I’m going to start this blog off by telling you a little story. Last May, I moved from Maryland to the Pacific Northwest (PNW) to serve a 6-month AmeriCorps term with the Mt. Adams Institute (MAI). I worked as a refuge technician with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at Columbia and Conboy Lake National Wildlife Refuges. After two months of living in the state of Washington, I had this overwhelming feeling that I was where I was meant to be. But, because I hadn’t been there long, I was a little apprehensive about officially claiming this new place as my forever home. One day, I was hiking in the beautiful Gifford Pinchot National Forest in July; everything was lush, green, and full of life. I was taking everything in—the harsh chirp of the Steller’s Jays flying above, the sweet scent of the Ponderosa pines, and the endless emerald blanket of moss and ferns that covered the forest floor. As I was blissfully walking along a trail, something caught my attention out of the corner of my eye—a cluster of white in a sea of green. As I got closer to it, I realized it was a patch of wildflowers. These were not your ordinary wildflowers, though; they didn’t look like anything I had ever seen before. Being the avid wildflower hobbyist that I was, this flower definitely intrigued me. But it was more than that; I was drawn to it. So, I snapped a few pictures and couldn’t wait to look them up when I got back home.
Consumed with curiosity, I researched the flowers as soon as I got service on my phone; I couldn’t wait. What I discovered was remarkable and a tad bit creepy. The mystery flowers were a rare species called monotropa uniflora, more commonly known as the ghost plant or corpse plant. Just a side note for those of you who don’t know me, I love scary movies and my favorite holiday is Halloween. So, it was no surprise that I was drawn to something so eerily named; I had found my spirit flower. But the correlation didn’t stop there. As I continued to read about them, I had a “there is no way this can be true” moment. Not only were they so appropriately named for a horror loving nerd such as myself, the scientific family they belong to is called, wait for it . . . ericaceae. ERICACEAE! I am not joking; look it up. I don’t think I could have gotten a more obvious sign that I belonged in the PNW. I truly was meant to be there and had to figure out a way to stay once my term ended.
Fast forward to present day, I am back in the PNW and loving life. I found my way back by applying to serve a second AmeriCorps term with the Mt. Adams Institute in Trout Lake, WA. This time I will be working in an 11-month position, spending half of my time as an outreach coordinator with MAI, and the other half as a Wilderness volunteer coordinator with the U.S. Forest Service. I have been in this position for almost 3 months now, and my connection to this place couldn’t be stronger. Through work projects, community events, and personal explorations, I have continued my journey of finding myself while doing work I believe to be extremely valuable and rewarding. The following photos highlight some of my experiences thus far.
In February, one of my first assignments was to accompany the MAI staff to the PNW VetsWork orientation in Corbett, OR. VetsWork is an AmeriCorps program of the Mt. Adams Institute that places military veterans into public lands management positions across the country. A huge part of my position is helping tell the story of MAI AmeriCorps members through social media outreach. Spending the week with them was such an awesome and insightful experience. It allowed me to get to know the group on a more personal level and helped me understand their motivations for joining the program.
Another piece of my position is designing and creating outreach images for projects and events throughout my service term. I wouldn’t call myself an expert just yet, but I am thoroughly enjoying learning new skills such as photography, WordPress, and Photoshop.
I am lucky to have two amazing Forest Service supervisors: one from the Gifford Pinchot National Forest and the other from the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. Most of my time with them has been spent developing lesson plans for the 2017 Wilderness Stewardship Skills Training weekend. On a sunny day last week, however, I was able to go out and conduct trail work in the Badger Creek Wilderness on the Mt. Hood National Forest.
During my free time on the weekends I try to volunteer as much time as I can, working on conservation projects related to wildlife and plant biology. It is important for me to keep that specific skillset up to date so that I have the option of applying to jobs within the fish and wildlife sector at the end of this internship.
I am grateful for this amazing opportunity and I am excited for all of the new adventures and experiences that this year will bring!!