“There’s no feelings in dog mushing, Maria”

I ran my first dog team completely by myself the other week. I have this habit of asking really really stupid questions when Mike catches me off guard with something. So when he asked me if I could take the dogs around the neighborhood for the tour, I was all “You mean, like, outside?” But what a grand feeling; you, the dogs, the trail, nothing else. It’s these points of communion that are normally the highlight of my days. When Mike does runs for tours we normally station a handler at the far end of the kennel to run alongside the team as they reenter the yard, just to make sure nothing goes wrong.  Thomas does it mostly, but occasionally it’s me.  I get this absurd mix of fear and awe and my stomach nearly drops out when they come barreling around the corner, full-bore, slinging spit, snarling (the kind of fury Mike likes in his dogs; tail-tuckers “never get you anywhere”). And I know the dogs don’t give a pile of poop that I’m there but for me it’s special. I don’t see them from the front on runs. All I see are butts and tails and ears but when I sync up with them on the ground, stretching to catch up, you get a whiff of that energy.  We were on a run the other day, when Mike switched Ozzie and Twain in lead. When I asked why, he said, ‘cause I like it.’  He’s told me quite a few times that I think too much (ha!), so I didn’t press. Then he volunteered, ‘those guys have probably 50,000 miles on them.’ It took a minute to sink in. That is a lot of miles. Yeah. It took me 3500 miles to get from GA to Oregon. Ozzie and Twain have run the equivalent of that distance 14 times. That night and the following one I sat up in bed before falling asleep wondering what it’s like to go 50,000 miles with a dog. Respect for the sport. Respect for the dogmanship. Mostly, mad Rispek for the dogs.

Things haven’t slowed down around here. It’s been a mental strain trying to rewire my brain to think like a dog. College trained me to have tunnel vision. To focus on a book or a paper for six hours at a time in the library without being distracted by my phone, the dude with a pile of the loudest possible snack items in the worlds history and the girl taking absolutely ridiculous selfies #studytime #somebodysaveme #grindingformygrades. Now it’s the opposite. You need to see and hear everything around you going on. And the most difficult thing for me, you have to externalize it. In a crisis, you’ve got to be looking at the dog. Not at your feet. Not sitting there with your mouth open trying to figure out how in the hell it came to be that Wingman is in Gunnel’s circle and Gremlin’s backwards on the wrong side of the line and Bruiser and Jigsaw aren’t hooked down anymore and I still have  three more dogs to go on the line even though Anvil just snagged the seam of my jeans and ripped them clear down from my hip to my ankle.  Somehow, you’re supposed to be able to think clearly in those moments. I can’t think clearly in the grocery store when I haven’t eaten in two hours, how am I supposed to make a composed decision when there are seventy dogs barking at me (plus Mike) and three seconds to fix things before it all hits the fan? But alas, we manage.

So where am I going with this? Basically, I’ve just been beating around the bush telling you guys I’m staying up here for the winter (I can hear the shrieks all the way from Georgia). Mike asked me to stick it out.  When I asked what I’d be doing, “Dogs, running dogs, everywhere, probably even a race or two.” I’ll be the first to say he’s putting an awful lot of stock in someone who’s never stepped foot on a sled. But you can’t dangle that bone (pun intended) in front of me and expect me to not snap it up. When I called my mom and told her Mike’s offer, she said she saw it coming. That she couldn’t tell me no. She asked if this would benefit my career and of course the answer as it always has been, was no, not directly. But truth be told, there’s a lot of things I’ve learned in the dog yard that have made me a better person in life. Or so I hope. So I tried really hard to pretend to look for other jobs, but in the end I went with my gut and accepted. Cause that’s what I’ve been going on for a while, my gut. If I didn’t have some fru-fru, hippy-dippy, Peter Pan never-growing-up complex I wouldn’t be here in Alaska to begin with. There’s not one bit of logic that explains why I’m here and yet why am I so content? “There’s something in the back of my head that says you’re halfway into this, and if you don’t stay you’ll never know what the end is really like.” And that’s why I love my momma, y’all.




