Winter Reflections and Warm Goodbyes

When people ask me how my internship has been, there is always a moment of fraught silence as I wrestle for a place to even begin.  How can you give a glib watercooler answer about an eternity of grass, silence so deep that only the gulls and ospreys dare break it?  To hours and hours pouring over hundreds of species of plants, becoming intimately aware of their endless variations?  The carefully nurtured, by now almost instinctive reflex to look for diagnostic characteristics in grasses and sedges that had you in tears six months ago?  

Over the course of the past few months I’ve learned that unexpected beauty can be found everywhere.  I didn’t anticipate finding much in the sense of wild spaces in the history laden, densely settled northeast coast, but New England continued to surprise in how resilient it’s natural areas continue to be, as well as how passionately the region’s residents will defend these spaces.  Five miles from a drag race track, in an old ATV area,  we found one of the most botanically biodiverse sites on our collection list.  A barren, at risk mudflat in one of our estuaries exploded into greenery and yielded more than fifteen collectable species.  In the the saltmarsh we took careful steps as native grasses sheltered nests of baby birds and mice, the only indication of their presence a quiet chirp or squeak that would startle us as we worked.  

Although at first I was intimidated by how many private landowners we had to work with, I soon found the people of New England to be not only accommodating, but also genuinely interested in the work we did.  Email inquirires would be answered with offers of maps, inventories and other potential locations.  Passerby would stop to ask us questions and suggest other parks they knew about when they found out what we were doing.  Even when apprehensive park visitors called the rangers on us while we were doing permitted work it was, in it’s own way, refreshing – people were invested in their local ecosystems.  They were proactive in learning about what was happening to them, what kind of work was being done, and in the event of a perceived threat, were willing to call authorities – never have I felt the bystander effect to be so lacking.  

To answer the question I began with, to any who might still be wondering – this internship has been a summer of change, of personal growth, frustration, victories, and quiet, meaningful, beautiful moments where I’m suddenly made all too aware of how very precious these places are, and how worthy they are of our care and support.  A sentiment that’s a bit heavy to carry back from the watercooler perhaps, but one I hope will refresh and satisfy nonetheless.  

Tasting Tecnu: Lessons From Rash Face City

After a summer of jumping into fields of Toxicodendron my luck finally ran out and I’ve developed a poison ivy rash.  As unfortunate (and uncomfortable!) as this turn of events is, it has served to make me review the contents of my first aid kit as well as basic field prevention and risk management.  Hazards of the field can vary from the almost humorous to rather painful, and the past six months alone have seen hornet stings, ticks, turned ankles, tumbles into mud and water, and various sedge related lacerations.

The crew at SOS East have a running joke about Eu de Tecnu being our glamorous scent of choice and lunch seasoning of circumstance, but my time with the program has taught me a variety of useful practices to keep in my toolbox.  Here are some I’ve found most helpful.


  1. Cover it all up

Socks!  Leggings!  Leggings tucked into your socks! Pants on top of your leggings!  Shirt tucked into your pants!  Long sleeves at all times!  In keeping the time honored conservation practice of getting all my fieldwork clothes at the thrift store, I’ve also learned that a lack of holes is essential to maximizing the benefits of this arrangement.  Ticks, unfortunately, have no respect for the fact that you didn’t know that there was a hole in your flannel and that they really shouldn’t have crawled in and made themselves at home.  


  1. Wash as soon as possible

Cleanliness is next to godliness, but a good alcohol wash is at least a minor deity.  As difficult as it can be in the field, I’ve found that habitually cleaning my hands with a wipe or hand sanitizer during breaks and a generous helping of an outdoor cleanser over all exposed skin at the end of the day helps with minimizing the effects of any poisonous oils I might have picked up.  This especially helps on days we visit distant sites where several hours of driving stands between me and a good shower.  


  1. Know the contents of your medkit

2 butterfly bandages.  3 packages of gauze dressing.  3 antiseptic wipes.  200 mg of ibuprofen.  The medkit is just another quarter pound of weight in my backpack until the crucial thirty seconds when I really really need it.  There is a specific kind of panic associated with fumbling like a fool for a pair of tweezers you swear was around here somewhere while someone is crying on the ground next to you after running from a nest of hornets.  Minimizing the amount of foolish fumbling will save both you and them a lot of grief.  


  1. Be familiar with your body  

Knowing what my limits are and how my body feels when it’s healthy vs unhealthy has become essential as the seed collection season has become busier.  Is this the exhaustion I feel when I’m running on too little sleep or is this a sympton of Lyme disease?  Is this red itchy patch on my face a spider bite, the beginnings of an urushiol induced rash, or the questionable take-out I had last night?  Knowing how my body usually responds to certain stressors and what is unusual for it is a big help in monitoring my health – even when I don’t know what’s wrong immediately, just being aware that something is happening gives me enough of a heads up to look up potential causes and hit up a nearby pharmacy.  You know.  Just in case.  On a completely unrelated note, calamine lotion and I have become best friends.  


No workplace is without its occasional hazards.  CLM has given me amazing opportunities for growth in all sorts of areas and while this is a particularly painful lesson is unwelcome, the things I’ve learned from it will hopefully serve me well.