The Start of Something New

Spruce Knob, the highest point in West Virginia.

WHERE WERE WE?

A few new things have happened since the last time I posted, so let me get you up to speed. After my inaugural blog post, Caroline and I went out on few more botanical surveys. Since we were still familiarizing ourselves with the plant species found throughout the Mon, we were lucky enough to have two incredibly knowledgeable botanists, Emily and Ken, at our office that were open to having us help them conduct rare plant surveys. Although Emily and Ken were nearing the end of survey season and still had a lot of land to cover, they never made our presence feel like a burden. Each of them took time to help us identify species and test our knowledge. It really gave me and Caroline a glimpse into the day-to-day of a career path that we might one day pursue. While it has been nearly a month since the last time we went out on a survey, I often find myself grateful for the fact that we were able to spend so much time with such great teachers. Just like the times we’ve had to endure intense off trail hikes through dense red spruce (Picea rubens) forests and huge patches of stinging nettle (Urtica dioica), my time with Ken and Emily will forever be etched into my memories, my knowledge base, and my heart.

Emily (foreground) took us to the boardwalk in the Cranberry Glades to check the incredible bog that harbors such a beautiful and special ecosystem.
Ken guiding us through the hardest off-trail hike yet

GETTING DOWN TO BUSINESS

Alternate-leaf Dogwood (Cornus alternifolia)

After a short delay and a few email exchanges, we were finally on the track to go out to the field to collect seed! With the help of our mentor, Amy Lovell, we were able to connect and meet up with the lead botanist at the Bartow office, Todd Kuntz (about two hours away from the Marlinton office). Before meeting Todd, Caroline and I heard nothing but great things about him from our coworkers; so our expectations we’re pretty high! On our first outing with Todd, he took us to the Dolly Sods Wilderness Area. It was a whirlwind of a day where Todd taught us heaps of knowledge about the plants’ growth habits and seeding patterns.

The following week, we met up with Todd again to collect some new species. Little did I know, we were headed to a trail that led up to the highest point in West Virginia, Spruce Knob. Once we had reached the top, I was completely and utterly awed; not just by the height, but also by the vastness of the view before me. I felt as though I were literally on top of the world. Never in my life had I seen something so ethereal and so perfectly crafted by the Earth. That moment was a beautiful conclusion to a wonderful day of picking seed and picking Todd’s brain about everything related to Allegheny plants.

Although I haven’t yet returned to Spruce Knob, I continue I relish the memories of being on the top of world and yearn to bask again in her glory. May we meet again, Spruce Knob.

Me at the peak of Spruce Knob

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

The transition between botanical surveying season to seed collection was gradual, and only slightly overwhelming. With the main seed processing and propagation center becoming more restricted about visitors due to COVID-19, we had to rethink our expectations on how we would learn how to clean, process and store the seeds that we would be collecting over the next few months. We shifted our plans and began researching and learning the seed processing techniques on our own and designed a small scale processing center. At this point, the supplies have arrived and we are ready for setup! I am more than ecstatic about the prospect of starting from the ground up with my co-intern, Caroline. Until then, we’ll be exploring this beautiful state and gathering some seeds along the way.

-Ivy

Greetings from the Monongahela National Forest.

FROM THE JUMP

My name is Ivy Makia and I am one of two CLM interns out here in the Marlinton-White Sulphur district office at the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia. I’m just a little over a month into my program and dare I say—everything has been all but conventional. From the very start of the pandemic, I was so on edge about everything, particularly about the status of my internship and whether or not I’d have to miss out on the opportunity of a lifetime. As someone whose been dreaming about this program for the last two years of undergrad and had no other post-graduation plans other than doing this, I felt so incredibly grateful and relieved to be able to take part. This deep sense of appreciation has really set the tone for my time here so far, despite the ups and downs; the only down being a bout of pharyngitis which I developed two days into my 14-day quarantine. While that was pretty rough, I think back on it positively because I didn’t miss out on any work and I got to eat a lot of soup!

