This is my final summer working in middle Georgia with the bear project, and my final summer as a graduate student.
In 2013, I wrote a blog about coming here; much of my sentiments could be reversed in this post.
This is my fourth summer here, and I could fill a book with everything I have learned here, in this dirt and on this ground. I hope to do just that, someday. But in the meantime, I'm trying to get my head around the idea that I'll be leaving here soon, and leaving the life I've built here.
The first few days I came down to the field site in June, I was here alone. It's a good thing, because I was an emotional mess. I was minding my own business, organizing supplies in our brand new storage building, when it hit me that all these supplies, the storage building, the check station, the trailer, the dirt I was standing on...was about to not be "mine" anymore. This place has been home for my summers, some autumns, and some winters. It's been the place I ran to for comfort, for mud, for bears, for new experiences, and for peace. There's nothing that quite replaces sitting on the front porch watching the sun rise through those oaks in the front yard.
It's been a hard fought four years here: lots of blood, sweat, tears, pain, joy, dirt, rain, bugs, love, and laughter. Before coming here, I'd never driven a truck (consistently), never driven a four-wheeler, never driven in mud, never handled barbed wire, never hauled a trailer, never touched a bear, never cried so much over bears, never plugged a tire, never cursed so frequently, never loved so profoundly, and never suffered loss so profoundly.
It feels like I've grown up here, even though I was in my twenties when I came. In a way, I have grown up: I've learned what it takes to be a technician, crew leader, boss, team manager, research coordinator, go-fer, hunter, listener, and doer. I've learned to deal with conflict that involves me, is because of me, and doesn't involve me at all. I've learned how to talk to all sorts of people from all sorts of walks of life, and I've learned how to earn their respect. None of these things have I done perfectly, and some I haven't even done well...but I've tried above all to be aware of opportunities to take lessons from every day I've spent here. Whether it be learning mechanics, or history, fungus or tracking, hunting or wine-making, I have tried to keep both my eyes and both my ears open, holding my hands out palm up, waiting for whatever someone passed to me. Not to say that was easy, or always fun. It hasn't been only sunshine and rainbows. But, my time here has been invaluable to me.
I think what has struck me the most has been the genuine spirits of everyone I've met. If they like you, they'll give you the shirt off their back...if they don't like you, you know it--which I think is better than pretending. Everyone I've come to know here is eager to talk about what they know and how they've learned it, especially if you're eager to listen. I am forever in debt to the people here for taking me in, teaching me things, and pulling me out of trouble more than I'd like to admit.
I've successfully defended my thesis now, and all that remains are last-minute edits, format checks, and wrapping up the fifth and final season here. After that, we'll all have pulled up our stakes from Ocmulgee dirt and moved on.
Only thing is...I don't know exactly to where I'm moving. For the first time in my life, I have little direction. I have, mostly, always known exactly what my next step is. Now...I could take a step in any direction, and make something of myself. It is terrifying. It is also terribly freeing. The world is my oyster right now: I could go anywhere, and be anything. Some days I am okay with it: my free spirit soaring at the thought of riding into the sunset. Some days...I wish to go backwards in time to when I had a singular path. I know, though, that right now is exactly where I'm meant to be, whether I know what the future holds or not.
I keep telling myself, in my moments of panic, that as long as I can wake up each morning, remember how it is that I'm here--not through abilities acquired on my own, but through what I've been given--give thanks to God for what He has done, and step out of bed knowing that I. can. do. this. It's not going to be easy, or straightforward, but it will be good, so help me God.
"9Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. 10And in fact, you do love all of God's family throughout Macedonia. yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more, 11and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, 12so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody." 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12
Let it be so with me.