Finally the End

The last month, a story of incredible learning and experiences

To start this one off I just must make clear that the AQI’s of over 400 in the Umpqua area have finally come to a halt, we can finally breathe again! In place of the smokey visor is the looming dark clouds of fall. Which brings me to one of my favorite parts of this experience, extracted from any work duties, which are the low-alpine meadow openings that showcase some of the most mystifyingly incredible views of low-lying clouds (I suck at cloud identification) enveloping the upper echelons of the best peaks, scenery that any fantasy drama show director would be jealous of.

This last month consisted of some of the most intense berry collection known to man. Feeling like bears in spirit, the botany crew set out to complete their berry collections. The final destination: Snowbird Road. The weary travelers made their way through the rocky ridge known as snowbird taking no prisoners. Assaulting each population of bitter cherry, mountain ash, and blue elderberry alike, the hardy crew finished their quest at the end of four days. The rewards were splendid. Alone, they managed to collect over 100 pounds of berries in just that location. However, added together with the spoils of previous ventures their total reached 286 pounds. The brute of the part even had a difficult time lifting that sort of weight. Their journeys are to continue with a different target in mind in the upcoming month. Seeds. Stay tuned…

The days start to get shorter, the nights longer. As each day passes in which the sun of whom illuminates the sky begins going to bed earlier, we get closer and closer to the end of term here at Umpqua. It starts to feel cooler and the smell of autumn wafts ubiquitously through the air. It’s a great feeling. It feels bittersweet in some sense but also incredibly empowering and endearing. Bittersweet because it’s the end of a truly incredible experience but at the same time empowering because of the opportunities each intern has ahead of them.  Some have already accepted permanent positions (shoutout Casey!) and some are browsing the job market as we speak (shoutout me!). Either way we have all paved our way towards a successful career whether through this position or prior. We’ve all improved our skills in the field of botany and have cemented confidence in our abilities going forward. While ending so soon, there are so many opportunities still out there to continue our journey. I just hope everyone enjoyed their truly one-of-a-kind experience like I did.

To my favorite collection species: Columbine (Aquilegia formosa). Your dried-up floret resemblant of a trumpet nose was the most enjoyable feeling. It felt as though each collection was a treat, spinning the bracts as the numerous seed went flooding into the bag. In conclusion, aquilegia you make me happy!

To my least favorite invasive species: Himalayan blackberry (Rubus armeniacus). You were a huge pain in the ass (apologies for the French). Your extended root ball made it almost impossible to remove all parts of you. Your fruit was tasty but not worth the struggle of pain-staking geopick maneuvers.

We did it!

Smoke Everywhere!

Oh, August you could not get smokier if you truly tried (this is in fact not true at all as it’s supposed to get worse next month). Waking up to pillars of smoke covering the sky was something I wasn’t entirely ready to get used to when I moved out to Oregon. The AQI of the closest major city, Eugene, this past week reached a total of 450. Just to be clear, that measure is part of the maroon category also known to be hazardous to human health. The effects can certainly be felt.

Mount Thielsen

Other than hazardous smoke conditions the Umpqua has been beautiful as usual. Everyday feels like a surprise in this forest. You never truly know what beautiful spectacle you’ll get to witness. Some of our collection sites are truly like working in a mirage. These incredible sites are surrounded by some of the most picturesque collection species. Not only this but most collection sites have a wide breadth of species to collect from. As we have a target list of around 30-40 species, these luscious meadows hold the key to most of our success. My personal favorite of these habitats are the hidden alpine meadows we’re to collect many of our September/October species from.

Our weed treatment adventure continues as well. One of the worst treatments so far occurred this past month. A couple of coworkers and I ventured out to the infamous Poo Lagoon (wastewater dumping site). The task at hand was incredibly daunting. The major focus here was the Common mullein which surrounded the multiple waste pools. Laced between these stands of mullein, however, were some of the vilest stands of Canada thistle imaginable. These low-lying pests numbered in the thousands hidden underneath the water-fed grasses. As well, since Canada thistle is rhizomatous, we were not allowed to just pull and move, we had to individually cut each stem with hand loppers. If fire restrictions were not at their strictest, we might have been able to use brush cutters. Coupled with this was the 105 degrees heat that made it incredibly difficult to function. But we all made it out alive and that’s all you can truly ask for.

Clark’s nutcracker on top of whitebark pine

Personal events this past month saw my mental health slightly deteriorate. It’s truly a shame of the personal struggles because this experience has been nothing short of incredible. Unfortunately, sometimes you can’t control the events that unfold. These events leave you feeling absolutely abandoned in a place that was already foreign to begin with and all you can do is try to dig yourself out of the hole that makes you feel so powerless. It’s difficult but you have to do it because you can’t keep living your life in the gallows of past events. You must push through it because nobody else will do it for you. Sometimes life just hits you with the hardest metal pipe to the knees unexpectedly. You fall and have no choice but to get back up, of course after feeling the immense amount of pain from the initial hit for a considerable amount of time. Eventually you’ll get back up from being beaten and the pain will progressively get easier to handle, although it will always linger. This is just a roundabout way of saying that unfortunately life can be incredibly unfair, but most of the time you can’t control it. You just have to keep going until it gets better.

