Saturday, October 27, 2007

Close Call

I had another few days of travel this week, delineating wetlands up north. Fall has most definitely arrived. We had temperatures in the 30s every morning, with hard crunchy frosts. Fortunately, it did not rain and the weather warmed up to beauteous sunny days. Yesterday, I got word from my boss that I won't be going back to this site next week. The delineation effort will continue without me, as I am needed elsewhere.

Of course, my initial instinctive reaction was disappointment. I love fieldwork: I love the intimacy with the land, being outdoors in all sorts of weather, the opportunities to see wildlife up close and personal. I love the variety and the travel, the country roads, the interesting people. However, we had a bit of a frightening experience this week, and the silver lining of office work is looking rather shinier than normal.

It happened about 5:30 Thursday afternoon. The sun was low in the sky, the fields infused with golden light. Because of the long drives to the sites, we tend to work long days, and were delineating a little seep wetland at the corner of a spruce plantation abutting an enormous hayfield. The wetland was isolated and sort of marginal in meeting the criteria, so we stood around debating the issue for a spell, but decided we'd better flag it. Soils were inarguably hydric.

Colleague was hanging flags while I dug the soil sample and recorded floristic data. I looked up across the hayfield and saw an enormous hulk of a man approaching us with a very large rifle. I alerted colleague, but we kept working, as he was still quite a distance away. When he reached us, the hunter was quite kind. He had hiked all the way over to tell us we shouldn't be there.

We had permission to be on the land, of course, as did he. The hunter worried for our safety. He said he saw distant movement, and had me in his spotting scope before the metal clipboard flashed in the sun. It was at that point that he realized we were human and lowered his gun. Apparently our orange field vests were not providing the visibility we had been banking on. We asked him if he knew of other people hunting that property. The answer was affirmative: there were hunters over there, there, there, and there. We were surrounded.

We thanked him profusely, and high tailed out of there. When we reached the safety of the rental car, we looked back into the field. There were several deer moving from the woods into the field, across a path we'd just crossed mere minutes before. We drove straight into town, in search of additional orange wear. We both bought orange hats, and oversized longsleeve orange shirts to wear as an outer layer. Those we wore in the field Friday, as we tried to safely navigate a landscape echoing with gunshots. It was eerie, to say the least.

I have never been asked to do fieldwork in rifle season before. Woodland Agency always pulled all field staff into the office for the duration. So even though the warm, stuffy office will have none of the adventure of field work next week, I think I'm ready for just a wee bit less excitement.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Chestnut Conundrum

One of the things I bought at the farmer's market yesterday was chestnuts, a quart for $2. I have no idea if this is a good price or not, having little experience with chestnuts aside from snacking on a few raw that I've gathered in the woods. However, being slightly obsessed with chestnuts, I just couldn't pass them by. I am a huge sucker at the farmer's market.

It wasn't the first time I couldn't resist the allure of the chestnut though... several years back, I bought a very pricey jar and tried to follow an enclosed recipe for roasted brussel sprouts with chestnuts. Moral of the story: never try new recipes at Thanksgiving dinner. Everyone smiled politely, but the recipe was dismal, at least the chestnut portion. It was a huge disappointment for me. The brussel sprouts were actually pretty good, though.

So this afternoon, with my lazy weekend, I turned to The Joy of Cooking to see what to do with my chestnuts. There was no recipe for roasted chestnuts, and precious few choices at all, so I opted for the chestnut puree. I scored each chestnut with an x on the flat side, and boiled them briefly as directed, then proceeded to pull them out and shell them, tossing the few wormy specimens out the window for the squirrels. This process took me over an hour.

Then I still had to boil them again, this time longer, for 30-45 minutes. The book suggested boiling them in milk for a sweet presentation, or in broth for a savory dish. Not having any milk, I went with a can of chicken broth. After the prescribed 45 minutes, the broth was essentially all absorbed/evaporated, but unfortunately, the chestnuts weren't mushy yet. Having no more broth, I decided they would have to be done. I added a few tablespoons of butter, and using a handheld pastry blender, tried to puree them.

