To many, Baskin’s Creek is just a barren hilltop on the Rainbow Falls trail, but for me it is precisely the opposite. It’s been almost two years since the fires that swept the Great Smoky Mountains area, but the burn scars are still etched onto the table mountain pines. Serotinous cones lay everywhere, unable to open and take root. Animals scare to be seen. From an aerial glance, this trail edge is nothing but a charred, grey spot in the middle of the lush, diverse Appalachia. Underneath where the canopy should fall tells a different story colored by a new, hopeful green. New growth springs up, promising redemption for the mountain. Calls of birds overhead ring across the valley while flies buzz around my sweat-drenched hat. In just a few second’s glance, at least twenty different species shoot out. Vines are crawling over old pines skywards, and down on the fallen debris, fungi rest. I can see at least five different fungi species perched within my arm span alone. There’s even a few berries and butterflies scattered about. I’m sitting on the edge of the Rainbow Falls trail, utterly speechless at the damage those fires have done, but taken even further aback by the beauty and resilience of the forest. I originally sat down exhausted and frustrated at my personal shortcomings throughout the first half of my hike, but after resting a while and looking at how much the ecosystem around me has overcome, I’m convicted to take stock of my own self and remember that there’s so much more to be done and so much more potential for growth, one day at a time.
I have always been working interested in working in the field. I grew up watching Eliza Thornberry and Jeff Corwin, wanting to be somewhere between the two; living in the bush and helping wild animals like Eliza (talking to animals would also be pretty cool) and the education and knowledge of Jeff Corwin. I was obsessed with animal encyclopedias and spent my elementary school’s designated reading time obsessing over the tiger facts within its pages. This love for animals, especially wild animals, has stayed consistent all the way through my life and is what brought me to Warnell. This summer I had the chance to take what I love out of the TV, the books, and the classroom, and explore the natural world in a way that would have thrilled my childhood self.
This summer I joined The Jaguar Project to immerse myself in the world I dreamed of when I was younger. The crystal-blue waters of the Caribbean, which holds the world’s largest living coral reef, fades into rich, green jungle with jaguars, monkeys, Mayan ruins, and amazing people. I spent my summer hiking in the jungle with people who have become some of my closest friends. I learned how to sharpen a machete, drive a manual truck, and cook rice without a rice cooker along with plenty of field skills like setting up remote cameras, running camera checks, conducting habitat surveys, and that sometimes the only way to get the field truck unstuck is to climb under it and dig the rear wheel axle out by hand.
Never in my life did I think I would experience watching my friends scurry down an unexcavated Mayan temple with spider monkeys following after them, or falling asleep to the sound of black howler monkey males in the distance. My days were filled with bird watching, hiking through tapir and jaguar tracks, and doing work that never felt very much like work. My nights were filled with hanging out with close friends, venturing into the jungle to look for red-eyed tree frogs, and finding constellations in the sky.
The time I spent in the field this summer was one of the best experiences in my life and solidified my decision to study wildlife. Now I am back in the classroom learning the larger reasons behind the work I conducted this summer. Warnell has given me an opportunity to learn as much as I can about the work I love to do. I can’t wait to see what the rest of my time at Warnell brings my way.
The time has come for me to more officially begin laying out the future: spring semester of senior year. While I always planned on graduating college, I cannot say I contemplated how it would feel as graduation crept closer or realized how bitter sweet the anticipation would be. For job applications, scholarship essays and more, I recently started truly reflecting on the past (almost) four years and came to several realizations. Firstly, I do not think about life enough! I rarely self-reflect in a serious way on the things that have happened to me and how they impact my future. Instead, I intermittently think back, typically in times of sorrow. I also do not really know where I want my life to go after I receive my diploma. This is something most mentors, parents, and friends assure me is okay, but I still wish after four years I had a firmer direction than I do now. Finally, I am beginning to realize how intensely I am going to miss the people and experiences of Athens. I have grown immensely through these three and a half years, both personally and professionally, facing the toughest challenges in my life thus far. I have made countless mistakes and learned many lessons, but I have also shared some of the best memories with some of the most incredible people I have met so far. I have also learned how to be a better person, friend, daughter, sister, environmental advocate, and more.
