Much like our window for preventing the Earth from becoming a big, stormy swimming pool, my CLM internship is soon coming to a close. There were laughs (both “at” and “with”), there were tears (both “of sadness” and “in all of my work shirts”), there were many, many tins of smelly kipper snacks eaten in the field. I am grateful to have had the privilege of working with dedicated, loving, and mostly hygienic people who consistently brightened my days with warmth and affection.
My colleagues were undoubtedly the heart and soul of a most memorable field season in Groveland, CA, but the shock and awe of surveying the vast swaths of scorched moonscapes that had once been shiny-green conifer stands of the Stanislaus National Forest will not soon be forgotten—burned into memory, if you will.
“Hey, why did someone replace all the lush crowns of pine and fir trees with acre upon acre of gangly, black sticks that look like the burnt skeletons of creepy scarecrows?”, is what I assume we were all thinking on our first day in the field. It was soon explained to me by Google that the “someone” was the 2013 Rim Fire and the “why” was because that’s what historically massive, high-intensity fires do.
It was a sight to behold, certainly. Some of my coworkers thought that the toasted hills and grilled valleys were still beautiful, but just in a different sort of way. Okay, I think I can understand that. Like how a Jackson Pollock is beautiful, just in a different, less beautiful sort of way than pretty much any other painting.
Though I tried to see beauty in the destruction, the pleasure I derived from our newly redecorated forest was not from the multitude of charred things everywhere. I was quite taken, however, with the absence of a pesky understory that normally inhibits one’s ability to walk through a decadent forest without constantly tripping and getting poked in the face by twigs. It had all been burned away! The simple act of leisurely strolling from A to B instead of army-crawling and bush-whacking my way there was proof enough for me that there was a bright side to the effects of the Rim Fire.
And there were other benefits of working in the burn zone all season. Through the month of June we found ample flushes of black morels (Morchella sp.) almost daily. Did we leave them be, in accordance with the Forest Service’s foraging policy for employees (and because of our unfair advantage over the public, to whom this year’s unprecedented MOREL-TOPIA was not legally accessible)? I’m going to go with: “Yes, we did.”
But, as a less cliché-prone writer wouldn’t say, the season was not without its challenges. Do you remember the tears I mentioned in the opening paragraph? They were real. We shed real tears (figuratively) over the shortcomings of our vehicle fleet, the odor that descended upon our cramped office space, 30-crewmembers deep, at the end of the day, and the overall charlie foxtrot that was our grasp on protocol and logistics for a not-so-brief portion of the season. Did we dwell on the myriad speed bumps and misfires? Perhaps, but only in confidence.
Our crew soared to great botanical heights, lifting our sensitive plant brethren out of darkness and casting a cleansing light on the plague of noxious weeds. Each and every day the Botany Superteam of Groveland was out there flaggin’ and GPSin’ all kinds of sexy plants: slenderstem monkeyflower (Mimulus filicaulis [aka Mimulus phil collins]), mountain lady’s slipper (Cypripedium montanum), yellowlip pansy monkeyflower (Mimulus pulchellus), and a bunch of Clarkia spp. all over the dang place. Seriously, that stuff was everywhere.
What else can be said about my 2014 CLM internship? Probably nothing blog-worthy, to be honest. Well, there was that one day when I walked around for half an hour with a lizard in my hard hat. But I will say this: even though glimpsing the inner workings of a small slice of the federal government gave me a new and unsettling understanding of what libertarians are so mad about, and aside from the nauseating stench of bear clover (Chamaebatia foliolosa) on all our boots, it was a (mostly) rewarding and productive experience. Not to mention the hilarious “dirt leggings” we wore at the end of each day from walking through so much dust.
At last, if I may, I will sum up the entire season with the best joke I heard all summer: What is the best thing about Switzerland? I dunno but its flag is a big plus.
Groveland District Office
US Forest Service