Friday, November 1, 2013

God's Country

Today is the second day of the Oaky Woods hunt.  It’s too warm, not wet enough, and too quiet.  There are only about one hundred hunters signed in right now, with two deer harvested so far.  I know that a hundred people on a three day hunt sounds like a lot, but with so many acres…it’s pretty empty.  That would be good, ordinarily, because that’s so many deer per hunter, but with 60degree mornings, it’s way too warm for the deer to be feeling frisky and on the move. 

There are so many things I am learning about hunting just be sponging up all the conversations between the DNR guys, hunters, loggers, and law enforcement officers.  It is such an interesting experience for a girl that has never learned about how to look for sign, or take advantage of deer habits during different weather patterns, or avoid crowded hot spots. 

I love it.  I love how much these men know about the land they care for, how much they understand the animals and ecosystem.  It is days like this that I understand why Leopold captured my heart so with his writings.  His practical knowledge, his passion, his humble, day-to-day understanding of the natural world in which he lives is a gift.  Not many people understand their surroundings quite so much like those that work in them all the time, and not many people will stop and listen through the thick accents and the rough exteriors to see the huge hearts in these men.

Admittedly, for most of my life I wouldn’t have listened either.  However, now, I do.  I hear their consciences so clearly through their words about regulations, safety, scrapes, slues, bottoms, hard mast, and firebreaks.  I hear how much this land means to them, and I hear how much they have sacrificed to keep it beautiful.  Honestly, the jobs these men have are not the most financially rewarding.  They just aren’t.  Having a family on this salary can be tough, unless you’re smart.  But I see these men do it every day.  I see them work the long hours, deal with thankless hunters, put miles and miles of mud on their trucks…all because of their love for the land.

How noble a profession. 

I mean it.  It might sound strange, especially when you look at the weathered, tan-and-green, gun-toting tough guys, but it’s the truth.  I cannot express to my satisfaction the joy I have in my heart because I have had the chance to get to know these men working in bear country.  

You know, Hooker jokes sometimes about this being God’s country, but for me, right now, His presence is so clear, that without a doubt…this is indeed God’s country, and I am thankful to be in it.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Meat and Potatoes

It’s been a while since I’ve written.  Lots of things have happened.  I’ll try to keep it brief…but…well…I’ll go ahead and apologize, this might be long.  I’ll keep it simple, no salad, no soup, just meat and potatoes.

I moved into a FEMA trailer so we could renovate the check station.  The war on mice began.  So far death toll is 3, sleepless nights 2.  I’ve discovered that Hooker shooting hogs out our bathroom window might not wake me up…but mice pitter pattering around my kitchen (or ON MY PILLOW) will.  Figure that one out.  I used glue traps for the first time.  After those two were used…I promptly switched back to snap traps.  So far, I’ve only managed to catch one mouse and Randy (HA!  He stepped on it one day during the hunt), but I have hopes that either the mice know this trailer is certain death for them, or that the remaining snap traps will do their duty.

Bow season opened. 

I drove all over the state in one weekend: dancing the night away in Athens on Friday, working on Ocmulgee on Saturday, and spending time with the beautiful family in Albany on Sunday.

We got a call about a road-kill bear in the middle of the night, I picked him up the next morning and hearse’d it up to Athens for Chamberlain’s necropsy class.  The vet running that particular lab opted not to necropsy the bear (apparently, dead bears are stinky), and insisted we take it to the vet school.  We then piled five people and a bear into my two-door, Chevy half-ton (I’ll let you figure out the seating arrangements) drove across campus, and necropsied that bear for three hours.  We out-lasted most of the vet students (it was cute to see them run away with their white coats over their noses), and collected all manner of samples…and jawbones…and claws…and then dispatched of the rest.  Rule number one of dealing with dead stuff (Yes, this is one of Hooker’s bear camp rules): if you’re going to puke, puke in the bait bucket.  Don’t ask, just do it.

Scott and Maggie got married in Jax the next weekend.  It was beautiful.  I love her and cannot wait to see them both at the next family gathering (hey, family who reads this…let’s not make it so long in between, okay?).  I also found out my outlaws read my blog.  It made my weekend!  It is so encouraging to hear that you enjoy reading about my adventures and misadventures.  It brings me joy to relay them to you, even though I cannot do so in person. 

Rifle season opened. 

Ocmulgee had their first check-in hunt of the season last weekend (Thursday-Saturday).  We cooked lunches out of my single wide and stuffed four DNR guys and myself in there around the hot coffee pot in the morning (PS, Daddy, thanks for teaching me how to make coffee with love.  It was much appreciated by all.).  We started cracking jokes as soon as the sun came up and didn’t quit until long after it went down.  They called me “one of the guys.”  That made my week! 

[Explanation: While to some women, it might be a slight to be called just one of the guys, those of us in male-dominated fields relish it.  It is tough to be a woman in a field where the men are used to talking about us without us hearing.  It is tough to be treated equally in a field where women aren’t always equal, and certainly haven’t even had a presence in the past.  It is tough to, well, be as rough and tough as they are, sometimes.  But we have two options: be porcelain-skinned like they expect, easily offended by off-color remarks, and squeamish about dirt…OR hit them right back with the pranks, jokes, spiderwebs, and slaps on the back.  I have found that to relax and revel in life with them is far more productive, meaningful, and fun in the long run.  Besides, as Randy says, “they don’t pay us enough for us to be miserable.”  We have to have fun somehow.]

I killed my first deer.  Yes, you read that correctly.  I shot a deer.  The girl who, in high school, was skeptical of all things camouflage, got fresh deer blood spread on her face last night (it’s a tradition, don’t knock it.  Just, don’t.).  I owe a big thank you to Randy: he gave me good instruction and let me use his land.  Those of you who are hunters know how much work goes into food plots and deer management, so you know how much of a gift that is to me.  For those of you who don’t know much about deer things…well…it’s close to letting someone in front of you at a huge shopping sale. 

I expect you hunters will want details (Anti-hunters, the paragraph below is the one you skip over.  If you have questions or concerns about deer hunting, PLEASE don’t hesitate to ask me.  I will answer.).

We were in a stand looking at a food plot about 200yds deep, and probably about that wide.  The stand was in the back-middle.  We got in it by about 5:30pm, and within five minutes saw our first doe-fawn pair, followed by a spike and a three pointer (it’s okay, he’ll grow into it…we hope).  They milled around and took the back exit out to another rectangular food plot (we had sat in that one a couple days before…upwind of ALL THE DEER…oops).  The doe-fawn pair came back, alerting us of more deer…another doe-fawn pair.  To our far right, there was a 4pointer, but no clear shot because of tree limbs.  He meandered off.  We decided it would be okay to take one of the does (about 100yds off), so we began the slo-mo process of moving the gun, sandbag, etc into a better position.  As soon as we got that settled…out pop two fawn-less does on the far right.  One meandered out of range and the other meandered into range.  SO we began the slo-mo process of moving everything to the opposite side of the stand…I pulled the safety, didn’t flip out…and double-lunged her at 60 yards.  She mule kicked, ran another 60 yards into the trees, and dropped.  (I’m SO thankful it was a clean shot and a quick death.  That has always and will always be my biggest concern about my hunting experiences.)  We tracked her (more for experience than need, we knew where she went) and then hauled her out.  It was pretty excellent.  Thankfully, my adrenaline dump waited until AFTER I pulled the trigger and not before.  I’ve heard buck fever is intense, but apparently I was pretty cool. 

Yes, the blood painting did happen.  And you know what?  I liked it.  In fact, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.  To non-hunters, I guess that sounds disgusting.  But it’s like an initiation, a passage from the outside, in.  You’re marked for life, forever in the fraternity of those who have killed their own dinner.  I wore that paint proudly last night, and it’s something I’ll never forget.

