It’s berry season and this has been a God-send the past few weeks. Let me tell you why. Over nine weeks into the internship and we’re into the meat and potatoes part of our work, having an established rhythm of being at Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller at 7 a.m., brushing the sleepies out of my eyes haphazardly as I begin my daily ascent of the mountain trails.
Never short on work, we’ve really accomplished a lot so far and yet there is so much more we can only try to achieve in our remaining time working for the National Park Service. There are some days where organization hasn’t been ideal, some where the work was downright draining, and others where the time flew by because of engaging conversations and getting lost in our work.
In recent weeks, one of our duties has been to conduct transects throughout tree stands, meaning we had to walk in straight lines back and forth through areas of the park looking for invasive species. After hours of walking up and down a mountain slope, it’s hard to keep up the energy and morale actually needed to traverse a mountain slope. Actually, think back to the old Oregon Trail computer games. Remember how your wagon party could go from extreme happiness and enthusiasm to widespread depression or literally everyone dying from something that started off as a small infection? By the end of stand transects, I usually begin to feel like the latter, saved only by the energy provided by heaps of wild berries growing deep within the forest plots.
In all honesty, these transects have all the makings of a serene peaceful experience. Long walks over untouched terrain, through a jungle of trees much older than many of us millennials can imagine, connecting with the land once owned by one of the most storied families in American history. It’s just the full days of working in humid heat that make me want to take hour-long showers and eat away my feelings with Ben & Jerry’s half-baked ice cream quarts. Thankfully, this kind of work has been tastefully offset by supplemental trips sponsored by our park and the SCA. A couple of weeks ago, 9 of the MABI (Marsh-Billings) interns drove to Boston for a 2-day, overnight trip.
I tend to overpack, choosing to err on the side of creature comforts, but not this time. I woke up at 5:50 to the blaring blast of my alarm radio clock, threw some “crap” in a backpack and hoped for the best (I didn’t forget a toothbrush at least). After arriving in the city and a short struggle to find parking, we hopped on a ferry to the Boston Harbor Islands. First stop, Georges Island, the site of a historic fort and also our work site for the day. The trip was planned so we could visit the national parks in the city of Boston: the Boston National Historical Park, the Boston Harbor Islands National Recreational Area, and the Boston African American National Historic Site. After a quick tour of the fort, we were put to work raking out dilapidated drainage areas and cleaning up off-limits parts of the island in the heat of day. This being our only work project for the day and tempted by the option of swimming once it was completed, we hurried to finish up and take off to Peddocks Island, our sleeping site for the night.
The 9 of us SCA folk from Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller were not the only SCA interns staying on Peddocks Island that night. In fact, a national SCA high school crew (led by two college graduates) was stationed at Peddocks Island and had been completing all kinds of restoration and maintenance projects around the Boston Harbor Islands. Similar to my first SCA crew (a high school invasive species crew at Valley Forge National Historical Park in 2011) this crew had been living on Peddocks for a couple weeks before we arrived and was more than happy to host us.
The high school crews require their members to forego all electronic devices, so the 8 or so high schoolers were eager to ask us questions about current events and other trends like Pokémon Go after their abbreviated time of being disconnected. That night we, like the other SCA crew, slept in yurts (portable round tents) on the island. We combined crew equipment and made home-cooked burritos for dinner, enjoying the novelty of cooking outdoors on an island. After dinner, we bonded over a healthy game of kickball (no, I didn’t get overly competitive, slide on dry ground, and scrape up my leg), made a bonfire on the beach, and even squeezed in a couple rounds of my all-time favorite game, Mafia.
Walking back to our yurts from the beach in pitch blackness, we couldn’t resist one last bout of exploration. Peddocks Island was once home to a defensive fort used during the Revolutionary War to guard against returning British soldiers. That said, much of the original defensive structure is still there, but no longer in operation. Not far from our yurts there was a tunnel structure that was supposedly haunted, so of course we had to check it out before bedtime. In the purest black darkness I have yet to experience, we explored this tunnel system that looks like it came straight out of the game Slender. The ground was damp, the entrances were overgrown with eerie plants, and someone even had the courtesy of writing “get out” in graffiti on the tunnel wall. Naturally I slept soundly that night.
The next morning we awoke at the crack of dawn to piercing sunlight through the skylight hole in our yurt. We left soon after breakfast back to the city for an afternoon walking tour on the Black Heritage Trail. Most people who visit Boston are familiar with the Freedom Trail, which in fact shares many stops with the Black Heritage Trail. Situated right in the heart of the city, this historic path sheds light on many of the most influential black Americans who fought vigorously for equality and black rights before, during and after the racially-charged and tumultuous American Civil War era.
