In the time that I’ve been in Marlinton, West Virginia, I have learned so much about myself. And I’ve been able to challenge many of the thoughts and ideas that I had when I first came into this experience. Every single day, I grow more and more in love with the person that I am becoming, my true self. About two and half years ago (my last semester as a junior in college), I thought I’d take a gardening course because it sounded like fun and I wanted a break from the animal science course load. I had convinced myself for so long that I wanted to be a veterinarian. So, when that dream started showing cracks and I didn’t know how to fix it, I felt utterly lost and hopeless. Little did I know, when I took that gardening class, that the trajectory of my entire life would shift so abruptly and yet so perfectly. As serendipitous and exciting as it felt to realize my passion and to change my major, it was nerve-wracking to tell my family. A part of me wishes that my past self had a glimpse into my life now as it would’ve calmed the uneasiness of telling them. As stressful and disheartening as it was, I’d go through it all over again just to be where I am today.
MY CHOSEN FAMILY
Through my time here, I had been able to establish and nurture unique relationships with the people around me. From those that I worked with in the forest service to my co-intern, Caroline, and my numerous roommates.
However, the greatest connection that I made was with my roommate, Michael. Being the incredibly funny and cool guy he is, it was inevitable that we would be good friends. Our personalities clicked so well and felt complementary to each other that he quickly became one of my best friends and also like the big brother I’ve always wanted.
I find it necessary to highlight and emphasize the relationships that I developed during my program because they played a key role in how positive my experience was.
While I wasn’t subjected to overt racism, I did encounter microaggressions that left me feeling upset, singled out and alone at times. I would be lying if I said that I was surprised by it. It was rural West Virginia after all. Without their love and support, my time in Marlinton might have been sullied by those few awful moments. I feel incredibly lucky to have been surrounded by such kind and compassionate individuals who were always there to listen and be allies.
While my many friendships were indeed bright spots in my internship, the work that Caroline and I were able to do brought me excitement and so much pride. After having done one odd job after the other during and in between semesters, I had never known what it was like to do something that gave me purpose. Never had anything afforded me the feeling of being a part something bigger than myself. This program allowed me to grow and discover my spark. A spark that has expanded into a wildfire that fills me and pushes me to do more.
My future feels so much brighter now than when I first got to West Virginia, which feels like a century ago. While I’ve since left the state to spend the holidays with family and to head back to Florida, I’ll actually be returning a lot sooner than anticipated. Just two days before we rang in the new year, I was offered a position with Appalachian Headwaters, a non-profit organization that we worked closely with during our program to process and store our seeds for the forest service! I’ve been buzzing with excitement since and I cannot wait to see what is in store for me.
Much of October and November was dominated by the drive to go out and collect seeds. Lots of it. We got to explore so much of what the Mon has to offer. We’ve experienced the glorious changing of the colors as we eased into autumn. Never had I seen so much life… which is odd given that I’ve always thought it signified death. Those days will never leave my mind. I felt so incredibly lucky to have been able to go out every day with my co-intern-turn-closest-friend and collect seeds. I’ve also had so many more opportunities to visit Spruce Knob, Dolly Sods and many other unique places to collect.
We were fortunate enough to be surrounded by so many wonderful people who were excited to collect with us. We were able to coordinate a number of collection excursions with insightful and hopeful individuals who wanted to either learn more or simply have a good time outside collecting seeds and having good conversation– or both!
While collecting is a great way to connect with others, we are also actively sowing seeds for the future. We’ve been able to show the old and new AmeriCorps interns the ropes so that they can continue to seed collect and process for the ongoing restoration efforts across the Mon.
By the time December came around, I could feel time slow and the reality of my program’s impending end date floating around my brain.
As our time here in West Virginia began to unwind, I also started feeling the pressure to finish processing all of our seeds. I coped with the low-grade stress by creating lists and personal goals for myself to hold on to for the coming month. Along with help from Caroline, I enlisted the aid of the AmeriCorps interns who have helped move along efforts to process all of the seeds collected through the summer and fall.
In the midst of all this processing, I’ve been able to engage myself and get involved in other ways. In early November, Caroline and I were interviewed and featured in the Pocahontas Times, the local newspaper. A couple weeks later, I was tapped to talk about the CLM program and the work we’ve accomplished to a leadership board (composed of all the district rangers across the Monongahela National Forest). Presenting in front of the rangers was nerve-wracking enough but having to present without Caroline compounded my anxiety. Nevertheless, I persevered and received a lot of positive feedback that reassured me. And at the beginning of December, the AmeriCorps (who are also my roommates) and I built a float for this year’s unique drive-in Christmas parade! It was yet another great opportunity to get involved with the community and it was so great to have the support of our district ranger, Cindy Sandeno and a few other forest service members.
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.
GETTING DOWN TO BUSINESS
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.
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.
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?
PEAS IN A POD
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.
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.