That was a big update.  Simple, straightforward, not one of my more fanciful posts.  But sometimes, the most joy, the most peace, comes from the little things, the quiet days passing, the coworker mischief, the habituated activities, the comfort of things familiar. 
And, of course, always trying something new, like hunting for your meat, and growing your own potatoes.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Salvation of the Fall

It feels good to have a pen in my hand and a journal in my lap again.  This time of year always makes my fingers itch to write, my words tumble in front of my eyes, and my mouth curve into an ever-present goofy smile.
Of course, it takes me a while to put actual pen to paper, sentence after sentence, because I'm too easily distracted by the soft breeze, gentle sunshine, and golden air that comes with Autumn.  Basically, I'm in love.
But back to words.  The peculiar thing about writing, especially writing about something (or someone) with which (whom) you are in love, is you become overwhelmed with the emotional side of things.  I want to write, to use my words, to explain why and how Autumn is so special, but all I can do is look at it and grin.
Seriously.  When you read this, you can't tell, but there is at least a sixty second pause between each sentence because I'm too busy being enamored with the outdoors, goofily grinning at the trees and the sky.
How do I put into words what I see when I survey the golden-aired days of Autumn?  How do I put into words the unfettered joy from my toes to the ends of the hairs on my head?  How could there not be words within the thousands I command that do this morning literary justice?  It is a fool's errand to capture things in words that are not meant to be captured so.  But too late, I have begun.
The colors are brighter.  The bird songs are clearer.  The days are slower.  The deer are lively.  The air is crisper.  The leaves are crunchier.  The people are happier (okay, some, not all).  Everything is restless to move, to explore, to stretch legs after an oppressing, hazy summer.
But what really characterizes Autumn is in what you  can't see, or touch, exactly.  The sun touches the skin with a fiery glance that would be just like summer's sun were it not for the cooling, graceful touch of the air.  It is perfection to your skin.  What could be a scorching touch is tempered by the merciful, seemingly ever-present breeze.
These set my soul afire.
It is in this season, in this hot-and-cold paradoxical weather, that I find the peace of salvation, of grace, of perfection.
Nothing to me is more adept to describe the character of my God than this season.  He is the hot, just, fire of the sun and the mercifully cool touch of the air.  Grace & fire.  Justice & mercy.  Love & truth.  Hot & cold.  Perfection & perfection.
The perfection of God demands the perfection of his followers.  His hot justice, hot righteousness, brilliant perfection are a constant in the Old Testament, in Revelation, and in pockets of Romans and other New Testament books.  But, some are spared that fiery purge through the merciful perfection of the cross.  The cooling sacrifice of His son covers the heated justice of the Father.
It is only through this that I live with hope for tomorrow.
Autumn is more than just the golden leaves, the sharp air, the harvest season.  It is the season when I work out my salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12-13), not unlike the dying leaves on the deciduous trees.  Without the cooling touch of the air, we (the leaves and I) would be scorched, burned to death by the fierce heat of the sun.  As it is we are buffeted, caressed, and moved by the air and sun together...Yes, to die, but to be born anew in Spring.

Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:
Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning; 
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, "The LORD is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him."
Lamentations 3:22-24

Monday, September 9, 2013

Indian Summer

Field season is over.
It's been over for a month now.  I still remain "in the field," but more as a placeholder, an emergency contact, an onsite employee in case the bears decide to get crazy.  They do every now and then, shucking collars or going off the grid.  In between, I do odd jobs; I have continued the roadkill surveys, I track for Casey (as you might have read in my telemetry blog), I remove leftovers from summer work, and I answer hunter questions.

So, my days are filled, but as the noon's cool off and the cotton bolls come out, I cannot help but hold my breath for the coming autumn.  We've had some legitimately cool days, giving me just a taste of my favorite season.  Fall is coming!

Any good SEC alumni would say that fall is the best season because of football.  It's icing on the cake, for me, but fall itself is the cake.  The crisp air, the golden colors, the switch in energy of everyone and everything...fall brings with it the death of many leaves, but the new breath of hope, peace, and contentment.
It is difficult to convey with words why autumn feels like a hopeful, new beginning to me.  By all rights, it shouldn't, really.  Crops are harvested--not planted--leaves begin to die--not begin to live--animals are growing up--not being born--hunting season begins.  Death, or at least the advance of life, happens in the fall.

Maybe that is it:  life continues.  Animals born in the spring have (hopefully) matured enough to be safe from those things that will quickly snuff their lives.  Crops have completed their duty:  grown to their fullest.  Leaves leave their chlorophyllic duties to the next generation.

Accomplishment.  That is what Autumn is.  It is when the world leans back, folds our arms, and says, "whew."  It is the hope for tomorrow, for the next year of accomplishments, the peace of the previous year, and the contentment of cooler weather and warmer beverages.

But we're not in autumn yet.  We're in Indian Summer.  The final stretch of new growth, maturation, hard work, green leaves, and hot days.  I'm keeping my heart on the horizon, but my hands and my eyes in the present, with the work yet left to do.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

No Crybabies in Biology

Whoever made up that rule clearly didn’t ever try his hand at telemetry.

What is telemetry?  It is technology designed to reel you in, pet your ego, then dash your hopes when you feel you’re most accomplished.  It is a tool that weeds out those who are not determined, stubborn, and maybe a little crazy.  It is an abominable—and completely necessary—practice that involves listening through static for a chirping device that is attached to a (moving) wild animal.  It is the most useful skill a wildlife biologist can learn—if you actually think you can learn it—except for maybe map making (which is another thing this rule-maker clearly never tried).  It is an addictive practice in the true definition of the word: it brings you up, then drops you so low you think you’ll never recover, but pulls you up and tells you that the only way you’ll get that experience (of success, of finding the animal) is to do it again.  And it’s right.

Telemetry is, like I said, the practice of tracking an animal using a device somehow attached to them (a collar with bears, a sub-dermal device with some animals, a glued contraption with sea turtles) that emits a chirp over a radio wave (VHF: very high frequency).    This technology has been around since, oh since I don’t know when, and it has been employed for ALL manner of wildlife biology research endeavours.  From home range determination, to finding den sites, to tracking movement patterns, to identifying which animal produced which turd, telemetry is your man. 

Granted, since its creation (80s? 90s? I should do my research…), collaring and tracking animals has taken leaps and bounds forward.  Enter…GPS collars.  These devices will still make crybabies out of the burliest of biologists, but more because of their price than their personality.  GPS collars can be programmed to send satellite data to the researchers of the tracked animal’s movements.  These collars (or other devices, as previously mentioned) will also emit a VHF radio chirp, which is handy because occasionally the GPS units fail (go figure) and they revert to “basic” VHF. 

Let’s just take a minute here to say that when you step back and look at it, this technology is AMAZING.  I mean, you can stick an antenna up in the air, twirl around in a circle, and listen to a chirp that is coming off the back of a WILD BEAR (in my case, anyway).  I mean, WHAT?!  So.  Cool.

But there’s a difference between marveling at the technology and actually making the technology bend to your will—I’m sure many of you have or will experience this with computers, phones, televisions, cars, GPS units, radios, watches, whatever.  Even though it was created by people for the betterment of peoples’ lives, technology seems to have other ideas. 

Enter real life factors: back-signal, weather, elevation, gain, frequency, volume, radio towers, cell towers, power lines, car electronics, and imperfect hearing.  All these are fancy ways of saying that if you don’t hold your mouth right and have good luck, you might end up chasing a phantom created by the radio wave bouncing off the side of a hill, or getting twisted because your cell phone charger was plugged into your car.  Even one of these factors I’ve mentioned is enough to bring quite a few people to tears.  Put them all together, and, well, you understand why I think this rule maker is nuts.

Crazy isn’t always wrong, though.  Yeah, telemetry can bring tears to many eyes, but so can stopwatches (I suppose, though I tend to feel superior when I know I could smash it—have we really evolved that far?  Anni smash watch, Anni feel better), or cell phones.  But I guess a crybaby would have cartoon tears spouting from her eyes, creating twin puddles on the ground, then curl up on her couch and say she can’t.  Believe me, I was [                      ] this close to doing that today.  As much as I wanted to, deep down I knew that what I would actually be doing is letting my “boss” (for lack of another quick term) down, inconveniencing her by asking her to take time out of her schoolwork to come “do this for me,” and saying that man’s creation, technology, was better than me, bigger than my God and me. 