The tour was fascinating, starting with the Robert Gould Shaw memorial statue in the Boston Common (honoring the commander of the first all-black Union army regiment during the Civil War) which was in fact completed by Augustus Saint-Gaudens and ending at the African American Meeting House. Our only complaint was that the tour encroached on our normal lunchtime and we were all struggling to pay attention by its conclusion. With the tour’s last stop reached and the tour guide’s closing remarks already spoken, we split up for lunch. My group walked back over to Quincy Market and enjoyed a lovely violin street performance while savoring a lunch of local beer and lobster mac ‘n cheese. After all this adventure, it was time to head back to Vermont and re-focus on the work at MBR and nearing the end of the internship.
It was back to Quechee and Woodstock and less than a month left of our Vermont-immersed summer adventure. Remember back to my last post and how I’ve been trying to save up some extra money by doing odd-jobs after work and on the weekends. After coming back from Boston, I really ramped up the hours doing these things, eager to earn enough to justify my purchase of plane tickets to return to Denmark in October among other things. For the next week and a half after Boston, I spent countless hours vacuuming, polishing copper, weed-whacking, and helping Tammy completely pack up her house before moving to Nashville. Over 10 days, I must’ve worked almost 40 hours outside of the national park, but it was definitely worth it. By now, you’re probably wondering what in the heck the title of this post is referring to.
The day before Tammy was leaving Woodstock with her two moving trucks full of possessions, Jacodie and I drove into Woodstock to help Tammy’s husband Linwood move a large table from his office across the street to his pickup truck. After safely navigating the office space, the stairs, and the busy street of traffic, our last obstacle was an unassuming woman wearing a ball cap and pushing a stroller down the street with her companion. I barely looked up as she glanced over and said “wow, what a nice table” and kept strolling down the block. Thinking nothing of it, I had barely helped lift the table into Linwood’s truck bed before a woman ran up to us and asked, “did you just speak with Scarlett Johansson?!” Lo and behold, I had just had one of my first celebrity run-ins and I didn’t even know it. Next up, my destined face-to-face with Gordon Hayward.
After all these extra hours of work, I was ready for another laid back day of work and was not disappointed in the slightest. Each year, Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller hosts a ‘Youth Summit’ day that celebrates the interns’ presence at the park and stimulates a discussion on the future of the National Park Service and youth involvement with national parks. Planned each year by the cohort of George Perkins Marsh Career Exploration Interns, this year’s event was yet again a great success. Highlights include a giant pizza oven, to-die-for cupcakes, and an inspirational talk by the founder of the SCA, Liz Titus Putnam. At the ripe age of 83, the evergreen Liz spoke resounding words of unifying to protect our planet, the impact youth can have on large movements, and never giving up on your dreams. I was fortunate to speak with her one-on-one during the lunch break and it made me strongly consider my future and the kind of change I want to make.
To cap off a fantastic week, I was so happy to host my parents in Vermont for a weekend following the Youth Summit. They flew into Albany from Chicago and drove over to Quechee to a bed & breakfast where they stayed for a few nights. After giving them a little time to adjust and take in the area, I greatly enjoyed my role as tour guide. I also can’t deny that it wasn’t a coincidence that I waited to dine at all the best-ranked and most expensive restaurants in the area until my parents came to visit. I honestly should change this blog content to food critiques to cover all the amazing food we ate in one single weekend. In between showing them Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller, Saint-Gaudens, and my favorite swimming beach, we ate fantastic Vermont Cheescake at the Prince & The Pauper, drank Jalapeño Margaritas at the Barnard Inn, had scrumptious Crème Brûlée Almond French Toast and Sorbet-filled brunch Cocktails at Simon Pearce, and the best Maple Brisket Melt at The Worthy Kitchen. I was of course thrilled to see my parents, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t also pleasured by the weekend full of gastronomical foodgasms (wow, what a sentence).
Once my parents had left, it really felt like we were nearing the end. I had a brief taste of home and now we just had three more weeks to make our mark on Vermont and Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller. I’ll end this post with something to show for the hard work Jacodie and I have been putting in this summer. The final intern presentations occurred last week, with every intern (or group representing each park division) presenting to any and all park staff that could make it. Jacodie and I had been working to create a map using ArcMap Online that provides a user-friendly interface and presents our invasive species tracking in a visually appealing way. Not only were we ready to show off just what we were capable of, but also how useful this online software can be to map out invasive species work, maintenance projects, park trails, and many other things.
The NPS is working hard to better its functionality and we were hoping that by sharing our ideas and knowledge, we too could leave a lasting impact from just a summer of work at a national park in Vermont.
I’ll be back in Illinois before you know it. What will I be doing next? Don’t worry, I’ll let you know eventually, but for now just enjoy the suspense and the waning days of summer.
Until next time,