A Season In the Wilderness

Here I am, the end of August, the last lull of heat in the desert before the autumn breaks this stagnancy.  It has been quite dead around the office due to the heat and not going into the field.  And who would want to?  Even though it has been a “cool” summer in the Mojave Desert (average daily temperature around 112° F instead of 122° F, still hot if you ask me) there is still no motivation to do field work.

My internship is drawing to an end and there is so much I want to express.  It has taught me so much- both about myself and about life.  I would do another one in a heartbeat, and highly considering applying again.  Not so much that I don’t know what else to do with my life- I want to be a botanist, conservation scientist, and balanced.  It is more of what I gained from this that draws me back to participate again.  I plan to return to wilderness areas (such as I did working in the desert) many more times in my life.  It is a place where I can face myself and my fears, and come out stronger in the end.

my favorite mountain range in the Needles FIeld Office- Kingston Mountains

Here are the personal highlights of what I gained from this internship:

  • Be inspired by someone, famous or not, allow their inspiration to lift you to do your best.  I have found inspiration in the desert:  Edward Abby and his books, my 90 year old Great Aunt Crystal, along with my amazing mentor- Hanem Abouelezz.
  • Life is what YOU make of it.  Experience can be good or bad depending on your perception of the events.  Do not react to life, act in it, participate in it in a positive manner to ensure you are making the best of whatever comes at you.
  • Is the glass half empty or half full?  YOU DECIDE.  Step back and think about how you are reacting and perceiving and decide if this way of acting is serving you or not.  A positive attitude, immersing yourself in a positive energy of life, whatever you wish to call it, has amazing effects on quality of life.  You do not need to be comfortable to have an amazing quality of life- you only need to have confidence that life is an experience to fully imbibe .  Soak it in my friends.
  • Everyone in my internship has been nothing but willing to help me out when I needed it.  At first I resisted, carrying with me a sort of rugged individualism perspective that I did not need anyone’s help and could figure it out on my own.  However, one day out in the field a co-worker explained to me this philosophy: “I know you are in a tight place in your life financially, and I will cover lunch for today.  Just as those who covered lunch for me when I was your age and in your spot.  These sorts of things are not to be paid back to me, but paid forward to someone else later in your life when you have the ability to do it.”  It is impossible for me at this time to pay back the kindness and assistance people gave to me right now, but I do know one thing-  I plan to pay forward everything I have received.

Yellow Bat (Lasuiris spp.)

I have also grown professionally from this internship in my path to becoming a botanist/conservation scientist.  I have done ArcGIS work, tons of independent plant taxonomy and field work, and understand of what it  is like to work for the federal government.  This internship has only reinforced the passion I have for plants and conservation.  I gained other awesome biology experiences as well doing bat mist netting and abandon mine bat out flight surveys.  If I were to study mammals, bats would be a likely choice for me after this experience with them.  Up close, they are ADORABLE.  As the only true flying mammals, they are fascinating.  From an ecological standpoint they are quite important.


From my long summer reading list here is an excerpt from my newest favorite book:

“People are afraid to pursue their most important dreams, because they feel that they don’t deserve them, or that they’ll be unable to achieve them.  We, their hearts, become fearful just thinking of loved ones who go away forever, or of moments that could have been good but weren’t, or of treasures that might have been found but were forever hidden in the sands.  Because, when these things happen, we suffer terribly.” p 130 The Alchemist

Do not let down your heart and not pursue your most important dreams.  Life that society dictates we should live can come later, and those who say you are unfit for what you aspire to only give you more of a reason to reach it.  Reaching a dream is not an easy task.  It will take a lot of hard work and persistence, but it is those with persistence that will outlast us all and reach their goals and dreams.

This internship has had its ups and downs, but all for the better.  I have a great admiration for the Chicago Botanic Garden and those who made and are still making this internship possible.  Keep up the good work.


CBG Intern BLM Needles Field Office


Heat of the Summer

There are lonely hours. How can I deny it? There are times when solitaire becomes solitary, an entirely different game, a prison term, and the inside of the skull as confining and unbearable as the interior of the housetrailer on a hot day. p95 Desert Solitaire

July. Though all the windows are wide open and the blinds rattle in the breeze the heat is terrific. The inside of the trailer is like the inside of a kiln, a fierce dry heat that warps the loose linoleum on the floor, turns an exposed slice of bread into something like toast within half an hour, makes my papers crackle like parchment. p128-9 Desert Solitaire

Edward Abby describes what I am feeling right now very well- loneliness. I miss trees and mountain trails, cold weather and the ability to go outside and not want to die of heat (highest temperature so far this summer: 120 F). The desert is a remote and terrifically hot place at times.

