These past five months have been some of the most amazing, yet difficult times in my 23 years. When I first saw the job posting for a refuge technician at Conboy Lake National Wildlife Refuge, I applied because it called for skills that I had already acquired in school and I loved the fact that it required me to travel across the country.
From the beginning of the term, I have been able to put my skills into practice while taking advantage of opportunities to gain new ones. I have learned to build cattle fencing, conduct acoustic frog surveys, build native plant plots for surveys, set up crane noose traps and so much more that I could not possibly list. But for as many new skills that I have learned, I think I may have learned the most about myself.
I have learned that for myself, location is key. Whether it’s the building you work in or the place you call home, where it is situated greatly impacts your daily life. For this position, we are posted in the bunkhouse on the refuge in Glenwood, WA and it’s a 50 minute drive to the closest large city with a grocery store. I have learned to shop in bulk to avoid the drive every weekend! Additionally, living in the middle of the refuge means that as far as being close to friends, it’s also a bit of a drive to them or any social activities. With that being said, I have learned to make do with the general store in town and I have become a part of the local community in this small town.
And that leads me straight to how important having friends and a support system is. I moved here across the country and left all of my friends and family behind. I love to travel and I expected it to be difficult, but 6 months is the longest I have ever been away from them and my dog! When I got here, our Public Lands Stewards crew was amazing and we cliqued instantly, but all of our jobs are located hours apart. I was lucky enough to have made a friend out of my partner, coworkers and other individuals working for the Mt. Adams Institute.
Last but not least, I learned how important it is for me to be able to love my job and what I am doing. The best part has been the field experience as well as being a part of an ongoing 5-year study. Being able to contribute to something much bigger than myself and have such a positive impact on my community is a beautiful feeling. But five continuous months of pulling out smelly fish that weigh so much you nearly break the nets pulling them out has definitely gotten a bit old. I may have spent the majority of my days doing that, but the refuge manager allows us to be a part of so many other projects on the refuge, which most recently includes being a part of a prescribed burn support crew, that in the end I don’t even mind. The silver lining to the hundreds of thousands of smelly fish is that I now know working with fish is definitely not the career for me!
Overall, I am indebted to this experience for what it has allowed me to learn about myself. While I may be traveling back to the place I call home, I cannot help but feel I am leaving another home behind. I have made a new family and community here that I hope to eventually come back to. They are responsible for all of the amazing memories that I know will pull me back here as soon as I make it back to Minnesota. I also hope to find the sense of place I gained here in all of my future travels and adventures. I cannot thank Mt. Adams Institute and AmeriCorps enough for giving me the opportunity of a lifetime!