Final Day: feeling accomplished with a new destination

We took our time packing up our campsite on the final morning of work. I was called an overachiever for taking down my tent before breakfast and for a while we just stood around Jaime’s computer, laughing at some of the ridiculous pictures and movies we took in between doing actual work. There were still two large reaches left, but instead of splitting into two groups we kept the wolf pack intact and surveyed together. The first reach was large but relatively easy. The second reach was surrounded by logging and roads with huge rock slides at every turn, clearly changing the channel from its natural course and greatly decreasing sediment size. The rest of us tried to hold back our excitement for freedom as Jaime made the difficult decision to leave the site.

We ended where we had started, going full circle around the peninsula: on the Skokomish river. We sat silently in the truck, music blaring, windows rolled down, finally experiencing the beginning of summer heat. We all picked up our cars at Olympia, headed to the campground we have established as our safe haven, and finally showered. Chris soon headed out to meet his wife in Seattle for their honeymoon, cracking my back in at least twelve different places as he hugged me goodbye. Our wolf pack was down to three. I owed Paul dinner as I had forgotten my wallet on our last excursion, so the three of us went in search of seafood and a good view. After running away from the fancy places where women in heels and men in jackets climbed the stairs, we finally found a laid back outdoor seating, right on the water’s edge. Our waiter, to say the least, was entertaining. He introduced himself to us by haphazardly relating some drunk story where he ended up sleeping in his car. When we asked for more time to decide on our order, he said he would be back in three minutes – but wait. “You’re not going to time me right? Cause I’m not married to you, I’m not going to lie to you – it might be a little longer.” And that was just the beginning. Every five minutes some new gag or story approached our table – he wanted to try Jaime’s oysters or made fun of us being on separate tickets or wondered why my desert wasn’t gone faster. At first it was strange and we contemplated if we were on candid camera, but eventually it made for a highly entertaining evening.

When we returned, Jaime pitched her tent and went to bed, Paul passed out in the bed of his truck, and I headed to the laundry room next to the outdoor pool for Internet. I sank into the dilapidated but comfy couch, opened up my laptop and went immediately to my e-mail. Amongst Obama campaign letters and REI advertisements, a small note from a Curt Maxey made me literally cry with joy in the silent and dark room:

“Hi Rachael,

I’ve put paperwork in place to try to employ you for the upcoming fall term with the DOE SULI program, so I hope it will work out that I will be your new mentor, unless you get a better offer.”

I won’t readily admit it, but this past year very few things seemed to go right. I cannot begin to relate how thankful I am for this opportunity and how happy I am to finally study alternative energy, especially at such a prestigious institution. Not that I normally screw things up, but there is no way I can let anything go wrong with this one. Wish me luck.

Hunting and Deforestation

On a day off in Olympia, Paul, Chris, and I went shopping at Cabella’s an outdoor outfitters like REI, but with a more hunting/fishing slant. I guess the stores are famous for their taxidermy, making them almost like a museum with little plaques of the common and scientific name in front of each dramatically posed animal amidst some showy display. It was kind of heard to stomach. I tried to analyze why I was so shocked and slightly revolted – after all if this had been a purely scientific museum like the Smithsonian I would have gazed in awe…I think. I don’t want to hate hunting purely because I feel like that’s what I have been trained to do. I shot a gun for the first time this year at Bob’s gun and tackle in downtown Norfolk. I kind of wanted to do it, just to do it – to say that I had shot a gun, to understand the experience. Like those arcade games and that old duck hunting video game, I liked the skill of aiming and the thrill of it going off in your hand. But I didn’t like the power. Guns weren’t created to shoot at a piece of paper, they were for hunting – both of people and animals. I didn’t like bearing the responsibility of another life in my hands. I realize most people would not view an animal life in concert with a human’s, and while I certainly don’t value them as equals, it is still a life. I immediately jump to the bear’s family or all the obstacles it must have overcome to live to adulthood only to be randomly struck down. Don’t get me wrong, PETA bothers me to no end and I’m not about to head some campaign against hunting and guns – I’m actually completely torn over what I believe on this issue. I mean just because I personally don’t like it, doesn’t mean others who actually enjoy it can’t do it ethically and responsibly.

Reading about Roosevelt in “The Wilderness Warrior” had me at first wanting to try hunting, simply to understand why Roosevelt was so attracted to the sport and why his sportsmanship pleas coincided at all with nature preservation. But after seeing antlers in various ranger stations and the skins in Cabellas I realized I was out of my mind and would never be able to do it. In truth, it has been hard for me to connect at all with Roosevelt.  The core of what he did as president fascinates me: from rallying against corruption to saving wilderness, but his personal character of memorizing lists of every species (especially birds and their latin name) or voraciously planning his next hunts is not something I could ever relate to. I have always been fascinated with the way people think: not necessarily the specific actions that made them famous but what aspect of their character allowed them to make such decisions. In “Team of Rivals” I meticulously followed Lincoln, hooking onto his patience, perseverance, and clear mindedness. I’m not at all trying to state that I somehow resemble these people, but that I could understand them, that I could relate to their decision making processes enough to try and emulate their best qualities. And so far, though this is an incredibly good book, Roosevelt and I just aren’t clicking.

Deforestation/logging is slightly similar. Simply put, we need trees: for books, houses, and other stuff that requires wood. I understand this. I can’t completely deplore a practice if I still enjoy the benefits it reaps. I have never seen as many trees as I have in this forest, which makes the places of their removal that much more noticeable and disconcerting. I have to hope that most of these endeavors are done sustainably. Along the side of the road there are PR signs about how the forest was harvested and re-planted in 1985 and set to be harvested again in 2025. And while certainly not the most ecological practice, that seems pretty fair: plant a tree for every one you cut down, move in sections throughout the forest so that only pieces are broken and not the whole thing at once. In general, I do tend to be on Gifford Pinchot’s side instead of Muir: the forests should be put to use; sustainably, of course, but leave it to parks or other designated areas to be free from all human disturbance. But that is all politics within the park system. Outside, on private property, everything is up for grabs. We couldn’t survey one reach because an explosive welding company was working in a pit nearby. Logging occurs right up to the national forest property line. When Chris and I went looking for a stream on private property, we ended up on the front lawn of a logging company, my mouth agape to the sheer massiveness of an entire chunk of woods just destroyed as we looked out over the valley. And they were just getting started. Most of the roads we drove on looked brand new, nestled on the edge of steep cliffs that no longer had vegetation to hold them together. A new road was literally being bulldozed up against the stream we had wanted to survey with unfiltered culverts shooting fine sediment directly into the water. This is the most devastated area we ever drove past, but I can’t imagine it is the only one. Even Chris was sketched out (though more for being on private property) and we quickly high-tailed it out.