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)