Before I go…

…back to Chicago and leave the “Red or green?” chile state that has become my home for the past five months, I want to take this opportunity to reflect and reminisce on my time spent here.

A Rocky Start to the Season

At the beginning of the season, my co-intern and I encountered some difficulties that hindered our ability to start scouting for species in our target species list. The first problem that we encountered was that there were no established protocols to do scouting and seed collection as it was the first time Lincoln National Forest had any CLM interns. Thus, we did not know how we were going to collect data on our scouted populations. Second, our target species list included over 200 species, so we were unclear about which species we should prioritize and whether we would be capable of making at least 8 collections with 30,000 seeds due to the climate and condition of the forest with smaller populations.

One might have been worried about the situation, but I was not. I knew with the help of our mentors we would eventually figure it out and we did. After meeting with the Southwestern Regional Botanist, the Institute for Applied Ecology, and the Chicago Botanic Garden, our goals were made clear with our target species list, our seed collection goal, and the protocol and applications we will be using.

Not long after, we were on our way to officially start scouting.

A “Bleak” Monsoon Season

New Mexico is one of the states in the United States that experience monsoons. Between the months of June and September, the state experiences more rain. Our mentors said we would be seeing an abundance of plants once the monsoons hit, so my co-intern and I were looking forward to adding new scouting points and collecting seeds. However, this summer, it was more of a “nonsoon” season as it didn’t start until late July and many parts of New Mexico experienced below-average rainfall. Thus, the number of new wildflowers and potential seed collections that we expected to see was no longer a reality.

Taking cover under a tarp with the Salamander crew while we waited for the rain to pass over.

Helping with Forest Service Projects

Besides scouting and collecting seeds, we helped the Forest Service staff with several projects. Some required our botany expertise while others required physical labor.

Projects we helped with include:

  • Goodding’s onion survey and seed collecting
  • Sacramento Mountain prickly poppy survey
  • New Mexico meadow jumping mouse monitoring
  • Sacramento Mountain checkerspot butterfly monitoring
  • Sacramento Mountain salamander survey
  • Smokey’s Garden planting
  • Big Bear Canyon riparian restoration
  • Sacramento Mountain checkerspot butterfly habitat restoration
  • Grazing allotments monitoring

Overall, it was fun not only learning new skills but also meeting and working with a diverse group of people for these projects. The most rewarding part is hearing about their experience and how they got working with the Forest Service.

Exploring the Unknown

The best part of living in a new state is the chance to explore it. Although I did explore a good part of New Mexico, there are still towns, National Forest, and National Monuments that I did not get a chance to explore. Nonetheless, I still had fun exploring.

Here are some of my favorite events and places I got to experience:

Exploring is not only about visiting places but also about the food. If you are ever near Ruidoso, I highly recommend Oso Grill and Club Gas. Oso Grill is known for their award-winning green chile cheeseburger, and nothing compares to Thursday night enchiladas dinners at Club Gas.

Overall, I am grateful for being part of the CLM program this season.

– Evie

A Season of Un-Expectations

I had no specific expectations clouding my view of what life might be like in Tonasket, working on the Colville National Forest. What I did have were expectations of how doing so might make me feel. When I wasn’t immediately satisfied by my work, happy with my living situation, good at every task assigned to me, there was disappointment. I was honestly confused by the feeling because I didn’t have some glamourous image of what it’d be like to live in a farming community with a population hovering around 1000, but it persisted.

The last place I resided was a small, liberal city with a population of 30,000, excluding the 20,000 seasonal college student residents. Before that, I grew up in a dense, liberal, suburb of Boston, where people lived in 1900s split-family homes, within walking distance of two Dunkin Donuts locations. So really, I had no point of reference for what life is like in rural Washington, and each day this season I discovered something new. Friends have asked me what it’s like, what’s different, and aside from the obvious, it’s hard to pinpoint the difference in attitude or collective belief structure here versus the sub/urban Northeast, but it’s immense. I think it may be something that has to be felt rather than described, so I won’t go into too much detail trying.