Needless to say, I may have cried today, I may have felt (and probably acted) like a baby, but I didn’t quit.  Could quit.  So maybe the rule maker was right, but I’d like to add an amendment: There may not be crybabies, but there are tears.

Oh, and I found the bear.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Fall. Falling. Fallen. Fell.

With the beginning of school, the opening of the WMA, a fancy new space phone, and a new month settling in…thus begins fall.

Even the weather reflects the shift in seasons: it has been unseasonably cool for August…for once.  Hopefully it will stick for the avid football fans who will soon fill giant Sanford Stadium; baking in the sun while rooting on our beloved bulldogs might be a part of the initiation for UGA students, but it is certainly not enjoyable. 

I cannot help but feel a little dizzy at how fast the summer went by.  It seems like only yesterday I walked across the stage in room 100 and accepted a certificate of completion from Dean Clutter, thanked my family and friends, and walked into adulthood.  Since then, autumn isn’t the only thing that has fallen into place. 
I fell back in love with martial arts.  Frankly, I’m not sure I ever fell out of love; I think my passion for it was just dormant for a while.  AKF Athens (and Oconee) welcomed me home, and after graduation I became a little bit of a dojang rat—you know, like mall rats, kids that never seem to leave.  Here in the woods I do not have the comfort of my studio: familiar students, fabulous teachers, mats I all too often meet at quicker speeds than I intend…and I miss it terribly.  But, as one of my teachers said: As a light summer breeze can change direction so must we follow the direction that life takes us. 

With that, I fell into step here: my first big girl job out of college.  Some of you have probably heard about my adventures: from stuck trucks to big bears to hair snares to little bears to tracking to tears (love that the English language has the same word for two words) to barbed wire to hicks, I’ve tried to write about it all.  I quickly fell into the habit (in May, while I was alone for a week or two) of writing a lot and writing often.  It kept things from getting too quiet.  Once my cabinmates got here, things were never quiet: though I cannot complain, and I think I can say that I gained two friends through this CRAZY living situation. 

And I gained (hopeful) security for my next two years.  But that is another story for another time, when more details have fallen into place.  For now, suffice to say I am continuing to fall deeper and deeper in love with these beautiful, bumbling, black bears, with no end of my infatuation in sight.

What else is falling into my life? 

Rain.  Lots of it.  This summer we have seen a true break in our Georgia drought—though I think technically it ended a year or so ago—and MAN have we seen some rain. 

People.  Everywhere from Ocmulgee WMA  to Perry to Athens, I’m meeting new people and falling into new circles and having new people fall into old circles.  It’s fabulous to see new faces, new hearts, new minds, new personalities.  Animals are incredible, simple, awe inspiring, cool, and of course cute, but they ain’t got nothing on people.

Choices.  Let’s be real, choices are always falling into our lives.  Part of having the kind of brain we have (or really, a brain at all) is that we get to choose: this or that, now or later, yes or no.  From the beginning of human history—whether you’re thinking of Adam and Eve or recently-transformed-apes or Olypmus’s subjects—we have always had choices.  I guess it is fresh in my mind because I have had some big ones on my plate as of late.  Time will tell if I made the right ones.  But, sometimes making the right choice is really more like falling into it than waltzing confidently into it. 

Sometimes things just fall into place.


Post script:  I tracked a mortality signal from bear 157 today.  Mortality signals can mean several things. 1) we have a dead bear. 2) the collar dropped from a live bear. 3) GPS goofed, and the collar is actually active and still on a live bear.
Today it was option one.  I'm not sure what happened.  
But, since she's a bear, and not a person, she doesn't get a burial, or a eulogy, or an obituary in the Macon Telegraph.  Unless, I suppose, I give her one here.
157 was a little bit of a thing we trapped on private land at the end of July.  Actually, she was the second bear I darted that was caught in a snare! So COOL!  She weighed about 80 pounds, but was a mama bear (two yearlings!).  I told my parents that night she reminded me of me, a little.  She's so small, yet kept on truckin' with those two kids who were almost her size.  157 was also the only bear I've successfully tracked on my own.  I found her in a beautiful hardwood, hiding up there with her two yearlings. Also, SO COOL.
But, life doesn't always turn out like you'd expect, as I have been saying all along.  
Sometimes it throws you a curve ball, sometimes, when you least expect it, you fall victim to mortality.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Breaking the Silence

Why the ominous title?
Well, like everything, once silence has settled in, it is hard to overcome.  Some are frightened of silence, some find it comforting.  Some find it strangely confining; think about it, how often have you mentally pepped yourself to speak through the quiet?  Whether it's a silent car ride, silent dinner table, silence staring at the phone wondering whether to call or's tough to break.  The words back up and get jumbled, like a traffic jam, or too many kayaks on the Broad.  Things happen out of order, clumsily, or unintelligible.  But, inevitably, it's never as painful as your brain makes you think it will be.  A little awkward, jolting, and slow at first, but worth it.  Only a few sentences necessary to work out the kinks and find your flow again.

This blog has been eerily silent since the middle of July.  It's now the 3rd of August, and I'm not even sure what has happened since I last wrote.

What I do know is this:
-We've caught 28 bears, #28 being the bear we caught and recollared last night (they had caught him as a sub-adult last year)
-Our hair sites are down, with much frustration and blood shed (barbed wire is evil)
-I tracked my first bear (and saw her and her cubs)
-I got disoriented in the rain in a blackberry wall looking for a collar
-Casey, Hooker, and I have all lost our minds...but at least we're all crazy together?
-I've officially been hired through November
-The students (Josh, Casey, and Hooker) leave in a week, and I stay to hold down the fort
-William came to visit
-I pulled a truck out of the mud with a 4wheeler
-MY truck was pulled out of the mud with a 4wheeler (different 4wheelers)
-The GPB crew came and left without major incident...except that they came once field season craziness had set in
-My family and friends successfully moved me out of the Athens apartment
-Casey and I both slept through Hooker shooting a hog from our bathroom window (approximately 20ft from our bedroom)

What that means is:
-Hooker wants to push for 30 bears.  It's tough, but I think we could do it.
-I now have the task of compiling a map for the hair sites next summer
-I need more practice with telemetry, but it's a little terrifying
-Crazy happens...but it's better than dead
-I'm looking forward to being a bear tech for longer: these animals (and people) have stolen my heart
-I'll be writing alot since I'll be alone
-Four wheelers are awesome
-I'm living rent free till November..then who knows what God has in store for me!
-AND we're exhausted.  High powered rifles ain't got nothin' on sleep.

Oh, and here's a picture of a bear cub Casey tracked (and I followed with a camera)
Silence isn't any scarier than speech, and while it's easier, it's not better.
Speak while you have voice, even if it's awkward.
(see post above if you need an example)

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Boldness of Youth

John 1:23: Finally they said, “Who are you?  Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us.  What do you say about yourself?”  John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’”

Jeremiah 1:4-10: The word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” “Ah, Sovereign LORD,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am only a child.”  But the LORD said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a child.’  You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you.  Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the LORD.  Then the LORD reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “Now, I have put my words in your mouth.  See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”

All my life I have been encouraged to be bold, to be myself, to stay true to what God created—and my parents raised—me to be.  At twenty three…I’m still trying to figure out who, exactly, that is.  This is old news: few people know who they are at twenty three.  Or twenty four.  Or twenty five. But, still, every person feels like they should.  Will we ever understand it is not for us to know everything?

Jeremiah 10:23: LORD, I know that people's lives are not their own; it is not for them to direct their steps.

am young.  Sure, I might not be a prophet in the traditional, Old Testament sense, but I write.  I (sometimes) share my faith, I speak to people.  In creeps that seed of doubt: I am a mere twenty three years old: how could I possibly have the words of a “full adult?”  

Perhaps God calls the young because we don’t have it figured out.  We are still clay in the potter’s hands: willing to be molded, stubborn enough to keep on truckin’ in the face of “impossibilities”, resilient enough to be broken and re-formed.