Kennel standards

Been receiving some pressure for another blurb (cough cough you know who you are) so coming at you live (not true) with another half baked attempt at explaining what I’ve been doing lately. My phone is a long list of unanswered texts or conversations that I started but forgot to keep going because well frankly I’m a jerk. A jerk that’s having more fun than is reasonable and knows she’s being a jerk but a jerk nonetheless. To all of you wondering “how’s Alaska?” I hope this gives you an idea. 

It really bites waiting so long to write this because there is a lot to explain. If you’ve never been in a dog yard, read this part. Yes, there is a ton of crap. Yes, the other staff and I (there are four of us) scoop 70 dogs at least 3x a day. Yes, I like doing it (wait, what?). Scooping requires you to interact with every single dog. It’s the best time to teach them to pay attention to me and what I want. I believe how well you do this follows you outside the kennel and helps you on the trail. The kennel is set up in rows of dog houses with each dog on a 3 ft swivel chain close enough for the dogs to interact but not start trouble. This perturbs people sometimes. Why not have all the dogs free range in a fence? If we wanted a college frat party on our hands, sure why not? What I’m getting at is the dogs are on chains because we can make sure everyone gets a fair meal, prevent a fight between dogs still intact, and avoid accidental breeding. It also allows us to move quickly and interact with each dog individually.  It’s mikes goal to exercise every dog once a day. Some days it happens, some days it’s too hot, some days something else comes up. But, dogs that didn’t run today are first on the list tomorrow. The main difference between these dogs and your dog is these dogs are bred to be athletes. Mike likes speed, drive and willingness to please. Consequently, these dogs are more energetic and forward driven than most companion dogs. Secondly there are 70 of them. This creates an entirely different dynamic than the environment between you and your pup on the couch. 

Next, let me explain what I generally do. In the summer, mike does Iditarod kennel tours. Folks on big cruise lines hold a puppy, learn about the Alaskan husky while watching us hook up a team and mike leave for a run and return. A second presentation in the theater building that mike has built (sidenote: he’s built nearly every structure on the property besides the original house which he jacked up and rolled 40 foot on to a new foundation) goes into detail about the Iditarod. We have between 1-3 of these a day. In the morning, I snack dogs on the thin side, scoop, water, and then go into the puppy pen to feed the puppies. We have 13 from two litters and are expecting 4 more litters before the summer is over. I handle each one; their paws, tails, ears, body, head. I give them a good scratch. I coo how cute they are, what good puppies they are, la te dah. Shortly after, I help harness and hook up a team on the ATV. One of the teams (mostly 2-3 year olds), I drive and Thomas goes with. The other Thomas drives and I go with. If it’s a cool day I hook up the UTV, we put on a 12 dog gangline and we hook the pups of the year up, mike drives them. Should we have a tour we hook up a more veteran team with some of the younger dogs mike thinks are ready to go with the big guys. At three we feed, water, and scoop again. Some of the pups of the year I work with individually. It’s easy for them to get intimidated going to the gang line. If you imagine the noise of a metal head banging rave hybrid concert, you’d be getting close to the chaos of the dog yard when we start hooking dogs up. Every dog is running circles, barking, jumping, snapping, wanting to get put on the line. The easiest way to prevent young dogs from balking is repetition of a positive experience. So I’ll take one at a time, put them in harness, hook on a leash and take them to where we hook up and run them in and out of the yard. I get them used to things they’ll be seeing on the trail for the first time like the river that’s no longer frozen, the rutted muddy ground that’s no longer hard. I like this one on one time with them off-chain. There are a few dogs I initially found really annoying, but completely changed my mind about after I ran them a few times. 

 Summer in Alaska, has no snow. Thus we run the dogs with the ATV.  Long distance mushing doesn’t require the dogs to pull a ton. It’s not a weightlifting competition, it’s a marathon, so when we run them we maneuver the four wheeler to keep them from pulling excessively and teach them to run around 10 mph steadily. Certainly, we use the brakes to slow them down because they will go much faster if allowed. It’s mostly straightforward, ‘Gee’ is right, ‘Haw’ is left, ‘Woah’ to stop, ‘Easy’ to slow. Experience makes all the difference. It is the half second too early or too late that you give a command that matters. It’s anticipating what the goofball is gonna do. Seeing your leaders tire or lose focus. Knowing what’s a normal gait for each dog. The hardest part about it is learning to observe all these things at once while operating the machine in as smooth a way as possible. Can I ease up when the leaders are going up a hill and then give it enough to get me up the hill without losing speed? Can I accelerate steadily around a turn and swing wide enough to keep the dogs out of the bushes and not be late on the turn command for the immediate left? We only run them a few miles in the summer and always take them through a river crossing if it’s hot. As fall rolls around, the game changes completely and they run much longer distances. Between September and March (the start of the Iditarod) they will have run roughly 4,000 miles. 





