January 5th, 2009
My first day in Big Bend National Park. Well, first day of work, my “entry on duty” or EOD for short. I am working as a biotech (grasslands management) and am a member of a four person team consisting of Jamie, Hilary, Christina, and myself.
My coworkers seem like a nice crew and I think I will have a good time with them. They are all from the east but have a long list of parks under their belts.
Today we planted at the “mosquito” site out on the old Terlingua Ranch property. We used a hydromulcher but spent much of our time waiting for the water truck to come. What an amazing spot. We were in the middle of a huge plain of creosote and crucifixion thorn which ended abruptly in a wall of barren mountains in any direction. The sky was a lattice work of scudding altostratus and was deciding whether or not it wanted to rain. (it hasn’t since September) The beauty here is so savage, raw, violent. Mountains are sharp and tooth-like, trees are scarce and are found almost only in the protective confines of the Chisos.
The sun is harsh and the shadows black, every moment is different and in the evenings the very air seems to glow.
I made my chili for dinner tonight and took some to Hilary since she had lent me her stewpot. It was a decent batch but needed more heat (maybe more chili powder?). I spent the evening straightening my trailer and it is beginning to feel slightly more liveable. In fact, I am going to bed. Early day tomorrow.
January 6th, 2009
First full day of fieldwork. I got up before dawn and made toast and coffee. I shrugged on my field uniform (green jeans, grey shirt, fleece, and ball cap). No badges or nameplates in this job. Just the basics.
I met my crew outside the ScRM building and we went to the maintenance yard to load the hydromulcher. The sun was just coming up and the creosote and sotol were backlit by crimson. It was really windy as we filled the mulcher and more of it went on the engine and crew than in the tank. Next came the breaking up of the mulch which we had to wear a mask and goggles to do. With the wind, it was a lot like being in a green tornado; our hair and clothing was immediately stained with green and my hair still had a green tint at the end of the day before I took my shower.
I rode in the backseat of the truck on the way to the site and watched the barren hills slide past outside the window. We retrieved the UTV from the barn and I rode with Christina out to the mosquito site while she instructed me on the finer points of UTV operation.
We arrived at the site and I soon learned how to plow a line with the UTV as well. The wind was howling across the plain and we were all soon coated with pale dust (which complemented our green hair fairly well). Hilary and I worked with bandanas over our mouth and nose to keep out the grit, Jamie put a bandana around her head and when she and Hilary were driving the UTV in a cloud of dust, I was strongly reminded of Thelma and Louise.
The hydromulcher broke and Christina and I were unable to fix it, so we headed back to base. Turns out we hadn’t disengaged the clutch and it wouldn’t start because of that. Embarassing. Christina tended to the hydromulcher in the maintenance yard and the rest of us went to load a large trailer with spiny brush. After awhile, Hilary called a break and we all leaned against the trailer and watched the sun play across the mountains.
Though the wind continued to whip, I went for a run around the complex saying “hi” to employees out walking their dogs and looking at the park horses in the corral who looked back in a well fed sort of way.
The Javelinas were back in my area when I got back to my trailer and I watched my neighbor throw beer cans at them while I cooled down enough to go inside. I did a workout on my iron gym and then dragged my dusty and sweaty self into the shower where I watched the “remains of the day” spiral down the drain. Refreshed I heated up some chili and made a salad for dinner. After making tomorrow’s lunch, I settled down to drink tea and listen to Jimmy Buffet. Good (but tiring) day.
January 7th, 2009
A warm day at last! The hydromulcher broke early this morning and Jamie, Hilary, and I were sent to Rio Grande Village to cut brush.
We stopped at the dugout wells on the way down to RGV for a break, what a nice spot! It’s a small cattle tank and windmill pump that has provided a water source for a stand of water-loving cottonwoods and other sizeable trees. The Chisos glowed in the morning sun and the plain of creosote was sufficiently thick as to give the appearance of a verdant plain, with green or purple islands of prickly pear occasionally breaking the surface.
Our site at RGV was on the river on a portion of what used to be Sotol grassland and is now an overgrown forest of tamarisk, mesquite, and other strangling trees. Hilary and Jamie trained me in chainsaw ethics and safety and we had a lot of fun.
After work I went to the hot springs with Christina, Mark, and Joe and we soaked under the full moon and gazed across the river at silent Mexico. Good day.
January 8th, 2009
It is late and I am tired. I’ll be short.
Today was delightfully sunny and warm, and my crew and I worked on planting in the creosote flats all day. The air was clear, the sun bright, and we watched a shrike fly around during lunch as well as a variety of creatures attracted to our water truck leak—write more on that later.
Day went by fast without a hitch and I ran the loop after work. Meant to work out, but had Peace Corps interview. It’s between Africa and the Phillipines. Exciting. Hand numb from cell phone. Need bed. Friday tomorrow!