I like to think none of this would be so powerful without the outdoor experiences I have had along the way. From group camping trips for my birthdays, to lengthy day hikes in other states, to solo trips in local parks, I have sought out the solitude and healing powers of the natural world to fuel me through the last four years. Most recently, Acadia National Park was the place of my reflection. Here, I fell in love with the rocky coast, the ocean, and the tranquility of the northeastern edge of our country. My outdoor experiences have also included some of the most important people in my life which makes these times even more special.
This somewhat random mixture of reflections is much like my college years, which have been a sporadic combination of laughter, tears, accomplishments, frustrations, and more. I encourage everyone to look back on what has shaped you, including both positive and negative experiences. Think about why you feel and react the way you do and what you want your life to be. Pursue your happiest, craziest dreams and include space for seclusion and reflection in nature, because everything catches up more quickly than we initially imagine. In a short six months, I will be saying goodbye to Warnell, but I will reflect on this time and its memories for many years to come.
I was blessed to have discovered my passion for wildlife conservation at a very young age. Not many six year old girls choose to have a Steve the Crocodile Hunter themed birthday party fully outfitted with a crocodile cake and an Animal Planet marathon, but I had the enthusiasm and curiosity about the world that any child has. Elementary school flew by and I quickly discovered that very few of my peers knew or cared what a wildlife biologist was. I got a lot of weird looks at school for carrying around a journal decked out in animal stickers wherever I went, which I used to record any facts I learned about animals so that I wouldn’t forget them as I got older.
In middle and high school I learned that I got teased less if I told people I wanted to be veterinarian, so I hid my passion from my friends for the sake of fitting in. I suppressed that enthusiasm and curiosity that had driven me so strongly as a kid just so people would accept me, and sometimes I wonder what opportunities I might have missed because I was so caught up in how other people perceived me.
Now, as a professional student in Warnell working towards a Wildlife Science degree, I try to keep that childlike mindset alive as I chase these goals I set for myself at six years old. I try to pursue any opportunity I can find and ask questions wherever I can, and have discovered that by openly expressing my passions I have created a network of people who support them. I encourage anyone that is conflicted or struggling with their goals to try and find their own inner six year old energy, and use it to find excitement and be inquisitive in whatever they do.
In July of 2016, I traveled out of the country for the first time in my life. I was nervous to leave and see things that were new to me. At the time I had only dreamed about opportunities to see other places and visit with people that lived differently. Traveling internationally wasn’t something my family did, but I was determined to go and see the world.
I spent a week in Quito, Ecuador engaging myself in their culture’s customs and traditions. Going to their parks and restaurants and learning from another culture that was different form mine. This one-week trip was invaluable because I gained a desire to want to learn new cultures and it prepared me for one of the most influential trips of my life.
This spring in 2018, I went on a study abroad with Warnell and the University of Georgia to Africa. The trip was for international conservation in South Africa and Botswana. As much wildlife conservation issues that we learned, one of the most invaluable parts of the trip were the people. I saw a culture completely different from mine in a place like none I had ever visited before. The culture of the people that I met will never be forgotten and will forever have influence in my life.
To see how some of these people lived, really changed how I view the world. These two trips taught me invaluable lessons about people and other cultures. If I did not travel and go on these trips, I would not be the person I am today with a much better understanding for all people. So, to anyone who is nervous or scared to travel I say “Go”, it doesn’t matter where, but you will learn more about people across the world unlike anything you could do from home.
People naturally seem to be drawn to the outdoors. Now, I do realize not everyone wants to hike the Appalachian Trail or summit Half Dome, but the majority of people enjoy seeing a pretty bird on their walk to class or sitting on a park bench for fresh air. This small foundation, that is in everyone, is something that is rarely built upon. No matter who you are, where you are from, who you vote for, how much money you have, blue collar or white collar, everyone finds some happiness in the outside in my opinion.