Looks like I accidentally skipped the last three years of my life. Whoops. But I’m back. I thought long and hard about whether I wanted to write a blog and I concluded, I don’t. To write a blog about myself seems swarthed in pretension. However, my grandma just absolutely cannot get the time difference right (6 in Alaska, 10 in Atlanta I say…6 in Atlanta, 10 in Alaska she repeats studiously) and there are those of my relatives (hey, Aunt Margaret Anne!) that are convinced this [Alaskan sled dog kennel job] is an internet scam. This is to confirm that my head has not been lopped off by some crazy Alaskan. Yet, at least. Crossing fingers. And while I just had my first ever caribou steak that Mike killed this winter and I’m feeling chatty, don’t get comfortable. I’m no pen-pal and I must stand on the left end of the couch with my computer in the window to get wifi at a zooming speed that puts the migration of slugs into perspective.

Below are excerpts of the two week, ~6,700 mile road trip to Alaska taken from the journal I kept.

Day 2: Drove up the side of Iowa/Nebraska. Continued to Sioux Falls, SD and stopped at Sansa’s Gourmet Mediterranean. I swear I ordered something called shish tawok and mom got falafel which she ate after she blessed the food saying, “Plz let us get out of here.” Finally after going north for half the day we turned left across SD. Detoured Badlands. Saw ape man! Took great selfies! Then I got sick! I ate a Philly cheese steak, in bed, at nine, from Tally’s Silver Spoon in Rapid City.


Day 3: Woke up to the alarm of whatever schmuck before us in the hotel set it at, 4:30. Got Starbucks because mom is millionaire in Starbucks gift cards; forgot to use gift card. Drove to Custer State Park. Saw: bison, w. meadowlark, N. flicker, RWBB, pronghorn, wild burros, Kestrel, multiple selfies taken from our truck with bison and antelope. Pretty gusty. Been getting around 18 mpg but dropped down to 15 across SD. Continue to listen to serial podcasts about girl murdered by ex-boyfriend, too late to turn back now. Arrive at Billings, MT. Find mom boots at Al’s bootery to impress all her teacher friends. Zimmerman Park to see Rimrocks. Also a bit breezy. Also Montana has no sales tax? Also, this thumps us. Specially mom.

Day 5: Snowshoed in Glacier NP. Mom nearly slid down mountain (only a slight exaggeration).  Seven hours with Greg, poor guy. Dinner at Moose’s *pride of Kalispell* *a must eat* and also a saloon with a non ergonomic swinging door and peanuts that you have to pay for.

Day 6: Dropped mom off on way to Boise. Drove through Bitteroot Mtn along Lochsa or Middle Fork River through Kooskia the most beautiful town I’d never want to live in. 22 mpg! Arrived in Boise at midnight.

Day 7: Promptly garbled three Krispy Kreme donuts whole. Recounted with Jen all great Z ranch memories. Netflixed like champs. Met Jens friend for dinner at Fork farm to table restaurant. Donut/trout combo not to be trifled with, almost lost it in bathroom but neutralized it with 2.5 icecream sandwiches later on as we fell asleep discussing different Tinder tactics.

Day 9: Picked up Zach at 10. Drove to Pacific Coast, Cannon Beach. Looked at a big rock. Here begins my love affair with halibut. Met friends at Interurban where Zach made me tell story about eating Rocky Mtn Oysters to all his city friends that I just met.

Day 10:Picked Dad up. Went on whale watching tour near Vancouver then killed world’s cheesiest enchilada, no picture evidence but tiny rivers of cheese everywhere. Flood of cheese. New Orleans.Think Katrina. Katrina of cheese. Stopped at Canadian customs. Oooooo Canada! Can no longer determine mpg’s because everything is liters and kilometers and that is just outside the bounds of my college education.

