About wenkea

I have spent most of my life snuggled between the Olympic Mountains and the Cascades, Wa. This has influenced my life in many ways, both good and bad I suppose...I grew up in a little town called Poulsbo which is primarily Norwegian heritage-influenced. I received a B.S. in Biology: Ecology, Evolution & Conservation at the University of Washington. Most of my studies thus far have focused on disturbances and plant ecology. I conducted research on Mount St. Helens under the guidance of Dr. Roger del Moral, studying primary succession and species assemblages. As of recently I was accepted into the Conservation and Land Management Intership Program (CLM), and am spending this beautiful summer in the Four Corners region of New Mexico collecting seeds as part of the Seeds of Success program (SOS).

The shape of things that pass


I am trying to write my final blog and I just can’t seem to keep any structure or flow, so this blog will be a collection of thoughts, or an unorganized final post…depending on how you look at it.

I am about a week away from finishing up my internship here in Farmington, New Mexico and I am not sure what to make of it. I am excited to head back to Seattle and to see the people that are close to me, but I am also hesitant to leave this place. Throughout the last 6 months I have grown to love the landscape and wildlife of the Four Corners. All of my experiences here have been absolute contrasts of living in the Pacific Northwest and have given me a wonderful perspective on life in the Southwest.

Thunderstorms out here are awesome.  

I was born in Casper, Wyoming and spent a good chunk of my childhood visiting my grandparents and family in the mid and southwest. I remember growing up and noticing all of the subtle differences between there and home. The dry air, the smell of sagebrush, the hot days and the cool nights engrained this sense of calmness in my mind. I suppose it wasn’t too much of a surprise to feel this sensation rushing back as soon as I came to Farmington. Looking at it now, it made a huge difference; leaving everything behind and coming here with a roadbike and the clothes in my camping sack would seemed intense and stressful, but it wasn’t. I felt reassured that everything would work out. I realize now, this calmness made work wonderful from the beginning and nothing really changed after that.

Best collection: Lupinus caudatus. We decided to try and tie cloth bags around the seed pods and wait for them to dehisce and pop. We tied 100 bags around a population on a small mountain meadow and it totally WORKED! We collected the seeds a couple of weeks later by clipping the stems and pouring the seeds out.

The work itself seems more like a lifestyle than a task that spans 8 hours a day. I lived this job for 6 months.

Worst collection: Lupinus brevicaulis. Our first collection, we picked the seeds off the ground in the badlands, painstakingly for two work days.

Most memorable moment: driving through rolling plains towards Chaco Mesa. Along the way, 3 herding dogs caught site of our large white truck, that I suppose could resemble a very laaaaarge sheep. They followed us in the distance for a few miles, sprinting over large hills and cascading down gullies. I kept thinking we lost them, until they popped up over the next hill. They finally caught up with the truck and we slowed down. With endless land to roam and a herd to look after, these dogs were the happiest ones I’ve ever seen.

It is always really fascinating to me how my own perceptions of things change after experiencing them. To vividly remember what I thought this internship would be like before I arrived, and how it was after I left. To compare these two different worlds and to see where they come together. I think it can tell a lot about a person’s expectations, hopes and predictions. The shape of things to come, then the shape of things that pass.

Thank you Krissa, Marian, Sheila and anyone else for this opportunity. You have changed my life.

 Anthony Wenke

Fall in the Four Corners

I am now well into my fifth month here in Farmington, NM and in terms of SOS and the work I have been doing, it has been absolutely wonderful. The nights have grown colder and the fall plants are coming out. We have many species we are monitoring and collecting from, and I estimate that we will be able to collect anywhere from 9-15 more species before the end of October. Productivity is high right now, which is soo awesome compared to last month’s dip (straddling between the two rain seasons). Aside from SOS, I feel this month has been particularly unique in that we have seen much more of the “Enchantment” this land has to offer.

We recently ventured out to Chaco Canyon, which if you do not know is home to some pretty impressive Native American ruins. We drove through the bottom of the canyon, a wide plain which straddles a lone river running through it; on either side there are ruins. Some look like small hills with broken remnants of walls and archways sticking out the top like icebergs-where the rest is hidden beneath. Others are exposed and beaten. From a distance I could immediately pick out the small knolls and monuments and began to see a picture of a city long lost through centuries of struggle and strife. A place where people were interconnected through trade, language and family. It is said that this place has trails leading off to Mesa Verde and surrounding archeological sites. In fact, in the old days runners would pass mail to each other like batons in a relay race for miles and miles; this was their method to communicate between villages.

