Friday, April 22, 2011

Your not on Facebook? Then what do you do with your free time?

In these, the days of Facebook and Twitter, the days of instant and constant communication, I crave a slight reprieve from it all.  I miss the simplicity of a life before all that, a life I never really experienced. When your word meant everything because you couldn't change plans any instant with a quick text. When experiences were understood communally and carried out together.

I do not mean to bash what we have created for ourselves. Technology has improved life and communication in many positive ways but I also believe that everyone needs a healthy dose of understanding the life without,  needs something to connect you with the earth instead of just clever distraction from it.  It is a feeling that those who go camping and birding understand well. Those who pay attention to the world using all of their senses. Don't let it all pass you by. Even in an urban setting there is more than meets the eye. Listen for sounds, take slow deep breaths to smell and taste, keep your eyes open and your mind aware that the things you so often disregard as "everyday" and "commonplace" may hold the most significance of all.

Children are being brought up with overwhelming Nature Deficit Disorder. You may think that is just some hippie B.S. but it is quite real. We are not so separate from nature as we like to pretend.  We are a product of it and have continuous ties to it.  Disregarding our living environment is one of the biggest mistakes you can make in life.  Our health as individuals and as a species is completely tied to and dependent upon the health of the ecosystem we live in. This includes our, often overlooked, mental health.  A book by Richard Louv, "Last Child in the Woods", goes on to elaborate and present the facts about Nature Deficit Disorder.  I would highly recommend this book to those curious about why, as individuals, we should care about the environment.

I say get outside and enjoy a nice day however you can. Take shelter from the rain but think about it and maybe even watch as it cascades down the gutters.  Leave the Ipod at home on your next run and pay attention to the wind in the trees, the birds now singing for mates, the cicadas rhythmic chorus with its hypnotizing ebb and flow(midwesterners especially). Gain a respect for the normal and seemingly unexciting behaviors of a squirrel or a sparrow. Grow a garden or even just a few plants to forge that bond between you and nature.  I have found divine moments of relaxation in these simple pleasures as the volume of daily stress fades out.  These are all windows into our own world if we will only open our eyes long enough to see through them.

Do you see it?

I Got the Job!

It finally happened, I got hired to do something great!  This is exactly what I was looking for, a job counting birds and camping for weeks at a time. In fact it gets even better than that.  I will be in the Alaskan backcountry, after being dropped by pontoon plane or helicopter.  It will be the summer and therefore bright for very long periods of time, I was told birds begin singing around 1-2am every morning.

The backcountry of Alaska is a true wilderness. One of the last few that remain. All of my life I have wanted to explore the unknown, fantasizing about being in the frontier or being a naturalist in uncharted lands. This may not be quite as romantic as all that but it will certainly prove to be the closest I have come to achieving that fantasy. I will be out in the thick of it.  Fending off massive mosquitos in swarms and lugging around a shotgun in case of grizzly bear encounters.  That may not appeal to most but it practically sends shivers of excitement down my spine to think about it.  Spending the days talking, eating, breathing and living the world directly around me.  What better way to learn? What better way to live?

I was hired by the Alaska Bird Observatory, based out of Fairbanks.  This is my introduction to the professional world of birding. It has been a hobby and interest for me in the last few years and I will finally have the chance to get more serious, meet some more "bird people".

To answer some frequently asked questions.

Q: Where in Alaska?
A: Not sure. I will be based out of Fairbanks in the beginning but I have not received any word on where the surveys will take place.

Q: What is the position?
A: My position title is Alaska Landbird Monitoring Survey Field Intern.  We will be doing point count surveys of bird populations as well as some vegetation surveying.  It is part of an ongoing project and something that I am extremely proud to call myself a part of.

Q: When do you head out? By plane or driving?
A: I haven't yet received the official notification but i should be in training in mid-May. I do not need to bring much gear so I am in favor of flying right now but the drive up from Oregon would be beautiful.

Saturday, April 16, 2011


The Alaska Bird Observatory got back to me about that job. Turns out i was a close second but the job ended up going to someone else.  There may in fact be a second position if funding gets approved.  Until then I am waiting it out. Filling my time with disc golf, guitar, longboarding, movies, baking, and brewing beer... Why can't all of this be my job?

To be serious though there is nothing I hate more than waiting.  Knowing the outcome, whether I get the position or not is preferable to waiting because either way I can move forward. Just passing time with other interests to keep from going completely crazy. That is not enough for me, I want purpose. I want to feel productive in a way where I am both learning and changing, where I can see it in myself and the world.  I don't care about fame or glory but instead I want satisfaction and contentment.  I want to love where I am, what I am doing, and who I am with.

Get back to me about that job soon, please.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Ecuador or Alaska?

Now I have a goal... Get to Ecuador...  all that is left is to actually DO IT.  Of course, as I am learning more and more every day, life likes to throw you the curveball quite often.  Suddenly the jobs I've applied for are very interested and they ask...

"Tyler, do you want to study the vegetational preference of Elk grazing in Oregon?"
"Tyler, do you want to study birds in Alaska this summer?"

Me: "Well... yeah thats why I applied and sent you all those emails."...

"Great! you don't mind just hanging out while we decide if we have enough funding to hire you, do you?"

Me: "Umm... I guess I can do that for now but please let me know how long it might take before you have an answer for me."

... and then...
... Silence.