Day 13: FN-Whitehorse. Passed a small herd of elk on outside of town. Brilliant sun lighting prairie field on fire. A young male pops over the barbed wire fence, lifting his nose up into air perhaps gesturing, “Look at me, I’m bad.” The species-transcendent charming male bravado every girl is conditioned to (it varies by region; in mississippi- look at all my guns). Naturally, Dad was eating his cranberry muffin through these infinite few seconds and we were past them before I could slow down so nobody could really appreciate the poor guy as the rest of the herd hardly lifted their heads from snuffling along the ground.

Saw: Old male Stone sheep on cliff overlooking highway.Clan of caribou in road. Iphone family portrait of what could be my actual family any time we’re all together.Wood bison. Black bear. Liard River hot springs. Trumpeter swans. The rivers are striking jade green and beautiful.

Day 14: WH-Tok, Alaska!  Saw: Trumpeter Swans, Dall’s sheep and the backside of a moose as he disappeared in the brush.

Day 15: Tok-Anchorage. Through Alaska Range. Most surreal. Towards Seward, cannot begin to process this landscape. Mountains everywhere. Listened to George and Hank and Willie and Waylon and Conway Twitty,  Paw’s old music as Dad said. Wonder how big of a laugh he’d get if he saw me now! Saw Dad off on his flight with a hug and a wave! Tomorrow I drive to Cantwell to start a 5 month internship working for Wolf’s Den Kennels.


Lastly, a thanks to the East Coweta School System for planning mom’s spring break the same time as my trip, my parents for understanding and joining, the trusty yota that toted me across the country without a hitch, gas stations with top notch coffee selections, everybody, the United States, the universe (trying to cover all my bases here). Just know if we have had a conversation in the past three months I am probably thankful for you.


Take care,



Week 11 & 12: The debut of the turtles and my thoughts on this summer

I’m on my back, my head propped up on a worn piece of driftwood. I occasionally slap at mosquitoes nervy enough to land in range of my trusty fly swatter, my hand. The waves are calm and barely put up a fight to struggle up the shore before they wash away.  Oil rigs light up the horizon indicating what a passer-by might mistake as a small city. They are no comparison, though, to the night sky. So many all above me. Admirably, they demand my unbroken attention without ever saying a thing.

Ahh, but I hop up. I must check the nest or the buggers will be out and in the ocean before we even know it. I attempt to brush off the sand for a bit before I realize it’s a futile pursuit and put on my uber fashionable, red-light, turtle-safe head lamp. I scan the trench we’ve dug looking for escapees, filling in holes and scaring off crabs as I traipse up the dune. I checked ten minutes ago, there is not going to be….op, there it is, poking its head out of the sand. He climbs out and there’s another behind him. And another. And the train continues. I call Ashley, “WE’VE GOT TURTLES,” and she scrambles up. We ooh and ahh. I keep my light on them and make sure they are heading in the right direction. Which they aren’t. One turns around and heads the opposite direction. One climbs up the side of the trench before he slips down on his back and flails around until I reach down with my finger and flip him back over with a soft reprimand. One seemingly takes a nap. And one is firing on all flippers straight for the sea before her. I assume she was a female. Truthfully, sex is temperature dependent so the majority are probably all males, but never ye mind, because I know with absolute certainty that hatchling was a mini-me.

Eventually, they all crawl their way to the shore, where the sand gets wet but just above the water’s reach. I like to be there for this moment so I can see that first reaction when the water rushes up under them and gets in their nose and covers their flippers. What must that be like? Do they know it’s home? They pause. Then miraculously, many make a mad break straight for the ocean! They get tumbled around for a minute before the waves take them away, out, towards the middle of the ocean. At this point, those of us land-goers fist pump. We’re empty nest-ers now, literally.

Night hatching.

Night hatching.


