21 January 2009

on the heidi-side of life

When blogging anew, it does seem crucial to look at where things are now, see where they've been, and get an idea (perhaps through the aforementioned ponderings) of where things are going. Today follows a rather monumental snippet of history, January 20, 2009, the inauguration of Barak Obama. Oh, and the birth of my nephew(!!!), Oliver James Carothers. Today otherwise finds me at the beginning of the last(?) semester in a 5.5 year-long 2 year degree.

The detour started with 2.5 years at Principia College, where I first majored in Biology before switching to History. Meanwhile the majority of my academic time was spent working on the Principia Solar Car Project, building Ra 6.

Surely by now you're wondering how a bio major could survive on non-bio classes and switch to history while working in a library. So much indoor-time for an outside person. What about non academic time anyway? Dead birds. Ah, yes. By the dozens. Egad, why?! Windows, big shiny ones, right on top of the Mississippi River Flyway. So before and after classes, work, etc, I'd scoot around the buildings and rehab live ones, but more commonly collecting dead ones* (state and federal permits are required for picking up dead birds, my permits were through IDNR and all specimens were donated to U.C. Santa Cruz)
tewa woth cedw nofl, ysfl cmwa

They could go on, but your appetite will probably thank me for the thumbnails and the minimal elaboration. Always feel free to e-mail me with window-killed bird sightings! The more detail provided, the better - I've been adding records to my rather neglected side blog, over at a diary of death and windows.

Quite unexpectedly, at the end of 2005, an academic snafu while transferring out of Prin led to an impromptu 3 month internship at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. One snippet of evidence that still remains is this picture taken with my friend Leigh Johnson (L), the 2005 Birder of the Year.

I suppose my binocular straps still speak of SANWR, but other than Matt, most traces of my time in the Rio Grande Valley have faded. It was notable as being the time in which I finally got around to playing with canoes and regularly leading bird walks and nature hikes, paying more attention to snakes and other herps, actively seeking insect life and otherwise soaking up nature ~1/4 mile from the border.

I left the RGV just in time for my sister's wedding, which was followed shortly thereafter by my dear friend Nick's wedding. The latter was in Austin and the birders among us gathered before the ceremony for some Black-capped Vireo chasings (-m has a lovely pic of BCVI somewhere). It was amid the chasings that I bumped into a fellow I'd seen often at SANWR, first along the C-trail where a rogue Red-naped Sapsucker had loitered for a few weeks. In our brief exchanges during bird walks, I'd become rather fond of the red-bearded regular with the calm, quiet demeanor. So while the Austin area was several hours away from where we'd met and a few hours away from where we were currently living (Houston and Waco, respectively), it seemed logical that I should ask for a phone number with whatever excuse I could muster. Good move, eh?

Phone number and e-mail successfully swapped, I spent the rest of my summer working with a tiny automotive testing company, Caflor Ind. helping move test vehicles from Los Angeles to Detroit. Grand adventures, indeed. There was occasional paperwork (ok, lots of it), occasional brake testing in FL (not too much of it), and then my fall was spent in the booming metropolis of Smith Point, TX (pop. 127). I suppose there is about 1/4 of it missing, now that Ike has been through. The isolation was interesting, and a 20 min drive to the nearest "real" gas station, cell reception and internet was not endearing. Regular communication with Matt, in spite of the isolation, was becoming quite endearing.

Smith Point is known for its utterly bewildering raptor migration. The busiest day we had that season was ~25,000 Broad-winged Hawks in the air at once, with various other critters passing through. Awesome diversity for all birds, even kettles (soaring masses of birds in thermals) could include Magnificent Frigatebirds, Anhingas, Wood Storks and just about any of the ~15 regular species of raptors that pass through between mid August and mid November. Personal highlights included scanning the sky from a hammock and confusing visitors who had met me at SANWR but couldn't quite remember ("Do I know you from somewhere? You sure remind me of a canoe trip leader....")

I do miss Smith Point at times and regularly threaten to go back again (masochism, perhaps), but immediately following the SPHW gig was a wind farm project in Abilene. Turbines are always larger than they appear. I'm ~5'8 in work garb.

Lest I rant about how energy use needs to be cut, allow me to promote solar energy, passive heating, not killing snakes that aren't an immediate threat, and otherwise thinking about what our impact really means in the big picture. From Thanksgiving of 2006 until now (Jan '09), I've quite enjoyed observing the seasonal fluctuations in nature and certainly harassing the wildlife.... but it's an unsettling feeling. This form of observation at the cost of.. what? Do we really know? "My" farm has 200 turbines for now, ~85 more in the works, sprawls over 2 counties and is the easternmost of a line of over 2,000 turbines that stretch from Snyder to Albany, TX. They do look good on paper, but life's not so pretty on the ground.

The ground is a fascinating place though, for the brave.

Now that this blog entry has reached epic proportions, I'll sum up the last two years like this: for 6 months, I counted live birds. For a weekend or so, I ended up birding central TX with a red-bearded friend. For the next six I was gradually sliding into a state of comfortable closeness with said red bearded fellow while we swapped pages of e-mails and piles of pictures from our respective ends of the earth. For the last year, we've been conspiring together... Also for the last year, I've been trying to wedge myself away from the wind farm (funny how school was an excuse for that). The joint adventures resulting from "Matt and Heidi Things" have thus far been enlightening.

Hopefully in the upcoming days/weeks/months, we'll be able to fill y'all in on our San Diego, Waco, Houston, MO, CA/AZ/NM adventures - I anticipate the road trip being heavy on the leps, for those of you into butterflies ;-)

So with fair warning, I leave you with a turbine and a pump jack.

Creatures featured:
1 - the 2005 Principia Solar "rayce" team
2 - Tennessee Warblers, Wood Thrush, Cedar Waxwing, Cape May Warbler
3 - Leigh Johnson
4 - Kindli & Gavin Carothers, the birding party attending Nick Block's wedding
5 - Brown Pelicans
6 - 2.0 MW Gamesa turbines, Sleepy Orange
7 - Eastern Red, Mexican Free-tail, and Hoary Bat, Turkey Vulture, Barn Owl
8 - Hoary Bat, Mourning Warbler, Tarantula (Aphonopelma sp.), Bull Snake, Mystery Mouse, Mantis Fly (Mantispid sp.), some poor innocent froglet, Texas Horned Lizard

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