handle dead sparrow chicks and poke gull eggs. They were once respectable living creatures, and now they’re organic matter, food for microbes, scavengers, and decomposers. Part of the food web.
After a while, we finish fixing the traps. It wasn’t super exciting, but I got to use a drill and a hammer, which was fun. I like working with my hands, which is one reason why I like fieldwork, even if it’s pulling pepperweed. I feel like if I use my hands to do or build something, the results are tangible.
By the time the traps are finished and the bio room cleaned, it’s nearly the end of the work day. So, I spend the rest of the time asking Frances about her master’s thesis and pulling out a metal splinter from my thumb. I think I’m using a surgical knife to poke out the splinter, which is probably a bad idea.
Then Frank comes back, so I meet up with him. This week, my vague schedule consists of pulling more pepperweed and helping Tim (SCA YCC leader) and the YCC (Youth Conservation Corps) kids with their boardwalk repairs at Great Bay. Everyone calls them the YCC kids, but they are in high school, and they are all taller than me. Besides, they chose to spend their summer fixing and maintaining refuges, which shows they’re more than kids.
Josh, one of the YCC members, has a camo wide-brimmed sun hat. Tim has a wide-brimmed sun hat. Matt wore his hat to tide pooling today, and Jean gives me a small wide-brimmed straw hat, and tells me she will try to bring a bigger one. I think a new fashion trend is hitting Parker River NWR.
After work, I hang around the headquarters. I mean, I live a minute away, where else would I go? I eat some maples cookies that Jim (biotech) left on the kitchen table. The rule of the refuge is that food left on the table is free-for-all. Mmmm…
Then I shower, go online, write this post, eat dinner (more PB&J’s today, finally ran out of bread). I Skype my parents, and my brother is there too! He lives in Seattle, but he is spending a few days at home to go to my cousin’s wedding. I haven’t talked to him in a while. So here’s more advice for future CDIP’s: don’t forget about your friends and family! Even if every time you call home your dad tells you to go to bed, take lots of pictures, hurry and go home before it’s dark out, and your brother makes weird faces over Skype, and your mom reminds you to go to bed early, dry your hair before bed, always use sunscreen, don’t exert too much, stay safe, don’t go out at night, eat healthy, keep cool, go home before dark… Just keep in touch. They love me enough to let me live where I live and work in a refuge, so I try to stay in touch.
Which reminds me, I should contact my CDIP mentor again. I haven’t talked to him in a while. Yes, don’t forget your family, friends, and mentors!
Now I’m going to brush my teeth and go to bed. It’s already late, and I’m getting up at 5:30 tomorrow to pull pepperweed. Another untypical, adventurous day lies ahead.
(Now it’s Tuesday, so I might as well mention what I did today, since it was another untypical day. I got up at 5:30, picked pepperweed with Frances from 6:00 to noon, ate lunch, worked on some paperwork for refuge hunting, discovered a tub of ice cream in the headquarter freezer (not the dead bird one), and helped the bio staff make radio telemetry towers to track birds. Today’s work ended at 5:00, unless you count writing this blog.)