Eight months ago, all I knew was that I had accepted a job in Buffalo, Wyoming. I knew I would stay at least five months, I knew I’d be moving into an apartment with a perfect stranger, and I was entirely uncertain of what my internship responsibilities would include. I had lived in remote places before, and I had lived outside of my home state prior to May 2017, but this move felt especially intimidating. I had never been to Wyoming, but I was very aware of the vast cultural differences I would likely encounter between the conservative Western state from my urban homeland of New York.
Upon arriving in Buffalo and showing up to my field office for the first day of work, the other CLM interns and myself were thrown head-first into the field season. Training after training, deciphering protocols for the various field methods and databases we were expected to know, learning the names of our office coworkers and USDA plant codes; there was never a dull moment, and there was always something needing to be done.
My time spent in the field was met with a variety of interesting challenges: interacting with landowners who make their vehement animosity toward federal agencies known; explaining ecological concepts to folks who are certain sagebrush is an invasive species to the American West (**it’s not**); diffusing contentious conversations that inevitably arise within a crew containing an array of personalities; learning to identify Carex and Poa species for the first time. These tasks were absolutely a strain on my mental and physical wellbeing, but nonetheless served as indispensable growing experiences that have allowed my communication, professional, and botany skills to expand beyond horizons I initially could not see. Of course, my coworkers were instrumental in this journey which has allowed me to reflect and grow in the way I’ve just described. My mentor, Bill, gave myself and his other mentees the laissez-faire approach we needed to navigate our way through this internship, but was also more than helpful when we needed guidance. Dominic, my crew-lead and absolute MVP of the field season, was encouraging and excellent company at each of the forty-something remote field sites we visited last summer. Not to mention the countless other employees at the Buffalo Field Office that have adopted me as their intern since October and allowed me to participate in the work that they do (Rachel, Charlotte, Wyatt, Chris, etc.) I am fully aware of how fortunate I was to have been placed in such an inclusive office, at the foothills of a mountain range, and within close proximity to several national parks, forests, and monuments.
I know I’ve written about this before, so please pardon my redundancy, but even with all of the skills I’ve gained and experiences I’ve had since accepting this internship, I feel my greatest and most rewarding accomplishment has simply been living here. Making a home in a place I never felt I would fit, filling a niche I was certain wouldn’t exist for someone like me, has allowed me to realize just how parochial my worldview was eight months ago before I embarked westward. No place is perfect, but I am proud of myself for not only living in Buffalo, but for also making myself feel at home in a place I never thought I could. I managed to befriend people both inside and outside of my workplace, climb the highest peak in the Bighorns, see a mountain lion run along the Powder River as I waded upstream, hold a horned toad, camp underneath a starry sky in Medicine Bowe, stumble upon a free jazz concert somewhere in Montana, and I can’t remember feeling as if I had missed an opportunity or circumscribed myself to a comfort zone.
I feel an appropriate way to end this blog post, along with my internship, is to borrow words from CLM intern Tyler Rose: “I don’t know if I truly understand all the ways in which I grew through this internship…I do know, however, just how inspired I feel to continue to go forth and engage in conservation as a full-time focus of my life.”
As I try to express my gratitude for this internship and programs like CLM, as I anticipate the wave of sadness that will overcome me as I drive toward the California coast in a few weeks, and as I continue to imagine what the coming months will look like while I acquaint myself with a new place and a new job, I know I will always have my time in Wyoming to look back on and my ambitions as a conservation biologist to motivate me as I inevitably move forward.
Some of the memories from my time in Buffalo are more fond than others, but all are meaningful, and each has contributed to forming this experience I’ve just had and the experiences I will have when I leave. Again, a thank you to CLM, the BFO, and anyone who has been reading these. Its been a pleasure.
Signing out —
Elyna Grapstein CLM Intern - Buffalo Field Office, Bureau of Land Management January 8th, 2018