Yes July. The mountains are almost bear of snow except for the patches within the couloirs on the northern slopes. Consoling nevertheless, those shrunken snowfields, despite the fact that they’re twenty miles away by line of sight and six to seven thousand feed higher than where I sit. They comfort me with the promise that if the heat down here becomes less endurable I can escape for at least two days each week to the refuge of the mountains- those islands in the sky surrounded by a sea of desert. The knowledge that refuge is available, when and if needed, makes the silent inferno of the desert more easily bearable. Mountains complement desert as desert complements city, as wilderness complements and completes civilization.” p129 Desert Solitaire

Though I am having a tough time being in Needles CA for my internship at this moment, I realize it is really helping me to do some self reflecting. I have time to spend with myself, and only myself, in order to reflect on what I want to do with my life and how I want to live it- though I feel this way now, I am sure it will only help me grow in the long run.




hu·mil·i·ty /(h)yo͞oˈmilitē/
Noun: A modest or low view of one’s own importance; humbleness.

Gopherus agassizii- a little Buddha in a shell

That is what I experienced one day being out in the field waiting for a tortoise to pass out of the dirt road we were traveling on.  The Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) is a threatened and sensitive species in the Mojave Desert.  We did not want to harass the tortoise, for it is unlawful to do so.  And why bother a creature like that?  They are adorable and could teach us humans a lesson in patience and humility.





I am collecting seeds for tortoise forage plants, and they eat some interesting vegetation.  Would you like some desert trumpet (Eriogonium inflatum)?  Or how about some small wirelettuce (Stephanomeria exigua)?  Follow that with some tasty desert dandelion (Malacothrix glabrata) and voila! Tortoise dinner.

There are plants out here I am very fond of.  One popular one is the Joshua Tree (Yucca brevifolia) and who would not like this plant?  Dr Seuss could have thought up this plant in one of his books.  Edward Abby had thoughts on yuccas too: 

Yucca brevifolia






“Stepping carefully around the straggling prickly pear I come after a few paces over bare sandstone to a plant whose defensive weaponry makes the cactus seem relatively benign.  This one is formed of a cluster of bayonetlike leaves pointing up and outward, each stiff green blade tipped with a point as intense and penetrating as a needle.  Out of the core of this untouchable dagger’s-nest rises a slender stalk, waist-high, gracefully curved, which supports a heavy cluster of bell-shaped, cream-colored, wax coated, exquisitely perfumed flowers.  This plant, not a cactus but a member of the lily family, is a type of yucca called Spanish bayonet.
Despite its fierce defenses, or perhaps because of them, the yucca is as beautiful as it is strange, perfect in its place wherever that place may be…” pg 25 Desert Solitaire


Langloisia setosissima ssp. setosissima- best dinkaphyte ever

I also like a few plants a friend termed as “dinkaphytes.”  These teeny tiny plants require you to get down on your hands and knees to see them.  My absolute favorite dinkaphyte is the liloc sunbonnet or Great Basin langloisia (Langloisia setosissima ssp. setosissima).  This plant is the perfect combination of beauty and ferocity.  I mean, look at those spines!  It is lovely and rare- the perfect desert annual, and it fits in the palm of my hand.





June in the Desert.  The sun roars down from its track in space with a savage and holy light, a fantastic music in the mind…  Springtime on the mountains.  Summer down here.”  p 82-3 Desert Solitaire

Apparently this spring has been kind to me with temperatures only breaking 100 F a few times in the past weeks.  I have been spoiled with this cool spring, according to my co-workers at the BLM.  They tell me not to worry, the heat will arrive soon.  Yikes- I hope I am ready for it, I feel groggy at 80 F, let alone above 100 F.  Was the desert a good choice in the summer?  Only time will tell.

The first month of Solitaire

A few things about deserts I did not realize:

look, mountains!

1: The Mojave has MOUNTAINS.  Beautiful ranges with their sun baked rocks and volcanic origins.  Between the vast stretches of desert flats they look relatively close, but oh my are they far!  A lot of different plant communities are found at different altitudes among them (the desert is not a desolate place).

you don't want to fall down this shaft.


2: The amount of abandon mines here- and the hazards they pose.  Hundreds to thousands left behind, please do not go spelunking in abandon mines.  Though it does sound fun, they are quite dangerous from the unstable ceilings to the toxic fumes.  Although they pose a lot of danger for humans, abandon mines are good habitat for bats, which I will be doing out-flight surveys of bats living in abandon mines as part of my internship.