I appreciate what I’ve learned about the differences between the lives I’ve lived before and the one I lived this summer, and my belief has been affirmed that there are infinite possibilities in this world, and I’ve only scratched the surface of experience. I’m proud of myself for getting through the disappointment to a place where I can appreciate my days, and I’m proud of the work that David and I, along with the other Tonasket botany techs, have accomplished this season. To sum up those days, I’ve included some pictures for your viewing pleasure below.

There are moments of beauty, nuggets of magic inside each path life takes, like finding a Botrychium in a sea of moss and wetland grass.

Although there aren’t many people in Tonasket, I did make one friend outside of work that I’ll be sad to say goodbye to forever. His name is Lucifer, but he’s more of an angel than a devil.

We may not have seen the widest diversity of wildlife this season, but we certainly met our fair share of these guys.

You never know what you’re going to find while bush whacking through what feels like an overgrown jungle. Sometimes it’s a rare plant, but sometimes it’s a decrepit ammunition crate that looks like it’s been there for 50 years.

I think my version of “amber waves of grain” is now “golden waves of Carex”.

Before this season, I was very afraid of getting lost in the woods (or maybe, the mist). By now, all my coworkers and I have been lost and found again enough times that it no longer feels like a fate to worry about.

Sometimes when you’re pressing herbarium vouchers, you will find something you didn’t know you were looking for.

Culinary & Land Management

During the course of this internship myself and my co-intern collected lots of seed. Probably more than all the other interns at all the other forests. I ate each of the seeds we collected to see what they tasted like, here are some my thoughts:

Anaphalis margaritacea
The seeds are very small and connected to a cottony pappus. Did not make for good eating as they were barely palatable. The pappus got caught in my throat, leaving an everlasting sensation of discomfort that lasted for weeks. (1/10)

Artemisia tridentata
Small, but numerous with a slight sagey flavor. Bit strong on their own and left me with a severe runny nose; I may be allergic. Regardless, I see the appeal. Could be used as a poultry seasoning. (3/10)

Bromus sitchensis
Large and hard seeds, very grain like. Had an almost salty and metallic flavor. Though, they stabbed into my gums when consumed at the wrong angle. It hurt to eat certain foods for weeks. (3/10)

Calamagrostis rubescens
Very small and chaffy. Lacking flavor and substance. Not much to say. (1/10)

Carex aquatalis
Small, but kind of dense. Not much flavor, which could be a good thing. Better eaten as a “cob” rather than as individual perigynia, which is true for all the carexes collected. (2/10)

Carex lasiocarpa
Large perigynia, but kind of hairy which I did not like. Best thing I can say about it is that it did not have any noticeable flavor. (2/10)

Carex utriculata
A lot like Carex lasiocarpa, but without hair. Very enjoyable to nibble on the little cobs, made me feel like a squirrel. (4/10)

Chamaenerion angustifolium
Like Anaphalis margaritacea seeds, but smaller and with more fluff. Had cotton stuck in my throat for days. Absolutely terrible, no redeeming qualities. (0/10)

Cinna latifolia
Like a larger Calamagrostis rubescens in terms of texture, but had a bitter taste. I guess it was nice to feel something. (2/10)

Elymus glaucus
Like Bromus sitchensis, but with a longer awn which did not make for good eating. (2/10)

Eriocoma nelsonii
Like Elymus glaucus, but with a longer awn which did not make for good eating. (1/10)

Eriogonum heracleoides
The seeds were really hard and difficult to chew. Though, they did not taste bad. Perhaps cooking them would have yielded a more pleasurable experience. (3/10)

Erythranthe guttata
Very small, no flavor distinguishable. Felt like having a mouthful of sand. Potential value as a powerful laxative. (1/10)

Glyceria elata
Small and rotund with an almost sweet taste. Unfortunately, the seeds were covered with bugs. The squirmy feeling of bugs in my mouth was unable to offset the boost of a higher protein content. (3/10)

Glyceria striata
Like Glyceria elata but with fewer bugs (still some though). Could be the next quinoa. (5/10)

Lupinus sericeus
I read that lupine seeds are poisonous, so to be safe I only ate one. Still, this was enough to make me violently ill. Better than Chamaenerion angustifolium though. (0/10)

In conclusion, most of the seeds we collected lack any sort of culinary value, but they may be valuable for native habitat restoration. I guess that’s good enough.