With some variation, the above story is what I spent my last two weeks doing. I’m one lucky duck, right? Right. I feel extremely privileged to have had those experiences. Spent with some of the best people, too. I hope I remember those nights for a long, long time. Aside from the task of saving baby sea turtles (I’m being facetious here), we also set some minnow traps with the help of Becky, a biologist from North MS and lovely person overall, and her interns. We were pleasantly surprised the next day to find a gulf salt marsh snake and a banded water snake. We were visited by a slew of interns from Mississippi Sandhill Crane too. It was all fun and games until we got finagled into helping with a unit for fire monitoring. All brush and thorns. I had to channel my inner-Tarzan to get over, around and through some of that jungle.

Gulf Salt Marsh Snake

Gulf Salt Marsh Snake

Another incredibly awesome thing I got to do was excavate nests A-1 and A-2. After three days of the initial hatch we dig up the nest to get hatch success data. Hopefully, you find mainly empty shells though it’s likely you will get 8-10+ that didn’t hatch because of infertility, depredation, or developmental problems to name a few of the most probable reasons. You count them all, obviously, then you examine the unhatched eggs. Sometime you open it up and there is a turtle, curled around its yolk sac that for whatever reason, didn’t make it. Sometimes it’s like sifting through fried eggs, looking for eye spots or a tiny little embryo.  After you’re done, you throw it all back in the turtle nest turned grave and let nature do its thing.  Then you stand up, and think to yourself, ‘I can never eat eggs again.’  That was my experience when excavating A-1. A-2 held more surprises.

Like four baby hatchling surprises.

The four we released after excavating.

The fabulous four.

Our primary goal is to interrupt the natural process for all baby sea turtles as little as possible, if at all. However, the hatchling’s energy reserves come from the yolk sac, the last of which they soak up, just before pipping the egg. This fuels them to climb out of a foot deep hole, into the ocean and traverse the many miles to reach the closest current in the gulf which they hopefully ride until large enough to not be such an easy snack for fish or birds. If these turtles have been lolli-gagging around in the bottom of that nest for three days, chances are they won’t have the energy to make it to the current. So we put them in a bucket, carry them to the shore, and release them there. Why not just put them all in a bucket and carry them to the water when they first hatch then? Let’s revert back to my previous statement that we like to keep things as natural as possible. It’s pretty well accepted that female turtles return to the same beach to nest that they were hatched on, however, science has yet to definitively answer how they know where to return to. Magnetic compass? Maybe. Some believe that it is the initial crawl to the ocean that allows them to orient themselves and do whatever they do that makes them return. There is so much they don’t know, and this is an endangered species, so we try to protect and conserve while taking stringent precautions to not unknowingly err and disrupt these turtles that have survived for so long without us.

Anyways, so that is what we did. This was during the day, when they usually hatch at night, so we could see what we’d been missing. They get caught in the tide and wash up and down a few times, that’s all old news, but then…. then they get their bearings. They dip this way, they dip that way and suddenly there is this whole portrait before you of ‘I hatched a half hour ago and yet, somehow I am swimming like it’s the most natural thing in the world right now.’ And just like that, they take off. You sigh, they’re gone, but out of the corner of your eye a tiny head pops above water for a breath of air before going back under. Twenty yards later, there it is again, another breath. Another twenty yards, another breath. That was THE best moment of my entire internship. I can’t pin down precisely why. Frankly, they’re such little guys you can’t help but be concerned for them. You know that they don’t stand a chance. But to see those few poking their heads up as they got farther and farther away, I was able to garner more and more hope. A picture’s worth a thousand words? That picture would have been worth my last twelve weeks of blogging.

My internship ended with one great finale. Jerry had been dying to put the boat through it’s paces. What better way than a staff luncheon at LuLu’s? There is none! A boat ride on the intercoastal, a mahi sandwich, a lovely card and going away present, and one all inclusive staff picture later, it finally dawned on me that my internship was over. Dawned is an understatement, it was more like being hit with a bag of bricks. Firstly, I was sad to be leaving such wonderful people. Despite working for them, I think I gained more than they ever got from me. I can’t count the times they went out of their way to answer my questions, provide opportunities or make me feel a part of the office. More so than that, being able to laugh and joke around. It doesn’t happen like that everywhere. You don’t get the chance to work with such fun people all the time. It was bittersweet leaving my fellow interns as well. Ashley requested a whole paragraph in her honor, but I’ll just say this: she breaks into tears if you play “A Whole New World” from the Aladdin soundtrack and she’s single, gentlemen. And thanks to Adam, I now know what Wisconsians love, and that is milk. I am grateful for this summer for many other reasons too though. For the affirmation it’s given me in knowing this is absolutely what I love and what I want to do. For teaching me to question all things around me.  For allowing me to see the application of what I learn in school in the field and consequently, the motivation to truly understand that content. For a deeper appreciation of the common, and the ability to see it as the extraordinary. And for a million other things, that I’d rather keep to myself because they wouldn’t mean as much to you. That’s the great thing about nature after all, you don’t have to hear it from me, you can walk outside and see it yourself.