1 Timothy 4:12-16: Don’t let anyone look down on your because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.  Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.  Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you.  Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress.  Watch your life and doctrine closely.  Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.

All over the Bible, young people are implored to set an example: be diligent, be humble but confident, be rooted in your faith regardless of those who tell you you’re too young.  If you have a gift, be it creative writing, logical argument, drawing, singing, composing, dance, martial arts, scientific writing, poetry, administration, acting…whatever…use it.  Do not neglect it: you have that skill for a reason, even if you feel too young to have it be any good.  It is yours to use, even if it is not yours to decide how or when it affects people. 

Young people throughout history, not just in the Bible, have long been the movers and shakers of the world.  The most poignant, and perhaps one of the bravest, examples of youth as leaders are the Freedom Riders.  I told my dad once that I am certainly grateful I wasn't around during that time, because I would have felt compelled to be one of them: he shuddered, and agreed.  These youth risked their lives—and some lost them—to be bold, make a point, and stand up for what they thought was right. 

2 Timothy 1:5-9: I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.  For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of hands.  For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline.  So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner.  But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.

I have the words because I am given the words.  If it were left up to me alone, out of my mouth would pour meaningless chatter, cacophonous ramblings, distracted sentences.  As it is, these words I write are not my own; no, they flow freer than my own words ever could.

I write (I might write too much) not because I think that every word I publish changes every reader’s life, but because I have a hope that someday, something will click in one reader’s mind, and their life will be better for it.  If one sentence of all the sentences I’ve ever written helps one person, I’ll consider my words successful. 

Even if twenty three is young by the world’s standards, it is not her standards to which I compare myself.  I compare myself to the standards set by the Lord for Timothy, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Samuel, David, John the Baptist…all the youngsters that heard the call, said they would be bold, and persevered to complete their works.  So will I.  I will write.  I will write until words fail me.  

Isaiah 6:3-8: And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, hold is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”  At the sound of their voices the doorposts and the thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.  “Woe to me!” I cried.  “I am ruined!  For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the Kind, the LORD Almighty!”  Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar.  With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”  Then I heard the voice of the LORD saying, “Whom shall I send?  And who will go for us?”  And I said, “Here I am.  Send me!”

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Green Beach

For all the horrid weather we have dealt with this week—rain every day, whipping winds, muddy traps, fallen trees, soupy roads, sad crops, no bears—today is absolutely beautiful.  Now, it could be because I’m not working, and just have an opportunity to lounge, but regardless. I am supremely thankful for this Saturday.

I wandered out to the edge of a scrubby dip…the wild land in my huge front yard.  I’m maybe 100 yards from the cabin and “civilization,” but with my back to it, I can pretend I have found solitude.  My temporary seat is in my hammock, strung between a catalpa tree—elegant with its spade-shaped leaves and stringy seed pods—and a sawtooth oak—graceful and sharp, with jagged leaves and shaggy acorns littering the ground.  From here, I can feel the wind come at me, full tilt, mussing my hair, cooling my bare feet (OH! How I miss going without confining boots and socks!).  I see the wind wave that derned romantic invasive, Spanish moss, see it bend the tall grass—you know, the one with a v-shaped, seed studded top with those annoying black bits—hear it rise and die not unlike the waves of an ocean.

It may be a July Saturday in Georgia, but I only know that for the white noise of cicadas and the incessant, yet charming, question of the bobwhite call.  Without those tells, I would easily believe I was on the edge of an ocean with the strangely calming, yet irritatingly irregular, rhythm of waves.

Frankly, I’d rather be…

Here than there.  HA. Gotcha.  You thought I’d choose the beach.  Nope.  I’m looking out into a sea of green, rippling, fluttering, waving, and shuddering in the wind, and it is infinitely more interesting to all the senses than the blue and tan of a beach.  For one thing the birds have better tastes in music.  Quick trills, long runs, perky chirps, squeaky wheels, and persistent questioning phrases bounce all over, accompanying the bring flashes of red, blue, yellow, brown, black and gray of these birds.  For another, my sea of grasses, pines, oaks, blackberries, cherries, greenbriar, grapes, daisies, pokeberries, poison ivy, maples, Virginia creeper and countless other plants provide numberless shades of green that rival the best box of crayons.  And today is different from tomorrow: in that time some leaves will burn, will brown, will turn red, will mature into a darker, more “adult” green.  Yes, I would take this sea over the blue one (comprised of “seafoam green,” “sky blue,” “turquoise,” “slate gray,” “cadet blue,” and “sand).  The whipping wind does not sandblast your skin, but instead serves as a gnat removal tool and a cooling touch to contrast the hot sun peeking through the rippling leaves.  AND the wind brings with it that smell I can only describe as “green.”  The wind picks it up from that vast dip before me and rushes it to my nose, uphill, as if to say: You smell that?  That’s life!  It’s quiet, inexplicable, but bursting with infinitesimal processes and constant change!

Indeed, that smell is far more pleasant than the aroma of salt—NaCl?  A reminder of chemistry?—and sand—chunks of old, dead creatures and bits of glass litter?—and gull poop—I mean, gross.
So, you beachgoers, carry on, reclining on your 2.5x5.5 foot toweled rectangle, coating your body with wind-borne sand.  I’ll be here, buffeted by cooling winds that carry with them the exhalations of the green, living sea before me.


In other news, on Friday I darted my first bear!! YEAH!  I need practice, but I did it!

Saturday night I caught my first bear!! YEAH!  I reset a trap Casey had put together, and it caught a bear!  Unfortunately, this was a bear we’d already collared (109)…and caught three other times.  Actually, he was the handsome 280lb bear I posted a picture of in “Summer Nights”.  Silly bear, traps are for new bears.  Maybe he just likes the free nap!

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Summer Rains


Sometimes I love my job.

Then we have days like today, which kind of make me want to crawl in a hole and cry.

 For the farmers’ sake, I’m glad that we’re getting as much rain as we are.  For my sake, I kind of wish it would quit.  I’m not just complaining about my two wheel drive again.  Okay, that’s part of it.  But mostly, the rain just cramps our style.  It is dangerous to be out tracking with lightning: you’re sticking an antenna in the air, waiting for lightning to find you.  It’s probably dangerous to be out checking hair sites in a thunderstorm: you’re playing with barbed wired wrapped around trees, all of which conducts electricity.  It’s dangerous to drive in lowlands during a rainstorm: your way out might become a new creek quickly. 

But we march on, in our rubber boots and rain jackets, doing what we can to keep our equipment dry and our tires un-mired.  

I suppose we could wait it out, under the canopy, amidst falling branches and natural lightning rods.  But today I had to make a decision: mosquitoes or rain.  I chose rain.  Yeah, it was awful to trudge along under the break in the canopy, but it sure beat getting eaten alive by mosquitoes in the forest.

I just ducked my head, whistled “Into the Woods,” and kept on.


Two days ago was my first night bear.  There have been other night bears, but I’ve always been somewhere else: either cavorting in Athens or working on something else.  At any rate, it was an experience.

Hooker got stuck on West Lake (the road the “yahoos” frequent when it rains) in his 4wd, so Casey and I went to check her traps and his.  Halfway to Hooker’s first trap…the black clouds of summer thunderstorm doom rolled in over our heads.  Hooker called us and told us to haul it, because we had a solid red line coming for us on the radar.  We parked the 2wd, started walking downhill in the mud toward the low forest in which Hooker had just set a trap.  We turn around and see a sheet of rain coming for the truck, so Casey sprinted uphill to get everything important out of the bed, and I sprinted downhill into the dark forest to make sure that trap was empty.  Thankfully, it was, so I ran-trudged back to the truck:

“We have a bear.”  “What?”  “Hooker’s got a bear in the Tarversville Plantation trap. Yeah, I’m serious.” “Cool, Hooker and I had talked about how we hadn’t had a bear in the rain yet.” “Oh, so it’s your fault.” “Yup.  At least we have a bear?”  “True.”

