Friday, August 9, 2013

California Gold: A New Englander’s Pepperwood Journey

By Carey Lang, Pepperwood Summer Intern

Less than one week into my Pepperwood internship experience, Lisa and I road-tripped to the California Academy of Sciences to meet with a handful of scientists and researchers and discuss the crux of my internship project up at Pepperwood this summer. As we were driving down the freeway (at first I wrote “highway” but I changed it so I would sound more west coast…), she asked me what I thought of the rolling golden hills of Northern California. I squinted out the window, trying to figure out what she was talking about. Everything just looked kind of brown to me. Brown and dry.

Of course, as I told Lisa, I meant that in the most observational and scientific way possible. There’s nothing wrong with brown and dry, but when I left my home in western Massachusetts, the woods around my house were saturated with emerald and jade and everything was alive and pulsing with early summer energy. I know that green and wet do happen here; I’ve been told I just need to wait until the winter. But having never been to the west coast before, I was experiencing a little bit of a landscape identity crisis.

Now I’ve been here for six weeks and have eaten breakfast with a herd of deer munching on the grass less than two feet away from me. I’ve cantered through the field below Roller Coaster Ridge on Simba, one of the horses that lives on the preserve. From the picnic table on Three Tree Hill I’ve watched a fireworks show over Windsor to my left while a lightning storm flickered through the sky to my right. And I celebrated my 21st birthday exactly as a 21st birthday should be celebrated, with my coworkers who have become my friends. I’ve also had bats land on my face while I was sleeping. I’ve shared my house, my shower and at one point my coffeemaker with 300 roommates -- all of them tiny cockroaches. I’ve been jolted from a deep sleep by an apocalyptic thunderstorm shaking the walls of my room at 3 AM and I’ve discovered that one person cannot consume enough Annie’s Mac and Cheese to make purchasing a pack of 12 boxes a good decision.

I’ve also been working 8:30 to 5, five days a week at the Dwight Center. A lot of the time I’m working with data -- both collecting it and then crunching the numbers in Excel. However, when I’m not out in the field or sitting on my laptop, I’m hanging out with the coolest group of 13-18 year-old interns who are participating in Pepperwood’s TeenNat program. I’m working shoulder to shoulder with staff and I do have the official Pepperwood name tag, but because I’m also an intern at the preserve myself (albeit of a slightly different flavor), I think I lend a different perspective to the program. None of us are getting paid, we’re all still in school, and we don’t really have a clue as to what we’re eventually going to end up doing with our lives. I do have a little bit of experience with outdoor education, and I’ve been continually impressed with how intelligent, perceptive and motivated our TeenNat interns are, and how seriously they’re taking both their work and their play at the preserve.

The coolest thing I’ve gained from TeenNat is that up until this point, I’d never really considered a real career as an educator, but the other day I found myself browsing through my college’s course catalogue looking for education classes. I’ve really enjoyed interacting with kids who love to learn as much as I do, and I’ve even impressed myself with the things I’ve been able to teach them. The other day I just started rambling about the different types of lichen that we could observe on the preserve, which was something I’d learned about a few weeks ago while out doing fieldwork. As I pointed something out to the TeenNatters, I suddenly realized that they had all gone silent and were staring at me, listening intently. The best part, however, is that I actually knew what I was talking about. While I’m nowhere near as skilled as the fantastic education staff at Pepperwood, TeenNat has exposed me to a whole new side of myself I’m eager to explore.

I’m starting to see the gold in the Californian mountains. 

Carey Lang will return to Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts this fall for her senior year. Her summer internship at Pepperwood has involved assisting with the new TeenNat internship program and working with Pepperwood researchers to streamline data collection and management for our many on-site projects. We are very grateful for her all she has done!

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