18 March 2004

I've been out at camp for a week now, and have just come back into Reno to sign paperwork. One week, going on what seems like 6 months. Where to start the tale of such a strange little adventure?

The field camp I worked out of last summer in the Alaskan Arctic was the Ritz Carlton in comparison to my living situation now. We work out of a gravel pit several miles off a lonely little highway in a sagebrush valley in central Nevada. We are surrounded by pinon pine/juniper covered mountains that still have snow on them despite valley temperatures in the mid 70's. We each have a tent where we sleep. A weatherport with a plywood floor serves as office, kitchen, storage and living room. Behind camp we've dug a hole in the ground and built a plywood box with a hole cut in it for a toilet. The new luxury this year is a plastic seat set on top to cut down on the number of splinters received in unfortunate places.

I live with three other men, and a dog, Beowawe, which is Shoshone for "gateway" and a slang word for female genitalia. One of the guys is married and half republican: the first time we argued politics I felt like I was going to have to quit. One of the other guys comes from a navy family and is very much a tough-guy, hunter/fisher outdoorsman. I wouldn't doubt conservative political tendencies on his part either. He is hearing impaired and is teaching me sign language. I'm still amazed at how well we can communicate with so few words. My boss reminds me of a jowlier, balder, modern-day, American Heathcliff from D.H. Lawrence's "Lady Chatterly's Lover." An interesting camp dynamic to say the least.

I'm desperate for female company already. The dog, in all her muttish, quizicallness is a small comfort. I've never worked in an all male co-worker environment. In a field camp there are a lot of chores to be done, and I find myself gravitating towards the more uxorial duties. I'm afraid to touch the generators that power our freezer and lights, but I jump all over tasks like cooking, cleaning, and sewing up bird observation blinds. I'm uncomfortable tackling the "manly" tasks mainly because I don't have the expertise. I feel like one of the guys should step forward and show me how. I guess I could also step forward and ask, though part of me doesn't want the responsibility because I know that if I mess-up the blame falls on my sex, not on the fact that anyone could have made the same mistake.

Dates and days of the week are irrelevant in camp. Night, day, and most especially the crepuscular hours between, are the cycles we have adapted too. We wake up between 12:30 and 3:00 AM, and work until about 8:00 AM, either observing or trapping birds. Then we take a long nap before our tents get too hot. Birds are tracked using radio telemetry during the heat of the day. Camp chores wind down around sundown, and it's off to bed before the stars have come out in their full, desert brilliance.

We get into town about once a week to shower at another UNR research trailer in a failing mining town in the mountains 50 miles away. In all wierdness, one of the technicians on that project is a girl I'd done desert toroise research with in Las Vegas four years ago to the day. We'd completely lost touch, and I still haven't stopped marvelling at the small, roundishness of this world.

I'm swallowing Edward Abbey's Desert Solitaire and Mary Austin's Land of Little Rain in great draughts. I've decided that I plan on extending this twilit youth for a good, long while yet.

Sometimes (most times?) there is nothing so important in life as a clear sky.

06 March 2004

Hurrah for rash decisions. I'm leaving for Reno on Monday. What can I say? I'm a sucker for springtime in the desert.

At the point of change, I've become quite nostalgic about leaving. I was just getting to know my old friends again. Getting to know some of their children. I went wedding dress shopping with one of my best friends from high school today. And the whether is just nice enough to start riding horse again.

I feel like I miss so much when I'm gone. I feel guilty for not being here for my friends, my family, my animals. I'm the one that chooses to run away, while real life, good and bad, happens here without me.

Nothing, not even the desert, smells as good as wet, melting prairie.

04 March 2004

I never knew there was a Department of Labor, Women's Bureau. The site has some interesting statistics on women in nontraditional occupations. It's a strange listing, though, since only careers in which women comprise 25% of the workforce or less are listed. It's omitting once nontraditional careers where women now comprise a significant portion of the workforce. For example, careers related to auto maintenance and repair were not on the 2002 list, but I would still consider that a nontraditional occupation for women. I want to see successes too! I suppose it's a difficult classification, though, since I agree with Josh's comment (Comment, 23 February) that non-traditional careers for women have historically been any job outside the home.

In 2002 only 2% of electricians and carpenters were women. Women make up only 3.4% of the construciton worker labor force. I'm shocked that only 20% of dentists are women. Thankfully from 1999 to 2002 women physicians have come to occupy more than 25% of the labor force.

As a side note, I'm bookmarking Women in Apprenticeship and Nontraditional Occupations as the first place I'll apply to for grant money for my Do-It-Herself school.

I'm bored! I've finally been offered a job, working with greater sage grouse in Nevada. I have till tomorrow to decide whether or not to take it. Job specs: live in a trailer on a gravel pad 70 miles from the nearest town (read: nearest shower, phone, and internet connection) with three other (male) students/technicians and spend the next three months night-lighting, banding, tracking and observing grouse. I have been known to be attracted to like situations (I spent last summer living in a tent on a gravel pad in the Arctic) but I'm skeptical about this one . . .

Still, my incurable wanderlust and tendency to make rash, often poor, decisions has me seriously tempted to fire off an acceptance e-mail and drive to Reno this weekend.

01 March 2004

An interesting artical on young people leaving North Dakota.

A lot of the article focuses on cultural reasons why young people leave. Yes, that's it! I was in Fargo the other day, so of course I took the opportunity to go to the mall, since ours is worse than the mall in Ithaca. I checked out the bookstore, since we don't have one in the big town near me (unless you count Wal-Mart or the Christian Supply Store, which I don't.) Anyway, Sean Hannity's books were scattered all around the store, while Alan Colmes and Al Franken were nowhere to be seen.

I ordered a salad in the food court from a decent looking cafe. "Is the lettuce baby greens?" I asked. "Yeah, it's green lettuce," was the kids response. Nothing like a nutritous iceberg lettuce salad. "Do you have oil and vinegar dressing?" I asked. "Uh, what? No." Mmm, nothing like dousing that nutritous iceberg lettuce in nutritous ranch dressing.

I'm frustrated at not being able to find freshwater mozzarella or arugula in the grocery store. My parent's insist on cooking with canola oil, when everyone one knows that extra virgin olive oil is the only way to go. My family is extremely carniverous, making it very hard to stick to my regimen of being vegitarian 5 days a week.

The nicest restaurant to eat at in town is Applebee's. Yes, Applebee's, the incredibly proliferate, gaudily decorated chain restaurant monster. The sad thing is that Applebee's represents to people in North Dakota a taste of culture from the East.

What's even sadder is that Wal-Mart is celebrated as the best thing to happen to the town since the trans-continental railroad.

Is it a wonder that North Dakota's youth want to leave? On one hand it's a hat tip to our elders. We've grown up in an environment and received an education that has allowed us to be better better people, build better lives, and dream bigger dreams. On the other hand, would better peope really take issue with the type of cooking oil their parents use?