Turns out Hooker had pulled himself out of his high-centered stuck situation, and had gotten to his last trap before we could.  We indeed had a bear.  He drove back to the cabin to get a collar and supplies and food for the hungry people, Casey and I took off toward the bear after the rain lessened.  We bop on up to get a look at the size of the bear in the trap…and there are three bears. 

Now, only one was caught (mom), but there were two yearlings (born last winter, or January-ish 2012) with 
her.  We backed off really quickly, estimated her for 150-180lbs and waited for Hooker.  When he got there, there was banter about how Casey and I got dumped on, and the storm literally went around him, then we told him the yearling situation.  Things got serious quickly.  We prepared three darts, the plan being: Casey is to dart the mom, with Hooker standing by prepared to free-dart the two yearlings if they come too close or present a danger to us or their mother.  I was to record. 

We walked up to the trap, but I hung back to stay out of the way and attempt to lower the stress on mom.  I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but I saw the sign for “toe-caught,” which is where the snare doesn’t catch around the wrist, but catches a few toes instead.  Typically, this isn’t a good situation because the bear can pull out of it.  There was fiddling with the mom’s dart, already in Casey’s blow pipe, then she handed it to Hooker who darted the bear without incident.  Turns out she was solidly caught…by two toes.  She’d torn the snare almost to threads, which is impressive because it’s metal.

We began our work up, keeping an eye out for the adorable and curious yearlings, who hung out about 30-40m away.  Not too close, not too far, and eventually they left.  Everything went smoothly, and we finished as the sun went down around 2100.  We gave her a reversal (the drug we used to tranquilize her has a reversal drug that makes the recovery time quicker) and waited for it to take effect.

We waited until 0130.  The yearlings never came back: my bet is they treed and fell asleep, or ambled into a bed and fell asleep…where Casey and I desperately wanted to be.  We snoozed in the truck and checked on mom every 20 minutes, pulling her legs, flicking her ears, encouraging her to wake up so we could sleep. 

It’s tough, sometimes, to overcome your body’s cries for bed and sleep and rest and no work, but at the end of the day, we have to realize we’re not the most important thing here.  The bears are.  We have a responsibility to do right by them, to take care of them and make sure they are okay before we run off to our air conditioned cabin, our pillows, our running water, and our beds.  If we don’t: if we slack off and are lazy, if the bears suffer because of our lackadaisical behavior…well, you can imagine what kind of guilt that would put on a person.  So you don’t.  You do jumping jacks or take 5 minute naps or have late night talks or whatever you have to do to keep watch over your bears, to finish the drill at 100%.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Letters Never Sent

Since I was a small child, I have found writing to be my catharsis.  It calms me down, helps me parse information, brings out my worries, shows me my fears, and dares me to hope.  From pro and con lists to poems to written apologies, words have for years been my MO.  My parents can attest to the fact that my best, most genuine apologies for childhood rebellions have been in the form of some Lisa Frank paper scribbled upon and slipped under a door, hours after the infraction.  And it is also my parents I have to thank for my continual use of pro-con lists: which, by the way, have graduated to weighted lists since the addition of statistics to my repertoire.  In choosing to communicate primarily by letters and blogs this summer, I am back to having words fly from my brain to paper. 

Even so, there are words I have written that will never be read by another pair of eyes.  These words never read fall under the category “things better left unsaid.”  From laying my heart bare to a crush, to exclaiming at someone I dislike, to tattling on a person who has wronged me, these words have escaped to paper, but lay latent there.  Catharsis does not always require publicity.  Sometimes, to my blog readers, it might appear that way—sorry, I’m not sorry if you think I’m verbose—but truthfully, there are many words I write that I keep hidden. 

Maybe you don’t need to know exactly how I feel when I see that person, or the mean words that fly across my eyes in anger, or the pitiful words that pour down my cheeks when I feel mistreated.  I am not talking about a diary that I keep under my bed, locked with a silly thing that could be broken with a swift tug.  I am talking about legitimate letters: dated, addressed—as in, Dear [insert Name here]—and signed—as in, [insert adjective/adverb here] Annaliese.  I have quite a number, stuffed into various journals, hidden at the bottom of desk drawers, in sealed envelopes begging for a stamp and a postmark…but thankfully, I know better. 

These letters are written in the heat of the moment, in the thick of emotion: when logic has left and in its place is only cyclonic fire.  By no means are they halting, fragmented sentences.  Instead, they are quite eloquent, intelligent, and haunting—for one reason or another.  I hope they are not my best works, but from a literary standpoint, it is entirely possible.

These words could be beautiful, but they are not tempered with logic, grace, or love, and therefore are not suitable works which I should disclose.  That crush could very well know—through other means—what I wrote in his letter, or he could very well never realize how much I thought of him.  That person I felt like I hated?  Well, after forty eight hours, her letter was a sign of just how cloudy my judgment had been.  The wrong was soon righted, through other avenues than my vindictive, condemnatory letter.  These letters, however fiery, over exaggerated, or mean, serve as weighty reminders of what lies beneath the grace and logic to which I cling. 

These sentences bring forth within me a gratitude for discernment, self control, tact, and grace that have at times laid a heavy hand on mine, dousing those infernal passions. 

Yes, indeed, zealous and telling as they are, these are best as letters never sent.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Big Bear

The mojo broke this week.

In a big way.  We caught 5 bears!  FIVE!  The most memorable two were caught Friday morning (oh yeah, a two bear day) when the three committee members came into town.  Both were in traps Casey set (which is really exciting for her!), and she happened upon both of them. 

She, Ben (visitor), and I took the first one:
150lb male bear...paw.
Hooker, Josh, and the committee took the other one:
388lb male bear
Um. Yeah. Dassa big bear.  
Josh-ism for the day: the only way to make that bear bigger is to put Annaliese next to it.
I mean, it's the truth.  This guy was huge.  I wasn't even sure how to get next to him to take this picture.  His head was giant.  He was just...giant.  283 more pounds than me.  WHOAH.

Okay, gushing over.  I'm just glad that the committee got to see some actual bear work while they were down for the day.  I know it meant a lot to the students to be able to show them how things work.  And I know it was fun for the committee to be involved, particularly with such a stellar bear.  

I told you last week that I'd try to take pictures of Albert Jenkins Rd when it was dry so you could see the potential catastrophe of rain...So here are some shots of the worst hill:

 Nuts, right?

Anyways, not much new to report on the bear stuff.  The previous blog is really where my mind has been this week, and thus where my words are.  Don't get me wrong, the newness isn't wearing off, the excitement isn't dimming.  I still get flutters when we get a bear, and my eyes shine a little brighter when I get to touch them.  But there are only so many things I can tell you about our day-to-day life.  So you get to listen to my thoughts on everything else too.  That's part of the title: Wondering Wanderer.  Sometimes work is just work, and it's what fills the spaces that is more important.

It's all in the Timing

In high school we student-directed a play…or a series of vignettes…called “It’s all in the Timing.”  It was a theatre of the absurd script, which is fascinating to watch and insanely difficult to master as a director and an actor.  The dialogue is fraught with comedic opportunity, but without a solid handle on the timing, everything just seems…well…absurd.  Thankfully, our high school actors and actresses were up to the challenge, and we were successful at a comedic night of dinner theatre.

No, that play doesn’t have anything to do with bears.  Well, it does a little.

Apropos of nothing this morning, scenes from that play popped into my head.  It puzzled me at first, for I hadn’t thought of that in years (probably since we put it on five years ago).  But not long after those hilarious lines floated through my head, another, not so hilarious line floated through.

Everything in life is all in the timing. 

Everything.  Think about it: how many friendships do you have, or have you had, that started simply because the two of you were in the same place at the same time?  Imagine your life if you hadn’t mistaken that person for someone else, or walked into their house for a party, or sat down with them (strangers, at that time) for lunch because you didn’t want to eat alone?  What if you didn’t sit next to that person in that stupid college class?  Never got up the nerve to ask that person to dance?  Chickened out of going to that conference?  Chickened out of asking someone to dinner or a party?

It isn’t just friendships or relationships that rely on the timing: it’s jobs, college classes, networking opportunities, adventures, trust-building opportunities…timing is in everything and is everything.

