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