One monument, the largest ever registered through archeological records stands over 3 stories in the distance, and is from what I could tell an old gated community in the shape of a half circle (the diameter being over 150 ft wide). I walked through small doors and passageways, stood and peered into dark tunnels and gazed through countless windows that span across the ruin, like looking into a double-mirror. The walls, made from rock and mortar, were stacked so evenly that at times seemed perfectly straight. These guys could be the masters of the slowest game of Tetris! Not to mention, in the hot New Mexico sun the shaded parts of the walls were cool to the touch, and nice to lean against. I continued to lose myself until eventually spilling out on the other side of the ruin. This place is magical, and for me immediately stood out from anything else I had experienced. The history and knowledge Chaco Canyon reveals is astounding.   

I look forward to the next month of my internship. My co-worker and I plan on camping Columbus day weekend at the GRAND CANYON! We figure, it’s only 5 hours away and this way we won’t have to envy last year’s interns (jk jk, but seriously). If things keep going like they have, then October will be the best month yet!

In spirit of the countless hours of NPR we listen to in the field~ Be well, do good work and keep in touch!

Anthony Wenke

Land of enchantment

I am well into my fourth month here at the Farmington, New Mexico field office,  and I am starting to realize why they call this place the “Land of Enchantment”. The thunderstorms, the night skies and early mornings all bring a new light and different perspective of the landscape. Living here you become used to those events, but I still seem to gain something new from each.

In terms of SOS, we are doing okay. Farmington, which is situated in the NW corner of New Mexico, is an oasis compared to most of the state. We are slightly higher, cooler and experiencing a decent amount of monsoon rains (even though we aren’t getting as much as we would hope). To break it down, New Mexico is very dry and plants do not want to invest all of that energy making flowers and seeds so they can be aborted soon after, which makes it a little frustrating for us collectors knowing the plants are out there as well as those dark rain clouds. Not much happens.

I am an optimist. Well into this month we have made two collections: Penstemon angustifolius and Erysimum asperum (which has gorgeous orange seeds)- all of which we happened to stumble upon at the right time to collect. It’s a great feeling, going on weeks of no collecting, and then one day BAM! SEEDS! GRAB THE HORI HORI! GRAB THE BUCKETS! TURN THE TRIMBLE ON!!!!

Another great thing about this dip in seed production, is that our supervisor has been keeping us busy with other projects. We have been conducting PFC riparian surveys,  attended two workshops (one in Santa Fe with the Native Plant Society and the other up in Mesa Verde National Park, CO looking at Fire Succession-which is tooootally my cup of tea). Among those we have also been able to take the downtime and tidy up around the office and do a couple GIS training courses. All in all, we have stayed busy and work has been constantly changing.

Looking back on these past four months, I am so grateful to be a part of this internship and to have the resources to become familiarized with the Federal system, and how my interests lie within them. This sounds very corn-bally, but seriously, going to school and learning about reclamation/restoration is one thing, it is completely another to see my interests/education working in an practical setting. Everything about this job is very bureaucratic. Rightfully so.

*UPDATE! Earlier this week we stumbled upon a gorgeous montane meadow in the San Juan National Forest and found three more populations we can collect from in the next couple of days. I am looking forward to the next couple of months; the summer is dwindling down, seeds are ripening, temperatures are dropping and the work will only become more interesting. Until next time.

Anthony Wenke


Prospects of all types



It seems like for the time being, our field office has come to a hump-like stand-still. We are straddled between two flowering periods. In Farmington, the late spring/early summer season brought a hoard of ripening seeds; in fact the week after we came back from the CLM workshop we made five collections. Now we have very little to find except a few species ending their flowering stages. We are waiting for the hump to ride smooth and give us more prospects with the start of the monsoon rains.

It was interesting coming back to the Four Corners after experiencing the workshop in Chicago. In almost every way I can imagine, the two places are exact contrasts of each other. Being able to meet the other interns and be with people my age and experience, visually digesting the intensity of green vegetation and walking through what seemed like a constant shower of humidity all reinforced the idea that I love constantly moving through changing environments. Even as I write this, we are experiencing thunderstorms that will make the average Seattleite quiver, and skies that even Monet might envy (so I’d like to think).

