Now that I’m back at home and things are getting back to “normal”, my brain has started the inevitable life stock-taking that I expected would happen upon my return. This summer was like stepping out of my normal life, but now I need to figure out where all those experiences fit into my world. And in doing so, it’s making me reevaluate what “normal” really is, and what I want it to be.
I’ve been back at work for two days now (today will be my third day back) and I gotta say, I’m bored. Not that I expected working at the bookstore to be as thrill-a-minute as working at a busy wildlife hospital, but that’s not what’s really bothering me. Sure, I still enjoy my colleagues, I still enjoy being around books, and it’s still nice helping customers find what they need. It’s all very pleasant. But right now, it all feels so meaningless. Rude customers and customers who get angry because we can’t get the book they’re looking for… well, even more meaningless. Seriously? This is what you get your panties in a wad about? Life is bigger than an out-of-print title.
The work I was doing this summer at PAWS may not always have been fun, it may not always have been pleasant, but it did always feel like it had meaning. I felt useful. Not to sneeze at the importance of books in people’s lives and in the world, but it’s not exactly like I’m helping to eradicate illiteracy or getting books to people who otherwise wouldn’t have them. I’m selling them to people who have the luxury to quibble about the price of importing books from overseas. It’s not enough. Now that I’ve had a taste of doing something meaningful, I want more. I just need to figure out what form that’s going to take in my life. Paid work? Volunteer work? Who knows. I trust that I’ll figure it out some way somehow.
As a sidebar to these thoughts, PAWS just got in a deluge of over 100 seabirds stranded by an algal bloom off the coast. I can’t even begin to express how much I wish I could be there to help. For now I can just follow developments from my frantic contacts over there and offer moral support. But my hands are itching to do more.
I actually have been composing a long-ass post about other stuff that I’ll be posting soon, but seeing as today was the last day of my internship, I couldn’t let this milestone pass without honoring it. It has been an amazing, intense, and unforgettable experience, and I can’t thank the awesome people at PAWS enough for everything. They are an incredible team of smart, funny, caring people who give blood, sweat, and tears to help wildlife in trouble.
It’ll be weird not being there. There are certainly things I won’t miss, most of them having to do with poo. But there are plenty of things I will miss too (aside, of course, from the fabulous staff and volunteers). I’ll miss (in no particular order)…
… feeding angry squirrels. “I hate you I hate you I hate you… Say is that a syringe? Nomnomnomnomnom… I hate you I hate you I hate you… Mmm… Another syringe! Nomnomnomnom….”
… baby opossums. Ok, really, all opossums, with their grabby little hands and feet and their “vicious” gape with all those teeth that they don’t quite know what to do with. “Look, I’m scary! Hey, why are you picking me up? Can’t you see how scary I am? Oh crap. She didn’t fall for it! Now what? My jaw hurts.”
… filling up the kiddie pools for the raccoons, as they brave the stream from the hose to “wash their hands”, all the while watching you with rapt curiousity.
… feeding the little hummingbird in her little tent as she buzzes around indignantly at lightning speed as if to say “dude, you’re in my space”.
… going into any of the aviaries to feed the birds. Hand-feeding mealworms to the juvenile Barn swallows as they hover in front of your nose.
… doing the meds list or tubings or helping out in the exam room and getting to work so closely with a huge variety of species, from Black-headed grosbeaks, to Great blue herons, to Glaucous-winged gulls, to Common murres, to Northern flickers.
… gulls. Cute, fluffy, spotty-headed peepers as youngsters, beautiful, adaptable flying machines as adults. Love ’em.
I’m sure there are things I’ve forgotten, but these are what come to mind. It truly has been a “wild” experience! One I’ll never forget.
Tomorrow, I burn the sneakers.
