This summer as a Mosaics in Science (MIS) intern has been quite an adventure for me. I’ve learned how to ride a bike, how to cook better—still getting there—and what it’s like to work at a National Park (I have absolutely loved it). I’ve also learned a lot about the beauty of the Pacific Northwest.
Living on San Juan Island has been an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything. As I write this blog, I have just turned in my binoculars that I was given by my supervisor to use for the summer. Yesterday I uploaded the photos I’ve taken in my time at San Juan Island National Historical Park (SAJH) to our shared drive; looking through them, it’s bittersweet to reflect on how much I’ve seen and done in my two months at the Park, and to also realize that soon I’ll be leaving it.
Many of the things I have learned at SAJH have been what I expected they would be. In spite of COVID-19, my supervisors and program coordinators at Environment for the Americas (EFTA) and the National Park Service (NPS) set me up for success from the beginning, ensuring that I had the structure—and also flexibility—to thrive whether I was teleworking from home or out in the field. I accomplished almost all of the tasks that were included in my work plan: I monitored a bald eagle nest near the visitor center construction site weekly; I helped set up and maintain traps for Asian giant hornets, or “murder hornets” as the news dubbed them, one day a week (thankfully I didn’t find any); I collected dragonfly larvae for the nationwide Dragonfly Mercury Project; I also learned how to map invasive plants and worked on wild and nursery-grown seed collection and processing for prairie restoration. I even got to be a part of the last captive-reared release of the endangered Island Marble butterfly for the year. Better still, I got to take photos of the Park’s natural and cultural resources. More than all that though, I spent time learning from and laughing with great humans from a variety of backgrounds with a variety of experiences. Working in conservation, a lot of reports and studies can make it feel like we’re fighting an uphill battle. Admittedly that may be true in some cases, but my time in this program has renewed my faith that our best people are putting their best foot forward across this country and the world.
Though much of what I’ve learned has been what I expected, there has been one big surprise: I miss my home state of Missouri and the Midwest a lot. I miss the numerous rivers and the even more abundant deciduous trees that provide shade along their banks. The water’s so refreshing on a hot, humid day that sometimes the trees must lean over and just jump right in–how else could you end up kayaking next to a 20-foot log that’s headed downstream? I miss the Great Plains thunderstorms that lull me to sleep—though maybe not the tornadoes and sirens that wake me from time to time. I miss the wide-open grasslands and the shaded forests, the dewy meadows and dense wetlands, each filled with their own array of wildflowers and creatures to discover and rediscover. Though to some the Midwest is flyover country, to me it is home, and I am looking forward to returning just in time to see the migration of birds and butterflies along with the changing colors of the autumn leaves. I also hope to go see some of the preserves and parks in the Midwest that I have never been able to visit once the COVID pandemic is under control—that is if I have time while I finish my last year of undergrad!
As my internship winds down, I’d like to thank my NPS supervisors Sara Dolan and Trent Lieber for patiently teaching me everything I needed to know, advising me on my career path, and making space for me to succeed and feel at home at SAJH. I’d also like to thank Jenny Shrum, the US Fish and Wildlife contractor who has shared various insights on butterflies, working in conservation, and work/life balance with me. Additionally, I’d like to give a shoutout to my co-intern from the Geoscientists in Parks (GIP) program, Joseph DeVito, whose company lightened my work days, and whose car lightened my load on my grocery days (all jokes aside though, Joe, if you’re reading this, thanks!). Another shoutout goes out to Sam Fleming and Steve Gorospe, Park employees who I did not work with directly, but with whom I had a few guitar jams after work hours—keep the music going! Thanks for including me in the fun. Finally, I would like to thank EFTA executive director, Susan Bonfield, NPS Program Coordinator, Lima Soto, Mosaics in Science Coordinator, Dr. Sheylda Diaz, and Stephen Poblete, Barbara Pazos, Cathleen Yung, Chelsea Bitting and the rest of the Mosaics team for putting so much hard work and time into making the MIS program a dream come true. Through the webinars and trainings they have put on and other interactions I have had with them, I’ve learned so much and started to figure out where I’d like to go in my life. I am so grateful to have been given this opportunity, and I am honored to be a part of such a great program and team.
As I excitedly get ready to return to my old home, friends and family, I can also say that I am looking forward to staying connected to SAJH and the NPS and EFTA teams and seeing the good work they do continue. Farewell, SAJH, I will miss you (until we meet again!).