Ok, this may be a slight exaggeration, but when you are waiting all day for days to hear about the job you want most (In my case the Alaskan bird one) without even knowing when you might hear back, that can make time drag on and on. In my mind i keep asking if I should tell them I am uninterested and then simply carry out my plan of returning to Ecuador.

I am still waiting for word on the Alaskan Bird job now. If i don't get it soon, then I think it is about time for me to set out on a course for the equator and to see where that takes me.

My Bio Mojo

I have been applying for many jobs recently, finding most of them on the Texas A&M Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences job posting site.  Few have been interested and even less have tried to offer me a position. I turned down one working in Bakersfield, California because it was poor timing for me but worst of all it was only tangentially related to the type of work i am looking for. Why did i even apply for it? Im not sure what the initial motivation was but at least it was nice to get a positive response from one of them.  Most of the other positions have either turned me down, or worse simply disregarded my follow up emails and not given me the time of day.

After a while i have got to thinking about this whole job search and where i am going.  It is mostly depressing and only occasionally exciting to think about the future and what it may bring.  I have been in contact with a dear friend, Ashley Pacelli, who both motivates me and is able to understand the difficulty i feel in finding what it is I truly want. She is most often inspiring to me (check the profile of this page to the right) and recently suggested that i might need to reacquaint myself with the reason I love biology. In essence, i need to get my Bio Mojo back.  I am thinking that a good stint of time spent in Ecuador, the biodiversity capitol of the world, might just do the trick. 

I spent five weeks there in 2008 studying the Ecology through a class at the University of Oregon.  It was the most incredible class and experience of my life. One that I would not change for the world.  I got to witness some amazing creatures firsthand that have never been presented to me in any class or nature show I've ever seen.  We stayed at lodges, hotels and stations in various habitats, traveling from the city to the high paramo, to a polylepis (rose) forest, to the cloud forest, to the amazon, to a black water system, and finally spending a short stay on the coast.  I learned a great deal about life in those all-to-short weeks and have been yearning for my return to that magical place ever since.

Hummingbirds at Guango Lodge
A mushroom growing at 11,000 ft.

One beautiful and tiny Orchid

What would a trip to the Amazon be of you didn't see a poison dart frog?
Tarantula's leg in Tiputini

Candy Bugs- Not as friendly as the name might imply.  (Photo by Ashley Pacelli)

I plan to volunteer somewhere for a while and take spanish classes to get a base in the language. Then i want to visit one of the many... MANY ecolodges or research stations around the country and see what work I can do for them (El Monte, Sani Lodge). Its a cheap place to travel and if you volunteer your way around then it becomes practically free besides the price of a plane ticket.  It is fairly safe, extremely beautiful and if you speak a little spanish it can be very easy to get around. Getting out to a research station would be the ultimate goal for me (Los Cedros, YanaYacu, Tiputini). To be out in the wild where I could once again begin to feel the pulse of the earth.  I am sure that that would center me again, that would help to focus my thoughts and ambitions on a unified purpose.

I Graduated... Now What?

For this inaugural post I hoped to have a more interesting anecdote to start it all off with, but being a 23 year old unemployed biology graduate living out of a friends house while searching for jobs and fantasizing about the life i could be leading does not bring any great impressive reference to one... "The Graduate".  The most immediate distinction between me and Ben, Dustin Hoffman from the graduate, being that I fully intend to go into the field in which i have been studying for the last 4+ years. Yet, here I still find myself arriving at the same conclusion that Ben did early in the movie.

The Graduate
Mr. Braddock: Would you mind telling me then what those four years of college were for? What was the point of all that hard work? 
Benjamin: You got me. 

Mr. Roberts: Would you mind telling me then what those four years of college were for? What was the point of all that hard work? 
Tyler: Well I want a job in Biology... where?...doing what?...You got me.

I guess I do have a general idea of what i want but from my perspective there are thousands of potential places to go from here and I have almost no real experience, therefore i feel unable to even make an educated guess about where i want to go.

"What can you do with a biology degree?"

  • Be a Doctor
  • Research
  • Monitor
  • Consult
  • Conserve
  • Teach
  • Be a Naturalist Guide
Ok, thats a decent list and it still does not cover just how many options there really are.  For a long time I've know that biology is the field I want to be in and I think that being a guide specifically would be a dream come true. Research would be interesting and exciting but i do not envy those who spend hours toiling away trying to write papers, apply for grants and meet deadlines.  I would rather have an active job that has some direct influence i can witness.  

As I probe the depths of my inner conscience trying to piece together where i want my life to lead many questions keep bubbling to the surface.

Where do I begin?
What is my ideal job?
Where do I want to go?
What area of biology is most important to me?
Does it even matter what direction I take?

Those are a few of the more prominent ones but most of the doubts I have I can not articulate that well.  They are better described generally as feelings and senses that caste a shadow on every idea i have.   I am constantly playing my own devils advocate, but is it to my benefit or my detriment?  Im sure that  I am far to analytical about all of this decision making and that I simply need to go with my gut. However that is far easier said than done. I have spent my entire school career learning to be analytical and only using my gut as the last resort, most often on a multiple choice test in chemistry class.  Now when I need to call on my gut for direction I find that we are not on speaking terms anymore.  As a word of advice, use and listen to your gut... it may be smarter than your brain.

I guess the best thing I can do is to take aim, shoot, and hope that i hit the target.  However, with life being what it is I fully expect to ricochet more than once and head out on a course I never considered in the beginning.  This is both an exciting and daunting time for me, emphasis on the latter.