Saturday, June 25

Lieutenant George on K.P.

While Our Fearless Leader sleeps...

Our Fearless Leader

I believe the picture speaks for itself.

No Warning?

As ten high school students taking on the challenge of staying in the wilderness for two weeks we all knew the risks before we set off on the most epic adventure of our short lives. Threat number one? The southern pacific rattlesnakes that call these mountains home. However, we all knew about the telltale rattle of the snake and felt prepared, especially under the watchful eyes of our Earthwatch leaders, to make our journey despite the risk.

As we began our first real day as a team, our generous hostess Becca showed us the ropes around the Reserve, explaining all the do’s and don’ts of the area. She then brought us to a trashcan that held a deadly secret hidden inside. A few days prior she had caught a rattlesnake under the bird feeder at the Reserve and stored it here to show us what to look for when in the field.

A dramatic reenactment of the silent snake encounter by Anna, Rachel, and Boone.
Our minds were about to be blown, for what we did not know is that many of the snakes in the area have adapted and hardly ever rattle when threatened. We were all astonished to find out this new information. Then, to prove her point, Becca began to jiggle the can, and as she assured us the snake was reluctant to rattle.     On our third day, a Cal Fire employee stopped to warn us of a rattlesnake just up the road and also confirmed Becca’s warning.

So why have these snakes become a soundless threat?        One theory is that rattlesnakes have become more used to people being a constant presence in their habitat. The second and more likely theory is that as fearful people have killed too many of the snakes that do rattle and scare them, those that don’t rattle have managed to survive in increasing numbers. No matter which theory is correct, one thing is sure: our “snake sense” has been turned on high for the rest of the trip and into the future.

Mountain-Top Celebrities

It happened unexpectedly. My team, The Adders, had just finished our work in the field and decided to take a trip to the Black Mountain fire lookout tower so we could see an amazing view of southern California. When we got to the site, Rusty began to talk to the staff and volunteers who worked there. As he talked to them, he realized that he remembered one of the women from one of his earlier visits there, but made a joke about how he must have been recognizing her from the movies or television. Ironically, it turned out that the volunteer's name was Michele Marsh, an actress who had several roles in movies and television series over a period of decades. She took the time to tell us about her adventures as an actress, and we told her about what we were doing with plants on our expedition. What was really surprising was that she had been in many movies and TV shows that the team had grown up with, including Fiddler on the Roof, Top Gun, Star Trek, and Little House on the Prairie. As we walked away, knowing that we had made her day and she had made ours, I saw that Earthwatch isn't just about learning about plants and collecting them: it's also about meeting amazing people in the least predictable places.

The Daily Grind

There will be future blog posts telling about more intricate details of the SCAP expedition, but I believe it is necessary to describe our everyday and ordinary experience to our readers. This is a day in the field:

We wake up at 6 am, and eventually drag ourselves out of bed. Everyone’s eyes say quite clearly that we want more sleep, but there is work to be done. Some of us shower, and all of us make our lunches, eat our breakfasts, and pack our bags. The group splits in two and gets into one of two cars, each car going to a different location. At 7, we head to the trail, and our adventure begins.

By the time we get to where we’re going, most everyone is awake. We get out, get our packs on, and begin walking. The trails we traverse often go up mountains or down to streams and rivers to where the plant life is most diverse. By around 9, the sun is scorching and the travel is hard. Along the way, we collect a variety of plants, from cacti to exotic flowers (in photo, Alex and David).

At some point in the day, a break is taken to eat lunch. By the time we reach the car it is early afternoon and everyone is hot, tired, and dusty. Once we arrive back at home base, known as Trailfinders Lodge, we unpack the cars and our bags. Depending on what our individual jobs are for the day, we will have to press the rest of the collected plants, enter data or pictures into the limited supply of laptops, or simply do odd jobs that pop up around the lodge.

The rest of the afternoon is up in the air. A variety of activities, including frisbee, blogging, and card games take up most of this time. Eventually we eat dinner, which is most likely cooked by Alex, who seems to be volunteering her time and energy whenever she can. The day ends and we go to bed when our exuberance wears out and our eyes can no longer stay open (or when we’re told to).

Well, it's Saturday already and we've only begun to post blog entries. I know everyone wants to see and hear what's happening but we've had some time drains (including a vehicle problem, an invasion of CENS geeks, and obligatory visits to the sno-cone store) as well as a couple of technical problems involving the videos. But we've got everything resolved (except visits to sno-cone-ville will continue) and you can expect a flurry of content real soon. In the meantime, here's a couple of shots that are typical of the fun and camraderie that is SCAP. First is Team Blue Sky (l-r, Anna, Nick, Boone, Erin, and Evan N.) with staff member Katie in the blue shirt in middle. They look pretty fresh for just having hiked all of our gear (not shown) to the intersection of Cedar Springs Trail and the Pacific Crest Train at 6,800 feel elevation. The second picture is Team Adder (front l-r, Rachel, Evan S., Alex and Dave, back, Dammy) with the seemingly everpresent lieutenant Katie in purple in front. Here they are on the side of Black Mountain Truck Road, elevation 7,780 feet. They don't look quite as fresh, do they?