Thursday, March 2, 2017

Stories of IBR: Part 1

Two summers ago, I was lucky enough to participate in International Bird Rescue's Wildlife Rehabilitation Internship at their San Francisco Bay center. That's a long series of words to mean that for 3 months in 2015, I worked and lived at their wildlife center in Fairfield, CA. I always wanted to write about it for this blog, but never got around to it. There is simply so much to say. So I'm starting a little series. Every now and then, I'll write up another little piece of what happened that summer, and what it meant to me. This is Part 1: where.

I applied for this internship with International Bird Rescue because it sounded like the coolest thing I had ever heard of. Past Ioana was right to think so - it turned out to be even cooler than I could have possibly imagined. The application process was straightforward, and would be familiar to anyone who has ever applied to anything in their entire life. I submitted a letter of interest, my resume, and two recommendation letters. After some time, I got interviewed over the phone. After some more time, I got the incredibly exciting news that they wanted me to join them for the summer. I moved in on May 21, 2015, only a week after finishing my sophomore year of college.

If you don't know me, this picture should give you a pretty good idea of who I am as a person. Yes,  my eyes are sealed shut in the very first picture of me at IBR.
The next morning. My first full day of work, and my first day flying the IBR logo!
When I moved in, only one other intern, Brittany, was already at IBR. Brittany had been working for a short period of time before I got there and gave me a tour of the premises, from the expansive building full of seabirds and seabird-care equipment, to the rehabilitation pools outside, to our barracks inside the administrative building. I and 3 other interns would live in rooms at the southern end of the building. Brittany had already chosen the lower bunk in one room, so I claimed the lower bunk in the other. It wasn't long before Mari moved in and took my top bunk. It took a bit longer before Julie joined us, but once she did, she completed the team of ladies who would be my coworkers, my roommates, and my closest friends for the summer.

I am the type of person who wants to have some sort of idea where I am. I want to locate myself. When I moved to Fairfield for these 3 months, I immediately hungered to understand what Fairfield looked like and felt like. I already had some sort of context because Fairfield is almost smack-dab in the middle of the two cities that I call home, Davis and Berkeley. I had driven through it plenty of times in my life, but never had the occasion to explore. Now that I had moved into this wildlife center on the outskirts of the city, I found myself somewhere familiar, and yet completely new. I remember looking out at the hills, and the railroad tracks, and the road that slithered away into trees and fields, and thinking "I'm going out there." Only 3 days after moving in, I hiked up onto the nearest, biggest hill, and found one of the places that has stayed with me to this day.

My favorite field.
To get to this field, I took a right out of the center and walked along the road that marked the border between Fairfield and its fields. I followed the road a short ways until it turned and disappeared into one of the suburbs of Fairfield. Instead of following it into the houses and schools and churches, I took a sharp right and stumbled my way through a field chock full of those nasty little spiky weeds that catch onto your socks and pants and skin and leave you covered in tiny thorny masses. I don't know what possessed me to dig my way through those weeds the first time. All I remember was feeling that there was something good ahead. It didn't take long before I pushed through the weeds and onto the slope of the huge hill ahead of me, the one that I had seen the first day I moved in and decided I needed to climb. A dusty trail cut up the slope, winding around trees and shrubs, and a dusty me cut up the trail. After about half an hour of climbing, without much warning, the tree cover broke apart, and the forest spit me out into this field. From the first moment I saw it, I knew I would be coming back through those weeds plenty of times this summer. The field was one long floor of grasses waving their shiny golden heads in the wind. They rippled with the breeze, inhaling uphill in one moment, and exhaling downhill in the next.

It was a great place to see hawks, too!
I picked my way carefully along the narrow trail that someone else had beaten out before me until I got to the top, where rocks joined gnarled old trees to make a jungle gym for dirty, weed-covered interns to climb around. It was beautiful. It was peaceful. I knew that any time I needed to sweat, and think, and sweat again, I could come back here. And even better, this field was only one of many different trails and roads and out-of-the-way nooks and crannies that I got to explore.

A different outing, on the other side of the hill.
Another view. IBR is visible as a cluster of buildings bookended by trees, to the left of the big road.

As interns, we worked 4 days out of the week, and had 3 days off. I spent many of my free mornings, afternoons, and evenings climbing and sliding around those fields and dips and peaks. One evening, I sat in my favorite field to watch the sun set over the next row of hills, and looked down at the freeway that would take me home to Davis in the east, and home to Berkeley in the west. I never shook the feeling that somehow, this internship was both a midway point, and something entirely new. It made sense to be there. It was the right time to be there. I had a lot left to learn.

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