3:  The desert windy, when it feels like being windy.  You could start out the evening camping and not a rustle though the Larrea tridentata (a plant common as dirt out here) cannot be heard then bam!  An hour later there is enough wind to blow the edges of your tent up.  The wind here fascinates me for some reason, and I am thankful for it when it gets hot out in the field.

4:  The “Unusual Plant Assemblages” found here.  I think they should be called “Rare Plant Assemblages” instead since usual makes them sound alien or negative.  Plants such as saguaro cacti (Carnegiea gigantea), which should only be found in the Sonoran Desert east of the Colorado River, to white fir (Abies concolor)  in the Kingston mountains.  The best part about the UPAs is that I get to monitor them as part of my internship. Score for the aspiring botanist!

I have been out here for over a month now, and I have to say it still feels a bit surreal being here.  I do occasionally think to myself, what am I doing here?  But once I get working out amongst the rocky outcrops or the washlets that stripe the desert landscape I realize that this place is special.

I am stationed in the Needles Field Office, and been having a bit of guidance from the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden (thanks guys!).  Though I have to say, even though Needles is a small town with small town folk and no traffic lights I am fine being here.  Perhaps it is my inclination toward being independent, or my enjoyment of solitude, or this is what I need right now to sort out my thoughts.

I have my inspirations: Desert Solitaire by Edward Abby.  I will probably quote this fantastic piece of literature a ton.  I can relate to this book in so many ways.  His discontent with society’s antics, living in a government issued trailer for a summer, going out and doing work alone in the middle of nowhere far from anybody USA, and a fascination and respect for this wild area.  Most people go to national parks to look for wilderness and escape from civilization, yet I feel like if you want to see wide open spaces without another soul in sight- go to the desert, you will find exactly that in out here.

As for Seeds of Success intern, I love it.  Being an aspiring botanist this is exactly what I do for fun on free time- ID plants I see, read about them and their ecological significance, and be OUTSIDE all the time!  Working as an intern has rekindled my enthusiasm for plant ecology and conservation.  I am also fortunate to have such an inspiring mentor, I could not have asked for a better one.  She has so much experience and I have much to learn from her, and that is one of the reasons why I am here in the desert.

Life vs. Un-life

The first detailed description of the Mojave Desert before I encounter on the CLM Internship:

“… over the pass and into the Mojave Desert, a burned and burning desert even this late in the year, its hills like piles of black cinders in the distance, and the rutted floor sucked dry by the hungry sun. … The Mojave is a bit desert and a frightening one. it’s as through nature tested a man for endurance and constancy to prove whether he was good enough to get to California. The shimmering dry heat made visions of water on the flat plain. And even when you drive at high speed, the hills that mark the boundaries recede before you.”

Thank you Steinbeck for that bleak description of the Mojave Desert. But then he goes on about the mysterious aspects of the desert:

” The desert, being an unwanted place, might well be the last stand of life against unlife. For in the rich and moist and wanted areas of the world, life pyramids against itself adn in its confusion has finally allied itself with the enemy non-life. And what the scorching, searing, freezing, poisoning weapons of non-life have failed to do may be accomplished to the end of its destruction and extinction by the tactics of survival gone sour. If the most versatile of living forms, the human, now fights for survival as it always has, it can eliminate not only itself but all other life. And if that should transpire, unwanted places like the desert might be the harsh mother of repopulation. For the inhabitants of the desert are well trained and well armed against desolation. Even our own misguided species might re-emerge from the desert. The lone man and his sun-toughened wife who cling to the shade in an unfruitful and uncoveted place might, with their brothers in arms- the coyote, the jackrabbit, the horned toad, the rattlesnake, together with a host of armored insects- these trained and tested fragments of life might well be the last hope of life against non-life. The desert has mothered magic things before this.”

For the whole chapter he writes about the desert in Travels with Charley. It was this northern girl’s first introduction to the desert. Sure, I have heard about deserts before on nature shows and in old west movies, but to know I will be there for the next five months, working in the desert… I have heard about the curious beauty of the desert, and those who inhabit it. Now I get to see it first hand for myself, and decide what I think of it. I have been told that every biologist should see the desert sometime in their lives to witness flora and fauna living in an extreme environment, and for me it is one of the first things I am doing on my way to becoming a biologist. Check that off the to do list. And as for the desolate absence of water and the searing heat I say… bring it on.