Upon first arriving in West Virginia, I was completely enamored by her beauty and limitless amount of open green spaces and rolling hills. I definitely wasn’t in Florida anymore! While the views here are utterly spectacular, the one thing that stands out the most is the quiet. The complete absence of heavy traffic and never ending construction filled me with so much more joy than I anticipated. How could I ever go back to the big city?

First sign that I had made it!

PEAS IN A POD

Caroline (right) and I (left) after a day of assisting fish biologists on a Trout habit survey using electrofishing!

Throughout my short time here, while life has been shifting around me, the only constant has been my co-intern, Caroline. Before I met her, I wasn’t too sure about what to expect and I was super nervous that my lack in hiking experience would frustrate her and put a strain on whatever work relationship or friendship we might develop. And even after meeting her and talking to her on occasion during our time in quarantine, I was still so nervous and even intimidated because of how different her way of life was from mine. It wasn’t until after our quarantine was over and we had moved into the bunkhouse that our friendship took off! When I thought 2020 couldn’t surprise me anymore, I was blessed with this incredible human who is one of my biggest supporters.

As I hinted at earlier, I have no experience with hiking, let alone nature! I come from a tourist city where our best attractions are all man made. So when I confessed my noob status to her, the first thing she did was take me to a trail and guided me through my first ever hike. On that hike, I saw so much beauty and learned new things about myself and about my new friend, Caroline.

Caroline and I on my first hike

That trail was pretty easy compared to the off trail hikes we’ve since had to do on botanical surveys. Last week’s survey in particular, was the hardest hike. The unit that we surveyed that day was nearly 88 steep acres, and on top of that we were getting mercilessly thwacked by the red spruce trees that dominated the area. It got to a point where I couldn’t go on and I was brought to actual tears by the exhaustion and disappointment that panged throughout my being. While I was frustrated by my physical inability to keep going, I was so grateful for Caroline because from the very start of the hike she was there for me. Before I knew what was going on, she always had her hand out for me to grab. Before I knew to speak up for myself, she always stepped in to make sure we took a moment so I could breathe. I can honestly say that I don’t think I would have been able to get as far as I did without her presence and her unwavering support. I felt so weak for crying but she somehow made me feel strong. That was the day that I knew that I couldn’t have gotten a better co-intern and friend.

MORE TO COME

Due to the concerns surrounding COVID, our start date was pushed back by nearly two months (when you include quarantining) but it was definitely for the best considering that most of the flora here have just begun flowering or going into fruit. So we’re finally going to jump into seed collecting as early as next week! Until then, Caroline and I will continue to study the plants that fill this amazing and vast forest ecosystem.

Ivy

The Mountains, the Desert, and the Forests

My internship has already been incredibly informative and a second doesn’t go by that I don’t learn something new. For example, take this shoe tree:

Shoe trees are native to the Oregon desert and are actually propagating extremely well.

Justin (other CLM intern) and I have been an incredibly productive team the past few weeks, establishing new ES&R monitoring plots, creating GIS maps, monitoring sensitive plants (we watch what we say as to not hurt their feelings 😉 ) and evaluating fire conditions based on sage samples.

Forest just North of John Day rises out of the desert and creates islands of trees.

We have seen a majority of the Burns BLM district and the uniqueness of the district ranges from the forests in the North, the mountains in the South, to the desert in the middle where our home base is located.

Wild Kiger Mustangs rome much of the range in herd management areas in the Burns BLM district.

I have taken the opportunity to explore many of the backroads throughout the district in my downtime and it is fascinating how slight elevation changes leading to more or less precipitation can create such dramatic changes in the many ecosystems in Oregon. Just driving directly North from Burns toward John Day and further toward the Columbia River Basin, the desert and upland forests alternate the whole way, as if they were placed that way on a checkerboard.

Overall, I am enjoying my time in Hines with my wild land firefighter housemates and the local scene in Burns. As this week draws to a close, I am becoming more and more excited to attend the CLM conference at the Chicago Botanic Garden. I can’t wait to meet other interns and to exchange stories and knowledge about their internship experiences.

The desert boasts its challenges and rewards.