On Saturday, I joined the PAWS naturalist, Kevin, and a group of volunteers on a field trip to the beautiful Redmond Waterhshed Preserve, a nature area with several trails through second and third growth forest and wetlands. We were a fairly large and noisy group which limited how much we were able to see. (I tend to like birding alone because I can walk as slowly and as quietly as I want and stand still for long periods, which tends to facilitate encounters with birds.) But it was great fun going with someone like Kevin who knows everything there is to know about PNW wildlife (animal and plant) and can point out stuff that you’d never stop to see normally – banana slugs, different types of plants, and piles of pinecone debris left by dining douglas squirrels. And even with a big noisy group we managed to spot a bird that was a new one for me: a lovely little female Hairy woodpecker. We also flushed a group of about a dozen Gadwalls but I can’t count those because I only saw their backsides as they took off in an indignant mass.
As I had taken the whole day off to go on this field trip, I kind of found myself at a loss when we returned to Lynnwood in early afternoon wanting more, so after a nap and some farting around at home, I hopped the bus over to Scriber Lake Park just to get a little bit more nature into my system. Scriber has kind of become my local patch since I’ve been staying here, and I’ve seen some interesting sights there, including hummingbirds, wood ducks, and a beaver. On Saturday, within less than a minute of entering the park, I encountered a busy little flock of the cutest bird that could only be Bushtits. I know they’re not uncommon out here, but it’s the first time I’ve consciously seen any, so I was a happy camper. I also saw some lovely Robins, Spotted towhees, and some greedy Mallards that came to greet me hoping for a handout on the lake.
One more lifer worth noting: last week at work I finally spotted the Pileated woodpecker that I’ve been hearing banging away at the trees all summer. I had heard that he was around, but hadn’t yet seen him. As I was standing on the pool pad, cleaning a haul-out from a seal pool, suddenly there he was in the treetops. There is no other bird around here that looks like that, and what I sight!
So after my tired post of last week, I seem to have found something of a second wind. Which is odd considering that I’ve been working longer days and been much busier. We’ve gone to winter hours which means we’re open from 8 am to 5 pm rather than from 8 am to 8 pm. What this means for me is that rather than working 7-5.30, I get to sleep in a half hour and work from 7.30-6. But what this also means is that the staff has been dramatically cut, and instead of the usual two rehabbers and one or two seasonals above me (experience and chain-of-command wise) it’s been one lone rehabber, a number of volunteers, and myself. And for some reason, we’ve had an influx of difficult animals, and some bad luck with some of the ones who are already there. So instead of leaving at 6 pm, Carey (the rehabber) has had to stay until about 8 for the past two days and I have stayed to help her.
What makes this new situation both scary and cool is that it’s forcing me to take on responsibilities I never had to when there was a buffer of people with more experience than myself. It’s making me realize how much I have learned, and how many skills I’ve acquired without even realizing it. For example, one skill I have found really hard to master so far has been administering fluids subcutaneously (under the skin) on birds (it’s easier on mammals). But tonight we had a European starling that needed fluids and there was no one to take over for me so I had to fly by the seat of my pants. And I did it. I found the right spot, slid the needle in and got all the fluids in. Never mind that I had to call Carey to help with the pigeon and the Cedar waxwing, both more difficult cases. The starling couldn’t have gone more perfectly, and it was the first time that I felt confident doing that particular task. (I like to think it was because he knew I lived in his homeland. ;))
I’m also getting to experience a lot of things that I couldn’t when it was busier and when there was more staff. I got to watch the vet and vet tech anesthetize and suture a Band-tailed pigeon with some serious lacerations. I also got to help out with some animals that are usually staff only. For example, I now get to feed the Anna’s hummingbird – just a matter of making nectar and hanging up syringes for him, but I get to watch him for a few minutes while I do that, which is pretty darned cool. Today I helped administer fluids to a harbor seal (I squeezed the bag), brought food to the deer pen (although I’ve yet to see the deer), and even got to handle the baby cottontails. I just moved them from their aquarium to a carrier, but it was the first time since I’ve been here that I was even allowed to see the bunnies (a very high-stress species), so it was still pretty cool.
So while the past couple of days have been longer, they have been anything but boring, and I feel like I’m hitting my second wind over here. I’m starting to get sad that this internship is coming to an end so soon. For as tiring as it can be, it can also be a thrill ride. Plus… baby bunnies. Squeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!