Without it, we’re all pretty absurd. 

But the perfect timing is nothing without the decision to accept it.  We get opportunities all the time; we just have to decide whether or not to act upon them.  In one of the vignettes, a 5 minute exchange between 2 people sitting at a cafĂ© happens over and over and over and over.  Each time a bell rings, the scene starts over, but with different—or slightly different—outcomes.  The man sees a pretty woman, balks, runs off.  Bell.  The man is shy, sees the woman reading, makes one comment, sheepishly shuffles off.  Bell.  The man gets a little more confident, maybe makes two comments, is shot down, and leaves.  Bell.  They finally have a short conversation.  Bell.  They have a longer conversation, it goes well.  Bell.  He sees her reading, strikes up charming conversation, she finally puts down her book, they really talk.  They decide to meet and talk again.  Bell.

The bell is like a do-over button.  Sometimes he hits it, sometimes she does.  Eventually, both of them see the perfect timing and take it.  This takes many missed opportunities first.  

Sometimes I wish we had that bell: so we could ring it and return to a missed opportunity. We don’t.
In a recent sermon by the pastor at Princeton UMC, I was reminded of this again.  Sometimes you have opportunities, choices, open doors, challenges placed in front of you: like Abram when God told him to leave Ur for a land that He would show him.  In Genesis, God told Abram he would make of him a great nation if he left his homeland and followed God’s directions to a new home.  Abram said: okay deal.  Flash forward to Hebrews, Abraham (the –ha was added to change his name from meaning “exalted father,” to “father of many”) has the biggest chunk of the “hall of faith.”  Abraham, because he answered God’s call, became the father of many nations: the Jews, Muslims, and Christians.  He became the base of the three largest religions of our time.  He answered the call when it was set in front of him; he saw the timing and took it. 

By the way, Abram wasn’t told where he was going…until well after he left.  Seeing the timing and taking it isn’t always easy or transparent.  The “right timing” doesn’t always mean the “I can see my life’s path clearly now-timing.”  Sometimes it looks like “I know it’s time for me to move, so I’ll pack, but I don’t know where I’m going-timing.”  Sometimes it’s as simple as an unsettled feeling in your stomach, a lack of peace within your soul.  Sometimes it’s a tough pill to swallow.  Leaving your homeland, your family (blood or friends), your community, your habits, your desires, your own selfish hopes…these are all difficult things to leave and wander off into the unknown.

But I have a stubborn spirit that doesn’t like being told what to do, or being told to move without having a destination.  I prefer, often, to make my own timing.  Heartbreak, rejection, and simple “no’s” witness how well that has worked.  I know how it feels now, to see my forced timing and bulldoze my way through it vs. the divine opportunities placed in front of me for me to take. 

I have a choice: I can follow myself, my own wills and plans, that deep-seated, carnal voice inside urging me to do and take what I want, when I want.  OR.  I can follow the God I claim to believe in, that still, small, inexplicable voice urging me to accept the challenge, to step out into the unknown, to trust that it’s all in the timing…all in His timing.  I know which one is right-off more appealing.  I know how to shut off the logic, the quiet unrest, and keep going because I like it.  But I also know how that can (and has) turned around to bite me.  I know what my religion would tell me is smarter: he’s a sovereign God, he has it under control, has your best in mind.  I also know what that perfect peace feels like (even in the midst of pain). 

And I know all too well how that war within me feels.

How do I know which side to listen to?  What opportunities are in front of me?  Which ones do I fight for?  Which ones do I let happen, or let slide past?  Where am I going?  How do I know when I get there that I’m in the right place?  What if there’s something potentially really awesome happening in a place I might be leaving?  What if I don’t want to go somewhere new, what if I like where I am?  What if I’m settling…what if I’m not?  What am I looking at, really?  What if where I’m going isn’t as cool as where I am?  What if I have to leave all my community?  What if they don’t want me to leave?  What if it’s dangerous?  What if I fail…or succeed?

I can’t pretend to imagine if those were the questions racing through Abram’s mind as they race through mine.  A step of faith is hard no matter which way you slice it.  But I know what thought Abram’s mind landed on; it’s the same one mine did.

I will go.  I have seen my ways and I have seen the ways of the LORD; His are wiser and much better in the long run than mine will ever be.  I can’t deny that it seems silly—turning down seemingly good opportunities or holding out for others or walking off into nothing hoping for guidance—but I cannot shake it.  I must be faithful to the God with whom I stand and to whom I cling.  Everything is in His timing anyway: His perfect timing.  

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Anni's Stuck Truck Adventures

Today is a not-so-cute blog post.  But it's part of my summer experience, and it needs to be shared.


This seems like it might not be such a big deal, right?  Just use the paved roads.  Or drive on the grass around the clay-mud-pits.  Except street tires on old 2wd trucks also don't work on wet grass.  And pavement isn't an option.

So here's the scoop: DNR has graciously lent us two of their old (I suppose decommissioned) 4wd trucks, but the boys (Josh and Hooker) are driving those.  Casey and I are driving two UGA F-250 super duty 2wd trucks.  Sure, they're super: they have big engines and big beds, but they don't have mud tires or the ability to stay straight on slimy clay.

Mostly, we can drive smart.  We don't go on Albert Jenkins Road when it's raining (I'll have to take pictures of it sometime so you can see what I mean).  We avoid the north end of West Lake Road ALL the time.  We stay on the gravel.  We don't hesitate when we see a slick spot, don't press the brakes.  We steer into the fishtailing, hoping traction catches before landing us in a wallowed out ditch (thanks, hicks, for ruining the "shoulder" of the road).  Sometimes that's enough.  On a sunny day, or after the dew has gone, it's not a problem.  We drive methodically and patiently, and everything is alright.

After a rain, however, everything goes--quite literally--downhill.  The roads become reminiscent of the surface of an inexperienced potter's wheel: slick, malleable, unforgiving.  If I were a potter, I'd love this situation.  The artist in my wishes I had a wheel in my truck, so when I got stuck, I could just make stuff until someone came and bailed me out.
I'm not a potter, though, I'm a driver.  I gots places to be, man, and mud doesn't help.

Here's where my blog title comes in:  We had rain on Sunday.  Monday was sunny, humid, and buggy.  I was nearing the end of my day, baiting hair snares that were near paved or graveled roads.  My last hair site was a little bit off the beaten track, but it was still on a gravel road, so I went for it.  I baited the site, went to turn around, and started spinning.
I was about 5 feet from the top of a hill, so I thought: maybe if I back down the hill a little, I can get momentum that will carry me up and over.  So I backed down the hill a little...spun...backed down some more...spun...went all the way to the bottom, did a U-turn...spun.  I did this for a solid 20 minutes, trying to rock the truck out of the ruts I'd made.  IN GRAVEL.  What I mean by rocking is switching between reverse and drive in quick succession in hopes that the tires catch and get up and over the rut.  no dice.
I had to call Josh and get hauled to the top of the hill.  Then we undid the chains, went to leave, and I was still spinning...ten minutes later I felt a little like a puppy on a leash, following Josh all the way back to the main road, ears drooping and tail between my legs.

Sometimes Mondays just suck.

Flash forward to Tuesday, a whole 24 hours later.  I was on Albert Jenkins (okay, listen, it was dry.  It wasn't rutted or slick or puddle-y or anything.  It had been baking in the sun for two days!) and came upon a surprise puddle (GIANT).  So, naturally, I went around it.  As soon as I got to the side of it, my truck and my heart sank.

Rule number one of clay-road driving:  If you're driving on a moderate-to-heavily-trafficked road, stay in the middle, even if it's flooded.  The dirt is hard-packed, unlike the soft, churned edges.

Yes, that rule also came from Hooker.  It's one that I'll listen to, though, because that sinking feeling--I know you know how it goes, when your heart sinks into your knees--is one of the worst.  He came and bailed me out, but was kind about it, thankfully.  Because this time it's something I could have avoided by smarter driving.

You live and you learn.  I conquered that puddle later that day just to make sure I could.