Basically, the last month for me has been in a constant flux in every way. Work, weather, friends and hobbies. What’s nice about this mid-point hump in work is that we have been able to take time away from SOS and aid other biologists with their projects. We were able to assist with a riparian assessment, conduct surveys for fuel loads associated with prescribed burnings and search for bird’s nests in sagebrush. For me this really is the mid-point of my internship; it has been three months, and I still have three more to go. The latter half I can tell already will bring prospects of all types. Until next time.

Anthony Wenke

The shape of things are simple

Today marks the second month of my internship. I am writing
from the hotel, after proudly losing to a watermelon-smashing competition, and
I am wondering where the next month is going to take me. This last month has
been truly inspiring. Rolling over hills covered with Oak and Pines, standing
on top of a mesa where the first Navajo families settled, witnessing my first
New Mexico sunrise- all these simple things that one could do any day if
feeling so inclined, yet is apparently different and altogether unique from daily
mundane life. I am starting to get a sense of what this new land means to me,
beauty in simplicity.

The ball has started rolling; I spent most of the first half
of June monitoring populations whose seeds seemed to take forever to ripen,
then suddenly demanded our (Jamie and I) collecting the week prior to leaving
for the workshop. There was a sudden shift and we found ourselves
passing the day feeling worth and seeing yield in our work. I realized soon
after collecting our first population that there is something so therapeutic about
tuning everything out, focusing on the task at hand and enjoying the landscape.
I only hope for this to continue.

This last month of work has challenged my skills as a
botanist; being able to recognize the common plants in the area now has shifted
most of my attention on searching for target list species and determining viable
populations for collection. A nice change of pace if I might say, and one that can’t
come at a better time now that many species are beginning to take to seed.

It is near the end of the week and I fly back to Farmington
soon. This workshop has been more than amazing; it has been an absolute
pleasure to see the faces of this program and where CLM Internship came from/is
going. To be able to come out to the Chicago Botanic Garden is such a privilege
and I feel lucky the resources are available to do so. Now it is time to head
back and continue working my way through this internship. I am sure many more
species are ready to go and the workload is piling. The simpler life waits and
is only getting more beautiful. Enjoy!

Anthony Wenke

The shape of things to come

Huddled next to my heater in the dead of a Seattle Winter, I was anxious and nervous. I was applying for a job…with no luck, when a former TA of mine sent me a link to a website called the Conservation and Land Management Internship Program. I had no idea that six months down the road, I would be hiking around identifying plants on desert mesas in New Mexico. This blog marks the first month of my CLM Seeds of Success internship. Now I am away from home and everything I know, yet I don’t have a single worry in my mind. I am comfortable and fully in the mindset of a total-exposure, no preparation crash course in native botany. This summer is going to be great!

I received my education at the University of Washington where I studied Biology: Ecology, Evolution & Conservation. Most of my research has focused on primary succession on Mount St. Helens. The point being that up until this point I have studied many aspects of botany, but not so much the systematics that the SOS program has to offer. I am so excited and I feel like I have learned more about classification in this last month, than my undergraduate career. I’m not sure If any of you have had the feeling, but it’s the “Oh man, I’m gonna know soooo much more about classification in 6 months.” –kinda feeling. The “kicker” on top of that is there is so much more flora to see and learn if you travel 50 miles in any direction. New Mexico is a haven for speciation and geologic diversity.

Navajo Ethno-botanist Arnold Clifford explained “In botany you could go from one region to the other and be completely lost all over again”. I traveled with Arnold and my supervisor Sheila Williams to Simon Canyon, where our local BLM office was hosting field days for middle-school children. It was during my first two weeks that I really begun to understand the truth of those words. Sure, you find many species in both the Seattle and Farmington neck-of-the-woods (or shrubs); but for the most part, you better have your keying book at hand. As a whole, botany is a never-ending discipline.

It is also interesting how families and genera parallel each other in different climates. You may find Penstemons, Castillejas, Lupines, Firs and Mustards from both areas –each similar to the other, but different enough to suggest subtle changes in morphology and reproduction, which alludes to hundreds of year’s worth of adaptation. To be able to experience this in a natural environment is in itself absolutely worth every pain-stakingly tedious lab, exam and endless night of book-diving.

The day before my flight into Farmington, a good friend (and aspiring botanist) gave me his camera so I could document this amazing opportunity.  Thank god I decided to take it since I sold mostly everything I had, and brought close to nothing with me. This new hobby just might capture the shape of things to come.

Until next month, I bid you all a wonderful start to your internships and hope you get as much out of it as I have.

-Anthony Wenke