This was fun, lava beds

This was fun, lava beds

Lava Beds National Monument | Summer 2021 | Blog #7

Cover picture: My supervisor does a bit of woodwork as a hobby and he made this for me to memorialize my time here. Words can’t fully convey how grateful I am for your guidance and support during my internship, Dave!

***I drafted this beginning segment the night before moving out of Lava Beds, and added pictures (with formatting influenced by MIS 2020 intern Caleb Bolin’s blogs) and a post-conference and internship reflection after the virtual workshop week.***

I’m not ready to go back. I feel like I shouldn’t. I haven’t fully finished the tasks that I started with my co-intern; there’s more work to be done this upcoming month in addition to our unfinished tasks; my coworker will fill in my place to help out with cave work but that might put her behind on her own work; we’re sorely understaffed this season; I wonder if the scientists we were supposed to work with will ever come out this year; the park is receiving a new superintendent, and who knows how his direction will affect the activities of the natural resource management department and the park; I’ve also finally figured out how to format these blog posts to be a little more presentable and where to go in the park for slightly quicker uploading and internet browsing speeds.

But, I have my second year of my master’s program waiting for me in Chico, and I have plenty of work to do and catch up on. I have another field-based job waiting for me as well. My partner is waiting for me back at our cozy apartment. Friends whom I haven’t seen since 2019 and prior are waiting to hangout—Delta variant permitting. I haven’t had time with my baby Angie, our family’s aggressively friendly pitbull, for more than a half a day since May (before I left for Lava Beds.) My family is also eagerly awaiting to meet up in Washington D.C. this upcoming Sunday.

[For any interns reading this: yes, I bought a ticket to D.C.—even with our in-person workshop being cancelled! My bank account was not happy for that pay period. My family and partner jumped ship early with the tickets and accommodations to watch me present in person, and decided to follow through with the trip even with the in-person cancellation announcement. They asked if I was going to tag along, and I realized I’d be missing a sweet opportunity if I didn’t.  They all managed to take time off that week—a logistical and financial issue that made out-of-state travel nearly impossible for us—so it’d be a waste to not go even with the workshop being cancelled. It’ll be my grandma’s first time flying anywhere that wasn’t the Philippines or involving the seasonal Alaskan cannery work; my family and I haven’t flown out together since 2006 (for reasons stated above); this will be my partner’s first flight since the mid 2000s too; it’s everyone’s first time on the East Coast except for my Dad, who worked in D.C. for Desert Storm. Even if my outings are limited to the late afternoon and evening, I’m sure I’ll be able to enjoy my time there at the cost of shy of essentially one biweekly stipend.

My brother, me, my partner, and my lola (grandma) at Lincoln Memorial.

Dad & Mom at Arlington National Cemetery.

The Kitchen Garden at the U.S. Botanic Garden is my favorite spot from this trip!

Before I drove out here, I did NOT want to leave. I felt like I didn’t have enough breathing room between the end of the semester and traveling before moving up here. I cried before leaving Chico and I cried during my drive up to Lava Beds. (You can read about the extent of my homesickness in my second blog post.) Summer will pass in the blink of an eye, is how I tried to reassure myself to calm my puffy eyes before meeting my housemates.

Yes, summer passed—way too quickly. Now, I don’t want to leave! I feel like I’m more settled into the area. I have so much of the surrounding area that I’d love to explore. I know I’ll be missing out on some cool backcountry caves in the upcoming months. There are still some visitor caves that I haven’t gone into. I won’t be able to experience the transition with the new superintendent. I feel like I was just getting to know some of our team members and other park employees on a better level. Our team still has plenty of cave work to do. and now I’m leaving.

I explored and hiked as much as I was able to in the park and in the surrounding area so I don’t have any regrets. There’s so much I want to share about and explore, but time is limited. I’m going to miss working and living here, but I know I’ll make visits in the future.

The caves with visitor accessibility (as in, those with clear trails, stairs, and ladders) do justice in showcasing the variety of caves that Lava Beds contains. This vast cave is Skull Cave.

Most visitor-accessible caves either have a ladder or staircase to get into the cave.

My supervisor Dave, his dog Prairie, and our team’s GIS Specialist John during a weekly division meeting.

Worst cave entrance ever—and the inside of this cave isn’t any better! By chance, we worked the worst cave for my last field day. It made for a memorable challenge.

My co-intern, fellow Fire Ecologist Assistant, and housemate Jordan, before squeezing into a small passage.

I placed a trap in a part of the cave that only had one foot of space in between the ceiling and the floor. (Note the lack of space in between my helmet and ceiling.)

