Monday, September 23, 2013

My Summer as a Turtle Tracker

How fun! Completely forgotten about... I was looking through old files and found this from summer 2006. Yes, I was a turtle tracker for the summer, and yes, it is one of the hardest jobs you can imagine! Beat the crap out of my physically, really, and mentally. Emotionally, too, with the communal living situation, though not touched upon here. I'm so thankful that I can NOW look fondly upon the experience.
Completely unedited and in its entirety. Enjoy and please ask questions! 

My Summer as a Herpetological Field Assistant (Turtle Tracker) in Lockport, IL
Summer 2006

Oh, Lockport. How do I describe thee?

Taking this job, I had absolutely no idea what I was in for. Lacking any field work or research experience, I counted myself fortunate to land this opportunity. Staying at the field house in Lockport, I was part of a team of other turtle trackers, as well as some snake people. The premise of the turtle activity was a Masters project for tracking the spatial movements of turtles in various habitats. The focus of concern was on Blandings turtles, which are state endangered. There were 3 sites:

Lockport Prairie Nature Preserve, consisting of mostly dolomite prairie, cattail marsh, and some ponds, right off of the Des Plaines River. There were about 75 turtles total radio-tagged – Blandings turtles, Spotted, Snapping, Painted, and Musk turtles.

Keepataw Black Partridge Forest Preserve, right where the wonderful I-355 extension is being built. That’s right, straight through the marsh. There’s a lovely electrical buzz and crackling from the huge powerlines, as well, that cut through here. We had only a few turtles here (Blandings) for the numerous traps we had set, but there was much drama with turtles in the construction zone.

Goose Lake Prairie State Wildlife Area, temporarily, because this area of wet unfragmented prairie turned out to be a huge game of hide and seek with what few turtles (Blandings) we had. The turtles would stay put in their pond for a little while, randomly take off, and leave us blindly searching for them. They were laughing all the way.

Daily, there would be a team for Lockport Prairie, and for Goose Lake Prairie and Keepataw. At Lockport Prairie, you would be given a few areas (West Marsh, Railroad Marsh, East Pond, etc.) to track turtles in. Each turtle has a small transmitter attached to their shell, and each is a different radio frequency. Your job was, with radio antenna in one hand, receiver in the other (in which you typed the radio frequency), and with your “turtle bag” flung over a shoulder, was to track your given number of turtles, anywhere from 10-15, through all of the habitat and weather conditions that nature can throw at you. Once you find a turtle, as indicated by the increasing “beep, beep” sound of the receiver, you take down all of the data in that location on your handy little clipboard: GPS coordinates, temp, humidity, vegetation type and height, water depth and temp, etc.

And daily, hoop traps would be checked to see if we could catch any more Blandings turtles to put transmitters on. Often, we caught Painted turtles. Whatever turtles we caught, we would haul back to the truck, measure, mark (make notches in their shell), and release. Your day was guaranteed a bit more interesting if you caught a gigantic Snapper in the trap.

The same process would occur at Goose Lake Prairie and Keepataw, except for the fact that we tracked fewer turtles in these areas, and that at GLP, it was not uncommon to lose turtles for a few days, and then by some miracle, track them to some obscure pond or marsh a half mile away that we would’ve never known existed. But by God, or sheer insanity, or both, we tracked through the brambles of raspberry, clumps of sedge that are put on this Earth in order to break your ankles, through swarms of painful, blood-sucking horseflies (mosquitoes are playful compared to them), f%*#@ing Wild Parsnip (forget Poison Ivy!), the death mud, and above all, the Death March to Oak Pond, assuredly one of the vortexes of Hell.

I regret not saving the job description, but may this be a lesson for all future field workers: exposure to harsh field conditions is no understatement, and is a warning flag. Such a job is not for the weak!

I honestly don’t know how I survived. The first month, I was plagued with blisters on my heels that would not heal, because I was wet everyday, and only 2 days off in-between for the wounds to dry out was not enough. Ugh, it was so, so painful.
Not to mention, everyday getting scratched by vegetation – namely cattails, which grew to 10 feet late in the summer. But river rushes were the worst, because they catch your skin as you drag it across the leaves. I thought my scars would have faded by now, but they haven’t.

I could go on and on. About having to rescue traps underwater when after a heavy rain the canal waters were released, flooding the Des Plaines and all connected water bodies (a.k.a. Lockport Prairie and Keepataw). About losing signals in the cattails, and water up to your waist, trying not to drop equipment in the water, feet stuck in mud, slipping on rocks, evil bugs (Carl always won the imbedded tick game), 90 degree weather . . . it’s all there. I wore out the soles of my gym shoes. And it’s amazing how as much as you wash, the marsh smell never leaves your clothes (and the dirt never leaves the toenails until a couple weeks later).

Such an experience as Lockport deserves this long narration. I absolutely loved working with the turtles – without that, I would not have stayed long.
But I thankfully leave this story to the winds of the prairie, whom I am no match for. Utmost respect to this harsh and beautiful landscape.

This is how we did laundry
Taking data
Fresh scars

Shoes worn to the end

Catch of the day
Some people still don't believe me when I mention turtles this big... here's proof

Giant powerlines through Keepataw, and home to many turtles
Myself with tracking gear 
Blanding's turtle
Hoop traps for catching turtles
I-355 construction through the marsh

Thursday, September 12, 2013

My Story: Career Change

This I wrote a couple of weeks ago on the 2-year anniversary of leaving my job and career in the science field. It's a reflection and chronicle of a one of the biggest turning points so far in my lifetime. 