I truly hope each intern had an incredible month. For those who finished their term this month, congratulations. For those that are still along the journey like Casey and I, only a few more months until it’s over. Make the best of the time that we have with these incredible opportunities.

Crater Lake
Alpine meadow
My coworker Alejandro and I fixing a tire

Sometimes you just don’t know what to say

This past month has truly been a rollercoaster of emotions. The job itself is incredibly rewarding and as the time goes on I become more confident in my abilities here. Of course there have been plenty of downs to the position but as we further into the season it is much easier to mitigate them. 

We have had some difficult work this past month which included the removal of some of the most annoying invasives to exist including himalayan blackberry and slender false brome. One you have to dig into the roots to completely treat the issue while the other you get to crawl on your hands and knees hand picking along a river bed for hours. The grueling heat certainly didn’t help. Although the conditions were less than pleasant, the work was redeeming because of the basic concept of removing pesky invasives for the natives to flourish. If there is one thing that I can take away from this job it’s that one can take joy just from the moral output of the activity. Even if the task itself is incredibly arduous you can at least remember the fact that the work you’re doing has some sort of purpose. 

Seed collection this past month has fastly ramped up as well as the heat. The work only seems like it will become more involved and busy which is quite exciting. Of course some seed collection species are more interesting to collect than others. For example, when collecting the columbine (Aquilegia formosa) it is really fun to watch all of the tiny seeds drop out of the flower head into the bag sort of wondering how many will be in the batch. On the other hand there are collection species like big deervetch (Hosackia crassifolia) pods are picked off like apples and transferred to a big bag. While this collection is pretty efficient it can get tedious quickly. Then there are species that are just an absolute pain to collect like farewell to spring (Clarkia amoena). My distaste for this collection solely comes down to how difficult it is to spot these guys. The seed collection itself isn’t actually terrible, similar to that of a pea, however it is the identification and monitoring that can cause strife. These little pests are always hiding in the crags and are incredibly low to the ground blending in with just about every other basal flower or stem. Still it can be nice when you find a big stand of them in a rather unassuming place. 

Time is going by fast now and with only a couple months left in the internship I’m still hoping to expand my knowledge within the plant world. It’s been an incredible experience so far not just in knowledge but also community and like-mindedness. The work starts to feel like a widely connected network of people all working towards the same goal. You learn and you just keep learning. The people that you meet endow unto you the knowledge unknown prior while you are able to do the same to them. It’s hard to think of a more broad learning environment than a national forest and if anything I can simply just be grateful for that. 

Top of Mount Bailey
The beautiful Umpqua skyline
Highway kitten that was rescued

New surroundings and a love for the unknown at Umpqua National Forest

Umpqua National Forest, a land of many tall trees and rushing waterfalls, has become my home for the next six months. It was initially terrifying having just graduated school and moved across the country, however, now it has all become so familiar. Everyday visits from the blue jays and other winged pleasantries are an everyday occurrence that starts the day with a sense of joy and peace. One of the things about moving across the country and living all by yourself post-graduation is a journey of self-discovery. Something you may have once held true twists and turns and becomes a completely different reality when you’re abreast with the solitudinous of nature. Being immersed with the entities that this planet calls its children puts into perspective the true purpose of oneself. A quote from Anne Frank reads, “I firmly believe that nature brings solace in all troubles.” As you enter the grand domain of nature you start to find those worries and anxieties that you hold so tightly to your chest peel away as if they were never there in the first place. Personally, living within the natural world has helped quell an incredibly anxious time of existential dread. Umpqua National Forest has become the perfect antidote for this never-ending disease.

A great view of the North Umpqua scenery atop the Pine Bench Trail

Besides the philosophical transformation taking place within the forest, I have been put to work and have made great progress in plans to collect seeds. My co-intern Casey and I have begun to map different collection points for the particular collection species native to Umpqua, my personal favorite being the yarrow. Although we have begun to make progress, much of our duties insofar have been delegated to the removal of invasive species such as himalayan blackberry, scotch broom, and certain thistles. Most of our days include mapping of treatments for invasives and getting stabbed by himalayan blackberry while treating. As well, we have also had the luxury of doing rare species monitoring at Tiller Ranger Station, climbing Mt. Fuji in the Willamette National Forest to identify White bark pine, and plenty of other out of the ordinary training opportunities. One especially important to me was being able to get my felling and bucking license after not being able to get it the previous summer. I’m sure there will be plenty more training opportunities in the future for us to capitalize on.

Atop Mt. Fuji

Lastly, I feel it is important to talk about the incredible coworkers that I have that are making this experience that much better. Everybody who I have run into at the Botany Department has helped me in some sort of way whether it be in plant identification or just making me feel welcomed. As everybody knows coworkers can make or break a job. I can tell that mine are going to make it better. Until next months post…

(Some extra pictures to finish off the post)

Western sheep moth on some Ceanothus
Western Rattlsnake Plantain (I thought these only existed out East!)
Dog for good luck