Not all caves are easily accessible. This one required a rope to descend into it.

Cave millipedes feasting on a dead bat. How else would cave invertebrates obtain their nutrients? (hint: packrat poop)

Dave, the Chief of Integrated Resource Management!

During this internship, I used my reasonably-sized iPhone5 to capture moments from work, hikes, and adventures. All pictures in my blogs are mine and unedited. I tend to favor taking landscape pictures and stolen shots.

Of all the stolen shots I have, this hastily-taken top-to-bottom panoramic picture of Emma, our team’s wildlife technician, ranks high as one of my favorite pictures taken at Lava Beds.

Post-Internship and Post-Workshop Reflection

I had plenty of fun this summer, but “fun” is not the correct word to encapsulate the experiences I’m taking away from this short summer internship. I’d say “insightful” is the better word to supplement “fun.”

Background-wise, I had zero influence or guidance in my immediate family of Filipinos when it comes to nature or ecology-related excursions and work—we had a few nature outings and city trips within and outside of our immediate Central Valley home base that didn’t consist of seeking out National Parks—but I’m thankful to have grown up in an environment where my parents supported whatever interests I pursued. My earliest introductory sparks to all things nature and environment-related began with a series of kid-friendly pocket guides from National Geographic. My crash course to environmental issues kickstarted when I decided to double major in Environmental Studies midway through my third year of undergrad. I’ve missed related summer internship opportunities during college because I loaded up on summer courses for completing my two majors, but I picked up other internship and work opportunities during and after undergrad to get a better feel for the type of work I want to be involved in (and, in a similar vein, I figured out what kinda work I don’t want to do.)

If I had done this internship while I was still an undergraduate, I believe this would’ve had a heavy influence on my career compass. While I enjoyed my experience at Lava Beds and with the Mosaics internship program, I initially left the park with very little intention to look into a career with NPS. I haven’t figured out if the NPS offers positions that fit my interests, and the bureaucratic issues, hiring process, promotional opportunities, and pay haven’t really appealed to me. I know I shouldn’t be too deterred by stories that I’ve heard—I had a coworker tell me that each park, no matter the size, deals with their own degree of issues. BUT, from what I understand, most problems can be solved with a better budget and more staff. If you can’t have the latter without the former, and if the former is out of reach… then what can I do aside from twiddle my thumbs and hope for the best? Would work progress be at the mercy of the taxpayer’s dime in being able to be properly staffed and to get work done? There’s so much I don’t understand.

What I do understand, however, is that this internship has solidified how I feel about my career-based interests: I want to continue being involved in conservation and stewardship work; I hope to be able to work a mix of field work and office work in a future career; I would like more community involvement and people interaction, but not quite to the extent that the interpretation staff deals with.

Working this particular fire ecology-based internship as a graduate student stepping into the realm of fire gives me a different perspective of the reach of fire’s effects. I honestly would not have stopped to think about the effects of fire below ground (read: caves) if not for this internship. but, from what I’ve understood from many people’s winding and various career paths, my current involvement with fire doesn’t mean that I’ll be doing fire-related work in the future. In that sense, I shouldn’t be too quick to disregard a NPS-related career either. As I’ve usually done, I’ll keep my options open—and I won’t be too quick to close doors.

Now, my two-cents as the person of color on my park’s team and as a participant in this internship program: I view this program as somewhat of a band aid solution for increasing diversity into the NPS workforce. It’s not a bad solution—a program like this allows people of color such as myself and my intern cohort to get a foot in the door into the NPS and a potential NPS career. Mosaics provides help with transportation, housing, logistical, and other accommodations and issues to make this “foot in the door” opportunity accessible. This is important to note because these aforementioned accommodations and issues are what barr people of color from being able to access recreational and career opportunities in the NPS as much as their white counterparts—and that’s without going into legacies of discriminatory and exclusionary policies and attitudes against people of color in the outdoors realm. I’m grateful to have worked with a team who isn’t afraid to address and discuss systemic and institutional race issues, and can only hope that those in higher levels of management open themselves up to similar discussions that may lead to more inclusion solutions.

I feel like I’ve said what I needed and wanted to during the workshop and in the post-internship evaluations, but putting my thoughts in writing helps me make more sense of my experience. I’m thankful for Environment for the Americas and their Mosaics in Science program for making this opportunity possible, and for the Lava Beds team for their mentorship. I’m taking away plenty of insight form this short summer experience, and hope that future cohorts of interns have as fun and insightful of an experience as I and my peers have had at our respective parks and with each other!

One of many sunsets that I’ve had the privilege to experience from my “backyard.” Can’t wait to see the next one here!

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