Two years ago I made the decision to leave my job and vocation in the sciences -- what I like to call my previous life. I remember feeling such freedom in going on a bike ride in the morning and starting the day with a meditation, coming to this very spot at the Skokie Lagoons where I sit right now. I meditated on the movement of energy across the Chicagoland area. I was overcome by such a strong surge from my soul, wanting to burst forth in joy from the freedom I'd been waiting so long for, and had finally granted myself! To now be at liberty to dedicate my energies freely to the endeavor of a healer and spiritual warrior.

It was not easy to come to this decision.  I had a battle within myself and it did manifest with others. I realized about a month and a half prior that I had been seeking outside approval to make this career move. I had confided with some dear coworkers and mentors, and they each supported me. None of us were happy where we were at our workplace, and the situation seemed to worsen daily. The difference between them and I was that I was in my mid-20s, without kids, with a supportive partner with steady income. I had the freedom and advantage of youth to change jobs, careers, even. So what was holding me back?

Rationality, heh. We all have it supposedly. The life vision for ourselves: go to school, college perhaps, begin our trade, build experience and relationships so that we get a better job, make more money, so that we have enough for a car, house, savings, all of our material possessions, travel... yes. All important. All the time spent in school and our jobs is a huge investment, a dedication of ourselves ultimately into building ourselves. 

Well... What happens when everything you've built doesn't seem to be working out like you wanted?  You move on. Usually. 

The problem is... It's not just about the job. It's not just about the coworkers, the bosses, the company structure, the commute, the PTO, the benefits. It's not even about your accomplishments or how much money you make. It's how you FEEL. Are you fulfilled? Energized by life? Feeling like you're moving and growing as a human being, as a soul? 

And maybe that's not at the front of your mind... But it certainly was on mine. And perhaps because I was meditating nearly every day, because I was in the School of Metaphysics and was encouraged (nay, demanded!) to follow my true inner motivation and soul's urge to express itself, it was impossible for me to NOT contemplate constantly my purpose and choices, and to NOT become increasingly miserable as I realized that what I was dedicating most of my waking time and attention to simply was... not... what I wanted anymore. And because I was thinking from a holistic perspective, I knew that if I wasn't proactive in making life changes, my stress would continue to increase and wear me down mentally, emotionally, and ultimately physically. I knew this. It happened in the beginning of my career. It was how I got introduced to Healing Touch as a client, in fact. 

I had always wanted to support something - an organization, company, structure - that was more holistic, contributing positively to the environment and society. Now I found this desire evolved to include supporting the individual expression; MY true expression. And perhaps if I practiced more assertiveness at the time, I would have moved on more quickly. In the end, of course, it didn't matter... because there's another facet to why we do what we do. 

It's the belief that life is about learning lessons. Until I completed whatever lessons I needed to learn at this job, they would follow me wherever I went. It might be different coworkers, bosses, and projects... but all the same problems, wearing different masks. 

So then the struggle was figuring out: What were my lessons? 

If you're familiar with The Law of Attraction, you know that "like attracts like." You need look no further than your coworkers. It becomes quite evident what our lessons are -- when we all complain together over lunch, what we say in hushed voices when the bosses aren't around. Look at the bosses or subordinates you attract and what conflicts arise. Why do some people just aggravate us for seemingly no reason at all? What situations do we avoid? IT IS NEVER ABOUT ANY OTHER PERSON OR SITUATION. It is always something to do with ourselves. 

In my studies of metaphysics and spirituality, I learned that anything and anyone outside of myself that triggered a reaction, be it an emotion or negative thought, was merely a reflection of something inside of me that needed to be addressed and understood, until when faced with the same circumstances, I could be in a state of mind to choose my response, rather than react. This is how we become empowered by our thoughts and feelings. We become neutral, centered, more calm - even amidst absolute craziness! 

For me, my lessons were on embracing my inner authority and standing up for myself; finding my voice. To be unable to truly express myself, even something as simple as pointing out a mistake (especially when it was my boss!) was debilitating. Being respectful of authority and fearful of authority are two totally different things. In my case, it turned into passivity and avoidance. When there was confrontation, I shut down, only to later fume at my inability to stand up for myself. Swinging between the extremes was tiring and frustrating. 

As time went on, I spent a lot more time crying. First at home. Then during lunch. Then during the workday. Taking work home with you? Dumping it on spouse and family? Something is unbalanced and seriously wrong. It is NOT normal - or at least, it's not how it should be. Then, why? Why do we choose this suffering?

Fear of the unknown. Or failure. Lack of Self-worth or Self-confidence to change, which leads to passivity and martyrdom. Yay, for the human condition! Our very own tragedy to complain and commiserate with others about. But we can only do this for so long before others get sick of hearing the same old story. They've got their own shit to deal with. 

My lesson was learning to assert my desires, ALOUD. I cared too much about what others thought. I'm sensitive to other peoples' thoughts, opinions, and what I didn't realize at the time, their energy. I recognize this NOW - but before I knew this, I simply took on other peoples' thoughts and emotions, or molded myself to their desires - because that's what they wanted, right? No wonder I was unhappy. Without asserting myself, how could anything possibly change? 

Only through prayer, meditation, and trusting in a higher guiding power did I uncover my inner desires and dare to face my fears. Getting encouragement from others was pivotal. And finally, practicing being different, again and again. Even when it was super uncomfortable. Practice, practice. 

I probably could have continued at that job. But when the epiphanies and signs came pouring in, I knew it was time to act. And, where the rational mind is unable to justify an action, faith and trust enter in. At least in my case -- I have no doubts, this is one of the best decisions I've ever made. It seems to be working out so far. :-)