We got more rain on Wednesday.  Thursday morning Casey and I got stuck in her truck while checking traps.  It was grassy.  Awful.  Casey gave it a good go, waiting to call for help until we had the tires smoking.  Randy, a DNR employee, came and bailed us out (and led us on the tow-chain-leash back to the gravel), cracking lots of jokes and taking lots of pictures.

Here's my rule number one for mud-driving: don't be embarrassed.
Mud happens.

At least it makes for entertaining stories, and crazy pictures.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Summer Nights

As dewy and ethereal as the mornings here are, the evenings are equally hazy and seductive.  The hard work of the day is done, leaving the world to recline and await the arrival of night—which she does in much glory.
The sun still shines, but it does as one who has his eyes part-closed, drinking in the smell of summer flowers, trampled grass, and dirt.  Even the trees are still, slender and tall, letting the sun look upon their leaves with lazy light.  The birds have tired of their grand adventures, with only a few staunch mourning doves heralding the coming of dusk—breathe in the success of another day, relax, and know your night comes­­—and a sentinel bobwhite quail, questioning, yet confident , with his bob—bob-white! song.  Even the wind is a soft exhalation: a sigh of relief at the close of the day.  But on that wind comes thick and heady the scent of chinaberry and honeysuckle; it will knock you breathless with the splendor of those tiny flowers.  How do such tiny flowers create such consuming aromas?  They seem designed to quit all action, still the tongue, wake the nose, and slide the eyelids shut. 
These, then, are the harbingers of night, the heralds of sunset and cool, twinkling stars.  As the perfume envelopes all, the sun is suddenly aflame, casting fiery light upon the ground, the leaves.  Even the very air is ablaze in that fleeting moment of twilight.  The sun’s brilliant moment is followed by the immediate coolness of dusk, the sigh of the world welcoming night.


We’ve reached an interesting phenomenon here at the Ocmulgee Cabin.  No longer am I alone, no longer is the cabin filled with silence because I have no one with whom to converse.  The cabin is full of life: full of trapping accessories, data sheets, boots, dirt, ticks, and people.  And often silence. 

Casey said something hilarious and rather accurate last night:  we’re like that scene in Pride and Prejudice (the one with Kiera Knightley) where all the ladies are sitting in the parlor embroidering, drawing, mending, and not talking.  After the dinner and post-work shenanigans, we all settle into our own things.  Casey and I usually run/work out/Sayaw and then quickly run back in complaining of the gnats.  Ever worked out with your eyes shut?  It’s difficult.  Hooker looks at his maps and his iphone, throws in some sarcasm every now and then.  I read a lot, though I try to take the advice of Joey (Hinton) and alternate my fictional readings with nonfiction readings.  Sometimes I doodle: I’m re-learning the art of water color pencils…not a complaint by any means, I’m happy to have the opportunity to create things on paper (besides words).
I’m not one who is afraid of silence.  It is a good thing.  Silence isn’t scary, contrary to semi-popular believe.  Silence can be comforting, familiar, and relaxing.  It can be the sign of familiarity with your compatriots, or simply a sign of exhaustion.  Fighting through greenbriar, poison ivy, trumpet creeper, cane, and sweetgum leaves one less than desirous for deep conversations.  However, there are still so many things I’d like to know about my housemates.  Where were they before this?  What made them get into this field?  So many questions!  All in due time.

In the meantime, I have some work updates:

Hair snares are almost ready to bait—all we are waiting on is for our corn to sour (stick corn and water in a bucket, close it, leave in sun for days, voila: sour corn).  Josh says we should be ready to bait by Monday (6/3)!  I’m excited, because right now he and I are both in limbo.  I’ve been tagging along with Hooker, which means mostly trapping: trap checking, resetting, rebuilding, tearing down.  We’ve also made several trips into town for things.  It is rather interesting to be with him all day, quiet, in the car, then return with him, quiet, to the cabin.  We are both okay with silence, I think, and he’s rather used to being on his own.  However, the conversations had are pleasant and often filled with jokes.  He reminds me a little of an Ashley (my family, not some girl), with the sarcasm and quick wit, but deep seated care that underlies everything.
I still have gold stars for keeping track of Hooker’s rules.  In fact, I’ve learned some new ones:

Rule number one for trapping: checking a trap to see if it’s pleasing to a bear is best done from a bear’s perspective (3 ft off ground).

Rule number one (I think they’re all #1) for trapping: always keep the safety on.  Or don’t be anywhere near the throwing arm if there isn’t a safety.

[information on trap: the traps are NOT jaw-like traps.  They’re leg snares: they step on a treadle that has a throwing arm that tightens a little loop-de-loop around the wrist]

We’ve caught 7 bears so far!  And here are some sweet pictures!

Snake I found when checking a bridge on 5/29

Handsome male bear, 280 lbs, 5/27

Tomorrow is the last day of May.  I’ve been here for a month.  It hardly seems that long, and yet it seems a lifetime ago that I was at The Wildlife Supper, Twilight, Kali, Kyuki-do, Princeton UMC, and Copper Creek.  Life has changed.  Funny how it does that so often, whether or not we’re expecting it. 

I’ve had my hands on five bears since the last time I was in Athens.  FIVE.  I’ve had my arms literally AROUND two of them (chest circumference measurement requires you get a tape measure all the way around them…most easily accomplished by something that resembles hugging).  I’ve gotten an F-250 Super Duty stuck twice (it’s not a 4WD, if you were wondering).  I’m leading the tick count, though Hooker has everyone beat on the poison ivy scale.  I’ve made everyone on state highway 96 very angry when I run my roadkill surveys (and I’ve touched more dead snakes today than I thought I would in my life).  I’m baiting hair snares starting Monday.

Life around here is shaping up to be very interesting.  Of course, I’m reminded of a question: what type of woodsy life do I want to have?  I’m afraid the answer is looking farther away than it was before.  Whatever type of woodsy life I might want to create for myself all goes out the window if there is a bear in a trap. 

Trapping is life.  I can see that in my coworkers, and I can see how it became that way.  We all struggle against it, but trapping always wins.  You know the concept of “code red” (or “code wolf,” as my LOLCM girls call it), where you drop everything and come running if someone calls it?  That is the reality of this bear project.  The bears dictate whether or not we cook dinner at 7pm or 11pm.  The bears dictate whether we get a second (or fifth) cup of coffee before noon.  The bears dictate whether or not Casey will make it to her softball games.  The bears dictate my ability to go into town for martial arts studio recon.  The bears are the ones that are really in charge, even if they "don’t got no thumbs."  The bears are the ones telling us where to go and what to do even though we think our research is us finding out where they go and what they do. 

I can’t say that I mind, but something I’ve discussed with Casey is that it’s hard to acquire a community—something she and I both crave—when you can never commit to anyone besides the bears.  They always come first, above church on Sunday mornings, work out buddies, softball games, movies, dinners, classes…people.  But the bears aren’t our community: imagine trying to discuss feelings with a bear.  It don’t work.  

I guess what I mean to say is: you don’t choose a type of woodsy life, a type of woodsy life chooses you.  I’m not talking about the circle of life, holding hands, lighters waving type of thing.  I’m talking about woodsy work being your life.  Some field work allows you to choose your own schedule.  The bears choose ours.

Saturday, May 25, 2013


This'll be a short one, because I'm currently on St. Simons Island for a wedding...I love that I'm here to celebrate with Morgan and Daniel!

BUT, I really wanted to share with those of you who faithfully read my blog that we caught TWO bears this week!  Two!  We caught one Monday morning:
#137 70lb male yearling
 The workup went without a hiccup, and we now have data from him to add to the map that Hooker almost always has on his desktop.  It's really neat to see the bear you touched and put a collar on via satellite information.  Really neat.  This guy was adorable.

The next bear we caught Thursday morning, so I came down to St. Simons dirty and covered in bear smell...but I don't care.  Her workup also went off without a hitch, particularly since we carried her to the  porch of the abandoned cabin that was right next to the trap site.  Casey was in charge of this workup, and she walked me through how everything works.  She even let me do one of the ear tags (Yay!)!
115 lb female (estimated 2yrs old)
You know, the ticks are gross, dirt is gross, it sucks to get stuck in the mud in a 2 wheel drive truck, the mosquitoes are annoying, and it's hot.  But mornings like this when we get a call from Hooker to come to a site, or evenings when we sit looking at Google Earth and bear movement...these moments make all of the bugs and mud worth it.