It was only semi-successful. I suspect a food processor would have produced a better puree. My end product is a lumpy mash, pale brown in color. The flavor is very nice, but I am not entirely certain it was worth all the effort, especially since SodaBoy turned up his nose and refused to even sample the concoction. Joy said that the puree is traditionally served as an accompaniment to game meat, particularly venison. I am not a hunter and have no game meat handy.

What should I do with this stuff? Besides just eat it with a spoon, that is.

Nothing Much

Nothing much is going on here, which is kind of nice for a change. SodaBoy’s parents were here visiting last weekend, and the weekend before that we were out of town visiting friends. Add that to all the overnight travel I’ve been doing for week lately (2-3 days a week for the last 6 weeks or more) and I’m pretty grateful for a commitment-free weekend. I can’t officially call it a lazy weekend, as I’ve been pretty busy just catching up with chores and such, but it feels good to be knocking around the house, anyway.

Yesterday morning Nadine and I met for a trip to the farmer’s market, unsure what we’d find so late in the season. I guess one advantage of this non-autumn is there are lots of fresh, local veggies still available. I bought a couple local cheeses, too, and our dinner last night was all local except for the crackers we ate the cheese on. They were a product of Canada, a frustratingly vague label. Canada is not a small place after all: parts of it are rather nearby; others, obviously, are not.

No specific plans for today, although I’ve got another load of laundry chugging while we figure it out. It is another beautiful day, sunny and unseasonably warm. It would be nice to get out hiking, but many normal haunts are unusable this time of year: rifle season is officially open. We’ll figure something out. Or not. And for once, that would be OK, too. Being lazy has an unnatural appeal right about now.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Blog Action Day for the Environment: What I Do

Although I have made many allusions to it in all my talk of the wetlands and the plant love, I am not sure I have ever revealed what exactly it is that I do. There is my whole wishy-washy anonymity complex to contemplate, after all. However, I have decided to come out in honor of the day: I work for an environmental consulting firm.

Environmental consulting firms and environmental consultants can get a bad rap. Sometimes our clients think we are a bunch of seed-eating treehuggers out to ruin them. Sometimes environmentalists think we are sell-outs in the pockets of developers, paving the way for all sorts of evils.

I am here to explain the situation. None of these things are true.

Every.single.person I know who works professionally in my field is there because of a passion for the environment. We all went to school and studied ecology, wildlife management, botany, hydrology, soils, environmental policy. We are not in it for the money; we all know we'd make more doing something else. I certainly had a higher income working at the chromatography lab, but I was miserable.

The sad truth is that some development is inevitable. It is barreling down on us. What we do at my firm is take that development, and make it better.

I admit I was a little unsure when I started at this firm. All my previous environmental work had been for various government agencies. I knew that system, and had some faith in it (although unfortunately the current administration is doing a magnificent job of dismantling every protection they can). But the same policies dictate what we do in the private sector, the same National Environmental Policy Act, the same Environmental Impact Statements, the same fieldwork.

Still skeptical? Allow me to present this unnamed creek, barely a dotted line on a topographical map:

I feel a little dramatic saying it like so, but I saved that creek. In the preliminary project designs, an access road and electrical lines were proposed to cross the creek. On a field visit this spring, I took photos. I was worried that blasting would be required to continue with the proposed plans, and that it would destroy the creek. I brought the photos to my boss, who shared my excitement about the beautiful site, and my concern for its future.

We got the ball rolling, and soon enough: voila! When I was up delineating wetlands last week at the same site, the new maps show no project components anywhere in the vicinity. The plans were re-worked, the road was re-routed, and the creek will no longer be impacted. It is but one example. When I find populations of rare plants, they are protected. The wetlands I delineate are avoided, and when impacted, compensatory mitigation is required at great expense to the developers.

The project goes on, but it is a much better project due to the involvement of people like me. It is satisfying to know that I am making a small difference each and every day.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

SodaBoy's Desktop

I was tagged for this desktop meme a few days back by Mary, and I love the idea. It gives us all a visual peek into each other's worlds, the scene of the bloggy crime, as it were. Except I am sharing SodaBoy's desktop instead of my own, since my computer officially died a few months ago. Close enough, right? Plus, his desktop is an especially fun one... how many icons can you find?