In today’s environment, not everyone has the ability to make it into the woods however. That’s why, in my opinion, it is important to bring the woods to them. It’s an odd thing to think about the there are thousands of thousands of people who never have the opportunity to get to explore or hike or fish or see a deer for the first time. This is where environmental education comes into play.
I have been pretty blessed with the opportunity to teach environmental education in a bunch of different places and each time, new students bring new life to the class. If you have never had the chance to teach younger kids about nature, take my word for it, the look of pure excitement can’t be rivaled. You can see things start to “click” in their heads and they all want to tell you all about it. I worked this past semester with Experience UGA, a great group of people who bring local schools to campus to teach them about all UGA has to offer, by teaching 1st graders about Warnell. They got to learn about Corny the corn snake and one of our box turtles, which we would use to teach about animal safety. Man, did they have a great time.
I encourage you, Warnellians, to take what you have learned and teach. The smallest “cool science fact” or just taking time to teach a younger person how to ID a tree could make the biggest difference. From then on, that tree will always stick out during a walk in the woods an maybe they will eventually teach their friends about it too. Throughout the end of this semester, I challenge you to teach someone about the world we live in and watch their face light up with the same look yours did, when you first became excited for nature…
This May I found myself with a little extra time on my hands before my summer internship in Colorado started. Finals ended and I got in the car and headed west. After weeks of using it as a tool to procrastinate, the details of our five-day road trip through Utah were planned down to a tee, color coded excel sheet and all. After a quick pit stop in Colorado, we set out for our first stop, Lake Powell. A sketchy 20 mile 4X4 road led us to the most picturesque camping spot I’ve ever had. It was the quietest, darkest place I’ve ever been. We set up camp and watched the sun go down and the stars come out.
The next morning, we made the short trek to Zion National Park. When Isaac Behunin first settled in what is now the park he said, “A man can worship God among these great cathedrals as well as in any man-made church. This is Zion.” As we drove through the small town of Springdale and approached the park, I knew exactly what he meant. Zion is an ecological enigma. The flourishing tropical forest amidst the arid dessert looks like something out of a movie (and judging from the crowds in the park it would be easy to believe that it was). We hit the highpoints of the park first, the ones filled with tourists and lines, and then moved on to the more challenging and “hidden” trails. I remember being so overwhelmed by the park. Everywhere you looked was beautiful. I remember looking at all the people at the park, and as much I wished I didn’t have to wait in lines or wait for traffic to die down on the trails, I was so happy that so many people wanted to come and explore park, too!
Next on the itinerary was Bryce Canyon National Park. The two-hour drive gave me time to read about the park in one of the three National Geographic National Park guide books I was given before the trip (at least my friends know me, right?). I was so excited to hike through the allegedly cursed hoo-doos and they did not disappoint! The geology in Bryce Canyon is mind boggling and the thought of how these structures formed was enough to take my mind off the intense dessert heat during the hikes. If the geography wasn’t enough to make me love Bryce Canyon, there’s an entire trail that leads visitors through a patch of Bristlecone Pines, the oldest living trees on the planet! After hearing Dr. Coder talk about these guys for a whole semester, this was a pretty big deal.
The next day we headed for Moab, Utah to visit Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. Moab is an oasis for someone in recreation and tourism. The cute little town is nestled between the parks and serves as a great hub for all things recreation in the area. Canyonlands, as the name might suggest, is home to beautiful canyons and even more captivating geology. I was surprised at the fact that I spent five days surrounded by red rocks and not once did I get tired of the views! On our last day, we got to see Arches most famous attraction and it earned a second place spot on my list of favorite arches. Our time in Moab was no where near long enough and before we knew it, we were headed back toward Colorado to start the rest of the summer. The next time I find myself with a few extra days, I already know where I’ll be spending them.