Sunday, May 19, 2013


Today was a day full of animals.  (Spoiler alert: no bears, though Josh and I saw one running away from our truck yesterday)  I met Josh around 9am and by 9:45am we’d seen countless birds, several turkeys, and a pretty black rat snake.  We played with it a little, stopped at his check station…then Skilor and Ray come up to the cabin carrying the same snake!

We all laughed and then let him go.  Josh and I went on our merry way…and down another dirt road outside of the WMA we found an Eastern Kingsnake AND a Copperhead!  They were having a standoff when we pulled up, the Kingsnake made a threat display at us while the Copperhead hung in the background, also frozen in a defensive position.  I’m afraid we made the Kingsnake lose his breakfast—I feel a little bad for that—but MAN was he pretty.  He managed to musk Josh pretty good before we left, though.  Not the first time, nor the last time Josh has been musked by a snake. Haha
Copperhead in background, Eastern Kingsnake in foreground
Then things got pretty tough.  The hair snares we put out today were all in awful places.  BUT on the way to one (same private property as the snake-standoff), Josh throws the door open and jumps out to chase something—meanwhile, leaving the truck in drive, don’t worry, I flipped it into park quick—that was too fast for me to see.  Turns out it was a Rough Green Snake which he lost in a muscadine vine/bush.  He swears it went up in there, but, you know, rough greens are about the color of muscadine leaves.  Foiled again.

Then we saw an old river turtle (spp?) about to lay eggs!

To continue, we helped some human animals too.  
Correction: Josh helped to ladies change a tire while we were heading down the side of the highway to a snare site.  He wins good citizen of the week award: it was hot, the traffic was blowing past us, and apparently he’s allergic to whatever grass grows on the side of 96.  Anyways, after that was finished, we took off into the swamp.  I should have taken a picture of our shoe-mud-holes we made…it took us forever to navigate through the muck.  And we sank pretty far—ankle deep, maybe—while standing to assemble the snare.  Oh the things we do for science!
We rounded out the day with a wander through a clearcut, where we saw some pretty outstanding tracks:
Pterodactyl...Just Kidding, probably Great Blue Heron
Raccoon Galore!
And a Bobcat! Ugh, these tracks are so precious!
And we put up a pretty hair snare—which I also should have photo documented.  I will later this summer.

The. End.


The boss got here today.  Well, one of them.  We have a hierarchy:

Chamberlain is in charge of all three students, but Hooker is kind of in charge of the rest of us, since he has a decade of bear work under his belt.  Technically, Chamberlain is my boss since I’m a technician, but in reality, I’m working for and with the three students. 

All of that to say, boss Hooker got here today.  He’ll be sleeping in the living room of my check station while Casey and I share a bedroom.  He’s a self-professed grump, which has been evidenced already by the complaints leveled against…well…everything. 

And boss Casey just pulled up.  She’s a goof, throwing humor back in our grumpy old man’s face, singing about her baby tomatoes that are growing outside.

The comebacks are whizzing over my head with a ferocity and hilarity that I wasn’t quite expecting.  If things remain this sharp-tongued all summer, we’ll come back in much need of whetstones for our wit.  I look forward to that.  I’ll keep a running tally of the most interesting comments made: between Eeyore Hooker, Goofy Casey, Cajun Josh, and Puckish me, I’m sure there won’t be a shortage.

At the least, we’ve established a “you don’t touch mine, I won’t touch yours” rule regarding coffee mugs.  Order is in place.  

Day one of living with two other people was…surprisingly chill.  Except I was the last one up at 7:05am.  And that was after I’d stayed in bed a good ten, fifteen minutes.  I woke up before dawn to the smell of coffee (Hooker’s), which was very pleasant and would have drawn me into the kitchen if it had been dawn—and if my bed hadn’t been so warm.  As it was, I tossed for a while then finally gave up when I heard Casey and Mike talking.  

I think it’s safe to say I will continue my front-porch-breakfasts, but the breakfasts will just have to happen two hours before they have been happening.  I’ll get used to it: this is outside-work life.  You have to be up before dawn, so when day breaks you can begin your work.  I’m okay with that—I have to be okay with that.  That is the life I have chosen and love.  

Last night began—and today continued—Hooker’s continual of “what’s the first rule?”  It’s reminiscent of fight club (oops, just broke the first rule) with the sheer number (and silliness of some) of rules there are. 

First rule: all rules are the first rule
Second rule: all rules are the most important rule
First rule (?? We already have a first rule?): don’t touch it, you’ll break it
First rule of bear trapping: don’t invite a bear to the back of a trap
First rule of bear trapping (again, there is already a first rule??): if you set a trap, you better be prepared to deal with what you catch

The list goes on, with number varying from 3 to 63.  I’ll keep you abreast of the most interesting ones, but mostly you’ll just hear the ones mentioned above. 

Weird.  But funny.  I’ll get him yet: stump him on which first rule he’s actually asking me about by giving him the actual first rules he’s been telling me about incessantly. 

Day two of the full crew being here and I feel a little out of place.  I know it’s only day two, and the last time the three stooges—I mean students—were together, there was a different tech.  I hear a lot of Ryan stories, and I occasionally get compared to him.  This is normal, so I’m not hurt or put out by it, but I’m ready for the habits to set in and to become the tech, not the new tech.

First rule of roadkill surveys: be careful. 

The drivers on highway 96 are nuts all of the time, but they hate it when you drive under the speed limit and pull over at every dead thing.  

I suppose I should explain what a roadkill survey is.  First, you put an orange caution light on your truck, a neon vest on your person, and drive around 42mph up and down highway 96 (from I-16 to the intersection with highway 247) looking for roadkill.  You see something, you pull over, you get out without getting hit, you go up to the roadkill and ask it a bunch of questions while you fill out this survey.

Hah. Sort of.  You identify it, guesstimate time of death, and move it off the road.  This is part of the DOT project: they are trying to expand 96 to be a 4 lane divided highway, but they want to know if and/or how that will affect wildlife (particularly bears).  The roadkill surveys are really just an index of who, what and where.  Anyways, that is one of my duties for the summer.  Let me tell you how excited I am…But hey, it’s a job, and for that I am thankful.

Here’s one of my own rules:

First rule of hair snare work: get permission, lock combinations, keys, and test that they work before trying to set up the hair snares.

Josh and I walked a mile (total) to set up one hair snare today because the lock was not openable.  This is not Josh’s fault, he did the correct rigamarole, just the only key to that gate is currently in North Georgia.  Oops.  We also walked pretty far to some other sites, but that is not for lack of permission, it’s lack of driveable roads.  Whew. 

On a lighter, much happier note: today was the last day of turkey season, which means that tomorrow morning the WMA gates close and we have the refuges to ourselves!  I think everyone will breathe a little easier knowing that our front yard won’t be frequented by randos (“yahoos,” as Hooker calls them).  I’m very excited.  I’ll get to leave my hammock up without fear of it getting stolen, we can leave the trucks and doors unlocked, and we will turn off the porch lights, which will let us sleep better and keep the bugs off our porch.  So. Excited. 

5-16—worth a blog of its own…see next post!

I felt the shift last night.  It was practically imperceptible, but I felt it. 

Maybe it’s because it was Friday night, which is theoretically the start of the weekend (we don’t actually have weekends during trapping season…I’m writing this at 0830, and I’ve been awake since 0700).  Maybe it’s because I was painting.  Maybe it’s because Hooker woke us up yesterday morning singing “Tomorrow,” from Annie.  Maybe it’s because we all just decided to relax around each other.  Maybe it’s because we were listening to Ella Fitzgerald, whose silky voice soothes the soul.  The list of maybe’s continues.  Regardless of the reason, I’m okay with it.

I am the tech now.  Not the new tech.  And I like it.