SodaBoy took the photo at Fantastic Canoeing Provincial Park, a favorite camping spot of ours. OK, now the hard part. I am tagging Woman Warrior, Aliki, Andy, purpleteardropsofhappilymarriedness, and anyone else who wants to participate. Show me what you got!

Monday, October 08, 2007

New England Weekend

I have been out of town again, this time for pleasure instead of work, although that will come soon enough: I leave first thing tomorrow for a business trip that won't have me back until Thursday night. I am really starting to covet a laptop so I can keep in touch a little better. It's good to have goals, right? Something to work for... In case I get impulsive, does anyone have a particular laptop they love, or conversely, one they hate?

We travelled this weekend to New England, to visit old friends who recently bought their first house. Their house is beautiful, a rambling old farmhouse that was built in 1790. I love the history in New England, how it is everywhere, and how it is valued. The area I live in was settled in the same era that J&S's house was built, but one must expend more effort to find the evidence. In New England it is everywhere, in the winding roads that follow the rivers, in the stone fences, in the town squares.

Every time I see those old stone fences, I am filled with admiration for the folks who dug them out of the rocky soil, eking a living off the land. I wonder about the character of the community in 1790, and the family who built the house. I could easily become obsessed with history in such a place, and not just the historical events we all learn about in school. I hunger for details of day to day life of the people who came before. J&S have joined the local historical society. Perhaps they will find out.

It was a gorgeous weekend. We hiked up a mountain along an old rail line that had been built in 1905 and abandoned after WWII. All the rail ties were rotted away, with only a few spikes left. The ground along the trail glittered with mica. We explored some ruins in the woods along the trail, fodder for another post if I ever have time at the computer again. This seems unlikely: by the time I return from the wetlands, SodaBoy's parents will be in town visiting.

These photos were both taken on the drive back home. A drive without scenic stops is hardly worth taking.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

The Cold Heat

Today was a gift of a day, work wise. My assignment was to drive to a distant county to collect plant and soils data at two wetlands along a dirt road. The wetlands had already been flagged, but somehow the data never got collected. I wouldn't need four-wheel drive, so didn't have to bother with the muss and fuss of a rental car. Driving there and back would take the better part of the day, so I could leave right from the house, and wouldn't have to report to the office at all.

The day didn't turn out exactly the way I'd planned, mostly because of the rain. It poured on most of my drive, which hampered my leaf peeping quite a bit and prevented me from dawdling with scenic roadside photo shooting. The rain let up long enough for me to use my field sheets instead of my almost full Rite-in-the-Rain notebook, and I didn't get soaked, which was nice, since I'd neglected to bring rain gear. The odd thing is that SodaBoy reports that it didn't rain here all day.

Unexpected rain, or no, I still love me a field day, especially a solo field day, since it is such a rarity with this job. I could listen to NPR on my car radio, and when I lost reception to the universal backwoods selection of country or Christian, switch to Radiohead CDs, and sing along at a ridiculous volume and pitch. No birdseed: I could eat a reasonable lunch whenever I chose. And I could control my own oxygen intake.

I hate automobile heaters. There, I said it! Shocking, I know. I will use the heater in my car, when absolutely necessary, to defrost the windshield, and then I'll shut it off again. [Full disclosure: I usually have a window cracked.] I live in a climate with pronounced winters, but hell. I wear a coat, why does the heat need to be cranked? Car heat smells bad, and makes me faintly nauseous. I feel as though I am suffocating, and get a little panicky.

Aside from the differences in eating preferences, this is another issue that can cause conflict within field crews. Some people actually like a hot, stuffy vehicle. A like-minded coworker of mine and I almost suffocated in the back seat of a crew cab pickup two weeks ago. The windows couldn't be down, because that was too noisy for the cell phone yakkers, and the air couldn't be on, because BossLady was cold. It actually eased my pain a little bit to see my co-worker in similar throes of agony. Then at least I didn't feel so crazy.

I have been in possession of this particular quirk my entire life. My parents report that as a toddler, I would grow cross when the heat was used in the vehicle, and demand "the cold heat" instead. The cold heat was just the vent, as we never had a car with AC.

Well, I ran the cold heat all through my rainy drive today. It was delightful.