You're lookin at the best.

You’re lookin at the best.

The crew.

The crew.

This will be my last post, Thanks for reading, yall.



Week 10

We had a live stranding this week. Sort of. Well, actually, by the time we got there it was dead. Which was unfortunate, for both the turtle and us cause we were pretty excited and the turtle, I’m sure, would have liked to made it a few more years. It was a juvenile green, such a pretty thing. Should it have been alive and in good enough condition, we would have transported it to the Gulfarium, a sea turtle rehab center in Fort Walton.

On another note, I’m a pro, scratch that, fairly efficient…scratch that too, moderately familiar with the ins and outs of manipulating raster and vector data on GIS. Yay, Savanna!! I’m definitely gonna have to take that class though, because predictably, GIS skills are a must have resource looming in the future for any wildlife biologist. It’s a selfish relationship really, I love it for all the information it can give me but don’t care for it otherwise.

My herbicide training came in use this week. We had to eliminate some hazardous chemicals that we had no need for on the refuge anymore. Triple rinse, people! We wore the gas mask things. Defibrillators? Rehabilitators? I can’t remember the word. Brittany, the refuge manager and jack (or jill?) of all trades had some empty wine bottles that she cut herself that we poured the methanol into and left to evaporate. The Alcanox, which is just a light detergent, we mixed in the kiddie pool with water and left to evaporate.

I had pretty terrible luck on Monday. Me and Ashley attempted to map part of the firebreak on Little Point Clear Unit. It’s been a while since Jackie has been out there, so she couldn’t give us too much detail on the condition of it i.e. whether it was overgrown or driveable…We got out there and realized we needed waders for part of it, so we mapped as much of we could one way and then started another line. I was driving the 250 through some tall grass when I clipped a water meter. By the sound of it, I thought the truck broke in half. Literally, I turned around and expected the bed of the truck to be disconnected y’all. My life flashed before my eyes. I would forever be the girl that single handedly dismantled the truck to my supervisor and the staff at Bon Secour. In reality, I only broke the step-up into the truck off. Yah, only, right? When I told the maintenance man, Jerry (or silver fox as we sometimes call him since he has such nice hair), he found it quite humorous. I failed to see the humor in it at the time, but I can laugh now. He said to me, “Couldn’t have done it if you weren’t working.”  Everybody was honestly, very nice, about it which I am so grateful for. So, AFTER we had unsuccessfully mapped one stretch of the firebreak since we were waderless…AFTER I had modified the truck with a water meter….we started walking back and THEN it started pouring. We went out again on Wednesday, this time all three of us, with waders, to map the bit we had missed on one line. It was fun, albeit, rough conditions. Incredibly marshy and that grass that cuts your hand’s and arm’s when you try and push it out of the way. One misstep and your up to your thigh in mud. Unfortunately, but at the same time, fortunately, we didn’t see a single snake. Or gator. Boo.

 Yah. Uh-huh. Exactly.

Yah. Uh-huh. Exactly.

In the bush. With my trusty Garmin.

In the bush. With my trusty Garmin.


See y’all next week.



