Maps and Models

I’m standing on a wind-blown bluff overlooking a mountainous ocean coastline, hip-high grasses brushing against me in the light afternoon breeze.  Backpack on my back, a similarly-clad office-mate is standing on my left, likewise looking off into the impressive landscape.  “Two hikers lost amid nature’s wonders”— it’s the type of scene you’d see on wilderness maps or on landscape posters.

Actually, it is one of those scenes.  A hundred yards behind us and up on a higher hill is a BLM photographer, capturing the moment for use in future King Range promotional materials.  It’s the second day of this unexpected tangent in my CLM internship—Zach Marine, landscape model.  “I move to California and just fell into a modeling gig,” I’d jokingly explained to my parents.  Still, it’s hard for me not to be awestruck by the fortune I had to not only hike a beautiful trail (the Lost Coast Trail) and camp overnight while being photographed doing it, but to do all this while getting paid.  This is part of my job!  Maybe I should look into this modeling thing more seriously….

Lost Coast Trail 1

Hiking, not modeling

Cut to three weeks later.  I’m in the office working on my computer and our NEPA planner comes up and hands me the draft version of the King Range Wilderness Plan.  On the cover is a familiar coastline vista with the backs of two every-man hikers in the foreground.  “That’s me!” I say.  Then the even cooler part sinks in—as I look through the document I see all the maps I made, 13 in all.  As amazing as the opportunity was to model for the BLM (I never thought I’d be writing *that* clause), the real serendipity happened a month earlier when there was a significant need for someone to produce the maps for this wilderness plan which was running desperately close to its deadline… and the GIS specialist was out of the office for the next three weeks.

For me, who had wanted to learn more about GIS and gain applied experience with it, it was the perfect opportunity.  Now seeing those maps in the draft plan brought home how cool the whole experience had been.  I had learned something I had wanted to, I had helped the office fill a need they had, and I had produced something that will be of benefit to the public as they evaluate the wilderness plan or put it into effect.  I couldn’t be more delighted.

Plus I was on the front cover (or at least my back was), and that was pretty cool, too.

Tiny Plants and Enormous Trees

When I graduated from college last May, I didn’t know what I wanted to do for a job, but I knew that I wasn’t going to figure it out by just sitting around.  As much as I’d tried to figure things out through job books and career surveys, I was pretty much at a loss.  No, what I needed was a chance to try new things, and a lot of them.  I wanted to strike out and explore my career possibilities hands-on, and that’s exactly what I’ve been able to do through the CLM internship.

In four days I will be halfway through my time out here in Arcata, CA working for the local BLM field office, and I’ve already lost count of the interesting and varied opportunities I’ve had.  To begin with, there was plenty of dune monitoring—going out with quadrat and transect tape in hand and recording what plants were found out on the dunes and in what density (done using presence/absence within 200 quadrats located throughout a given transect).  At first it’s pretty hard to tell the plants on the dunes apart, given that they’re all very small and grow low to the ground.  I remember dropping down on my knees for every quadrat on my first transect, but after a month of monitoring, I have the rare and hard-won ability to identify tiny dune plants from 15 feet away.  Envious?  I understand.

Dunes-- I have an unhealthy knowledge of all the itty-bitties you see here

Dunes-- I have an unhealthy knowledge of all the itty-bitties you see here

Then there was mapping invasive weeds at Headwaters Forest Reserve, a nearby redwood forest that’s managed by the Arcata BLM.  It was only acquired 10 years ago; before then it was logging land and a good portion of the reserve has former logging roads that wind their way through the colossal redwoods and douglas fir.  Many of the logging roads have since been decommissioned; that is, they’ve been replanted with redwood saplings and had their river crossings removed in order to facilitate a faster return to the natural state of the land.  These former roads are still vulnerable to weed infestations though, so I enter the scene—topographic map and lined paper at the ready—to record the locations and species of the unwanted immigrants so that they can be removed at a later date.  In fact, I’ve already gotten to see the whole lifecycle of this project!  Soon after I finished mapping the trails on the North side of the reserve there was a crew going out to remove English Ivy from that area, so I got to print out a nice GIS map, give it to them, and watch them head off to vanquish the intruders.  There’s something pretty cool about seeing the results of your effort be put into use.  Then again, there’s also something pretty cool about hiking in a redwood forest for weeks on end.

The view while mapping weeds (I'm generally looking at the ground, though)

The view while mapping weeds (I'm generally looking at the ground, though)

Being near the halfway point of my CLM internship, I can say that I’ve already experienced a ton of things and in the process feel like I’m making a lot of progress in figuring out what I want to do for a career.  There’ve been no “Ah-Ha! Moments,” nor any moments of supreme nirvana, but what there has been is a lot of friendly co-workers, pieces of food for thought, and interesting experiences (ask me about when I ended up lost and had to ford a river).  I didn’t come into this internship looking for a moment of truth, but rather looking to work towards a greater understanding of myself and my goals.  That’s exactly what I’ve gotten, and I couldn’t be happier.