VetsWork: Nostalgia In the Wallowas

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The 2015 AmeriCorps Internships with the Mt. Adams Institute VetsWork Program are rapidly coming to a close. And I have thoroughly enjoyed the last ten months as an Archaeological Technician Intern. Even as I am still sitting here in front of my computer at the Forest Service office in Joseph with two weeks left, I am already feeling a strong sense of nostalgia for the place.

…Wishing I could go back- at least by a few months- to the summer field season, when the office was hopping with seasonal employees busy at their trades.

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Assisting Rick McClure with a Facilities Analysis Project, Photo by Rick McClure, USFS

…Back to when there seemed to be no end to the long days in the field- enjoying the range, enjoying the forest, doing archaeology surveys and research, meeting visitors and ranchers, and interacting with locals and tourists as a representative of the Forest Service!

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Photo by Anthony King, USFS

This internship has been an even MORE valuable experience than I expected when I first applied.

I have learned many valuable skills related to the field of archaeology which- along with my degree- will make me a strong applicant for future positions in Archaeology. While working here during the spring and fall I have learned to appreciate how Forest Service functions and gets things done outside of the field season.

It is interesting to find that the Forest Service (along with many other smaller government agencies) is like the military, in that you have a tendency to run across many of the same people over the years. In this regard, I am glad to have built a network of potential future coworkers through the many collaborative surveys, meetings, classes, and in-office cross-trainings I have had a chance to do!

The cross-training aspect of this internship has been very valuable. I have enjoyed working with other “-ologists” and have appreciated the skills they have shared about their trades and about the outdoors.

I also had an opportunity to help during the Falls Creek Fire that happened in Joseph in August, by assisting with public affairs by running a “Trap Line” and acting as the public point of contact.

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Helping Set Out Trail Cameras for a Wildlife Survey, Photo by Patricia Johnson, USFS

I look forward to working with the Federal Government as a seasonal employee next summer, either as an Archaeological Technician, or in another capacity. I also look forward to going back to school, working on a Graduate Certificate through Oregon State University in Sustainable Natural Resources.

Thank you Mt. Adams Institute for creating this amazing opportunity for Veterans!

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VetsWork: A Love for Learning – Digging for Artifacts in the Wallowas

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Hi I’m Cynthia. I am the new Archaeology Technician Intern at the Wallowa Mountains Office in Joseph. I like to call myself an Oregonian, since I’ve lived here for over a decade now, but I’m originally from Southern California. I ended up here in large part for the trees, the ocean, the wildlife, and simply because there aren’t so many people crowded together! My fondest memories of growing up took place in settings such as Yosemite, the Salton Sea, Lake Arrowhead, and the Monterey Bay. And once I was old enough (around ten, I’d say) to truly understand that there was a world out there where fish swim freely in the streams, people could enjoy the bounty of the forest, and snow actually fell in the winter, I was excited to get out and see it!

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“My bro and I at Half Dome when I was 7?”

When I was a junior in High School I joined the Army Reserves as a Civil Affairs Specialist. My first taste of the wider world (besides a few trips to Northern California and Hawaii) was of a regimented way of life at Fort Leonard Wood and Fort Bragg. I loved it. I loved being part of the military “family”- an organization with a mission, and the tools and training, knowledge and experience to fulfill that mission. I also loved being in new places- with lightening bugs and humidity, with people that had different customs and accents. After completing my initial training, I was itching to see more.

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“Me and my late Grandpa at DLI graduation when I was 20.”

As soon as I graduated High School, I packed up the car and travelled across the country. Once I hit another ocean I could go no further, so I settled in Massachusetts where I worked as a cashier and assistant manager for SUNOCO. I had a great time exploring New England and the eastern seaboard all the way down to Georgia. It was a period of intense growing-up: learning how to take care of my needs, how to deal with people, how to be with myself. I learned many valuable lessons about life and how I saw myself in it. I met many wonderful people and had a lifetime-worth of amazing experiences… but such adventures can never last. And so at nineteen, I ended up joining the Army full-time.

I spent a little over four years on active duty. I had the good fortune to attend the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, CA, and live less than an hour away from a good number of my extended family. After some brief training in Texas, I was stationed in Germany with the “Big Red One”. I had always wanted to go to Europe, but it was challenging to be apart from everyone I knew and a way of life that I was accustomed to. While in Germany my son was born, and since his father was in a different branch and stationed state-side it was a pretty difficult situation, but it was an opportunity for growth and character building for which, in retrospect, I am very thankful for. I had planned on spending the rest of my working days in the military, but when the time came to decide whether to stay in or get out, I made the very difficult decision to leave the cocoon of the Army family; I could not fathom how I could be an adequate parent if my time and energy continued to belong to the military.