Week Nine: A budding oyster biologist

I’d say this week was highlighted by my short stint with Weeks Bay National Estuarine Reserve on a beach mediation project. To give you some background information, this experimental site is in the bay where a lot of ships pass through. The wake stirs up considerable sediment and causes erosion of the shoreline, slowly pushing it back. In an effort to derail this, they put in a reef to create a natural wave break but also 3 cages of clam shells at nine different location along the .3 mile stretch of reef. The cages are positioned on the front, middle and back of the reef and will hopefully recruit different organisms with intent on oysters. Oysters are, firstly, amazing. Never thought I’d get excited about a bivalve but they are so important. They are filter feeders; an adult oyster is suspected to be able to filter as many as 50 gallons of water a day. Along with clearing up the water, they have serious influence on biodiversity and nutrient cycling!! 


Which is probably why they taste so delicious. NOT.


 Anyways, in what was referred to as the “Weeks Bay Way” we all congregated at the boat dock a half hour later than scheduled. The boat ride to the site was beautiful. It was all sky over trees over water with birds swooping around above. I felt like I was in some prehistoric dinosaur age. This project was in conjunction with The Nature Conservancy so I met quite a few new faces along with the Weeks Bay team, all of which were fun and easy to work with. I served primarily as an oyster counter. They would bring the cages to us and we would count the 75 half-shells in the cage, recording the presence of barnacles, live and dead oysters, mussels, sessile organisms, and anything else worth noting. We did not find many live oysters; it was speculated that maybe the weird spring had something to do with it or maybe just not enough time. There were, however, tons of mussels, barnacles, and those tiny organisms that I memorized for my Biology II class and thought I’d never run into again, like annelids and platyhelminthes. And more crabs than I’ve seen in my lifetime thus far put together. We generally found the front cages to be covered in algae with moderate activity. All the amphopods were middle-cage dwellers along with the mussels. The back cages were half sunk in anoxic mud, meaning you’d find nothing and the other half of the shells would be pretty bare. There was also a team mapping the location of the shoreline using a backpack Trimble to see if it had moved at all. In addition, they measured the distance from reef to shore the old fashioned way aka. the measuring tape. All in all, a great experience.

On another note, history was made this past Friday. The new Alabama state record since 1989 for the Blue Marlin was broken with a 789.8 lb fish at the Blue Marlin Grand Championship fishing tournament in Orange Beach. 122 and a half inches. Worth $251,000. And I got a t-shirt to prove it.


Soo…who wants to go in with me on a boat??

See y’all later.




I sit perched uncomfortably on a kiddie-sized chair at this kiddie table while the librarian shoots me weird looks. To my left are books titled “If I Ran the Zoo”, “Little Bear’s Friend” and “The Big Balloon Race.” To my right is a kid ripping books down the spine while his mom isn’t looking. I reminisce on my own childhood, musing over what experiences made me like I am. Could it have been all the cheesy books read to me about llamas looking for their mommas and dogs named Biscuit? Was it the trips to the pasture to watch my uncle feed his cows until he could hardly walk? Or how different things look from the saddle of the horse? Was it the mix of excitement and fear that pumped adrenaline through my veins as I clung to my Dad wading deeper into the dark blue ocean water? It’s fun to think about. But perhaps, it was God-given. “Is not every landscape, every glimpse of which hath a grandeur, a face of him?” It makes sense then, that I am led to creation, His most visible fingerprint. Seriously, who but God would elect for a whale in the Arctic Ocean to grow a 9 foot tusk from his upper left canine purportedly to attract the ladies? 

Narwhal. Puts my tooth aches in perspective.

Possibly the one instance where females can’t complain they have it worse due to birthing responsibilities.


But I digress.

This week consisted of more mapping, GIS training and staff meetings. A low-key week, for us. We continued mapping the firebreaks until we made it all the way around one unit. This stretch was much easier than the last; we could actually drive it, which means we were more than a little spoiled. I’ve very faintly started to enjoy my online GIS class. Despite it being detail-intensive and the half hour it takes me to figure out how to edit an existing polygon, it’s really impressive in the range of it’s capabilities and helpfulness. I’m certainly not a pro, so I’m considering taking the GIS course offered at State. Like I mentioned earlier, we had a complex-wide staff meeting at Mississippi Sandhill Crane NWR. The chance to see the management, hear the projects completed and in progress, and understand the overall protocol of such a meeting was a good thing. Packing all seven of us in the Expedition for a two-hour car ride was also quite enjoyable, if not a tad stuffy.

Keep on keepin’ on.