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Catalan National Art Museum in Barcelona

After leaving the Army I spent a few months contemplating where we would end up living, what I would end up doing. The beauty of Oregon, as well as the independent spirit of its people, beckoned. We settled in the Willamette Valley with the help of the extended-family of an old Army buddy. After a brief job search I decided to attend the local community college, where “work” hours were flexible, teachers were accommodating and I could “earn” an income by using the GI Bill, thereby allowing me to focus on raising my son. After finishing up an Associate degree in Exercise and Sports Science, and once I realized how much I enjoy spending time in the pursuit of knowledge, I transferred to Oregon State University in Corvallis. While working on a degree in German I attended Eberhard Karls University in Tuebingen, Germany, and my son had a full-immersion experience attending a German elementary school. We had a wonderful time travelling around Europe by train and cheap (Ryan Air) flights, making friends from around the world, and engaging fully with the German culture. While working on a second degree in Geography, with an emphasis on Natural Hazards and Sustainable Communities, I developed a deeper appreciation for the natural world and the way in which people and creatures interact with it and upon each other. I especially enjoyed learning how to read the landscape, to look out at the natural world and be able to “see” the history of the rocks and the trees, of the hillsides and the seashores.

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“Fasching is southern Germany’s version of Mardi Gras :)”

I graduated in 2012 with both a BA and a BS. I was prepared for the next step, but I was worn out. After eight years of late night studying, raising a young man, and going through a period of illness, I just wanted a break. So I took a job at the local Post Office delivering mail in the mountains and countryside surrounding Corvallis. I loved the independent nature of the work, and I loved spending half of my working day driving around, chatting with customers and enjoying the countryside and the relative repetitiveness of every day. But after a year and a half I felt the urge to move on, to pursue an avenue that was more in line with my education, training and (most importantly) my personal interests. I was not satisfied with the quality of life that I was modelling to my son- simply earning money to put food on the table. We no longer spent much time at the coast, or camping in the Cascades, or even skipping rocks at the Willamette River. My mind was becoming numb and disinterested, and my heart wasn’t in it. So during a time of major transition, I stumbled on the Craigslist ad from Mount Adams Institute which advertised internships with the US Forest Service (which I had always considered a mere dream-job as a single parent) and- just as important- with AmeriCorps (which I had once passed up the opportunity to volunteer with while I was a student and a Cub Scout leader).

I applied for the Archaeology Technician internship, even though I had absolutely no experience with archaeology or anthropology. I thought it would be such a cool thing to do, and that I could combine some of the skills I’ve learned with my personal interest in cultures and the outdoors to make it happen. As well, this seemed like a position that would be rewarding and enjoyable enough to spur me on to dealing with what is always a monumental task- to establish a household in a new place.   Even from the exciting-sounding job description, I had no concept of how awesome it would be to be placed in this internship.

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VetsWork Orientation – Multnomah Falls

So now, thanks to the VetsWork program, we live in what very well may be the most beautiful small town in Oregon. It is so small in fact, that my son’s school serves grades K-12, and he has many additional opportunities that are not available at the typical elementary school. And working directly with Tony King, the zone archaeologist, is an incredible experience. For those who have been undergrads, you can appreciate what I’m about to say… It is like having an awesome professor who has nothing but “office hours” all day, and you are the only student so you can ask anything, anytime, and as a bonus you get to attend very detailed, interesting lectures in places like a hillside with artifacts, surrounded by herds of elk, overlooking a river basin, which you just hiked miles to get to.

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VetsWork Orientation – Meeting Zone Archaeologist, Tony King.

It is also great to work with the Forest Service, where it may as well be a prerequisite for employees to love spending time outdoors, to care about the land, and to be dedicated to a specific field of study. The fact that VetsWork and AmeriCorps has brought a group of Veterans together so that we may all follow a similar journey, is icing on the cake. It’s like a little military step-family where we (at least I) feel at ease because of our similar backgrounds; we appreciate the VetsWork training that we have gone through together, and can look forward to the quarterly meetings where we will have a chance to catch up and learn from each other about our individual AmeriCorps-Forest Service journeys.

I am greatly looking forward to an awesome, challenging, fulfilling 2015 learning and working for the good of our Nation’s public lands!

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You can see Imnaha Canyon on the left, and the mountain range to the south of Joseph, 20 miles away.

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