Friday, January 30, 2009

Backpacking on the Coastal Trail

We've just returned from a great overnight backpacking trip on the California Coastal Trail through Redwood National Park. We stationed a car on either end of the 13 mile segment, meaning we didn't need to backtrack. The weather was terrific, blue skies and sunshine both days. Last night, the stars were piercingly clear. We laid in our cozy sleeping bags with our heads sticking out of the tent, staring up into the constellations for a long time before zipping in for the night. Today, we followed elk tracks and bobcat scat through towering redwoods. Parts of the trail traversed a bluff, a thousand feet above the crashing surf. The trail ended at one of the most beautiful overlooks we've seen so far in California. If you come to visit us, we'll bring you there! Check out some photos from the trip...

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Fuzzies and Mealworms

Another day at the zoo brings more interesting stories about animals in captivity. Today I dealt with everything from a sick rhea (flightless bird that has claws sharp enough to "eviscerate" a person...that was the warning I got before being sent into the pen) to a shipment of 7,000 crickets and 2,000 mealworms. It's amazing how many animals in the zoo eat crickets (turtles, a tarantula, a Pacific salamander, lots of birds, a tamarin (adorable!). I am not a lover of insects, so having crickets jumping all over me, and mealworms crawling out of the bowl that I've been instructed to carry, kind of grossed me out (to say the least). But that was nothing compared to the chopping of "fuzzies", which are baby mice, just old enough to have grown a layer of white fuzz all over their bodies. Apparently some of the birds in the aviary don't have beaks that are big enough to accomodate an entire fuzzy, so we have to cut them in half. Yuck. I nearly gagged, but I tried to hide my disgust because all of the zookeepers think nothing of it!

I was also sent into the paddock with two vicious looking peccaries. Actually, they're kind of funny looking and I wouldn't have been at all concerned about being in close contact with them had the zookeeper not given me precise instructions to "avoid being cornered by a peccary at all costs." She handed me a bucket of food and sent me in to toss it around their habitat. Of course they're going to lunge toward me, when I have the food in my hand! One of them made a loud snorting sound and ran toward me and it was all I could do to not throw the bucket of food at it and run away.

I helped care for two blind wallabies, Patagonian guanacos, a barn owl, the old spider monkey (mentioned previously), a golden topped tamarin, and the cavies (like giant guinea pigs, according to the zookeeper).

Tomorrow we're heading out on an overnight backpacking trip on the coastal trail. It's supposed to be 60 degrees and sunny, so our biggest concern will be the level of the tide. So many things to learn about our new environment!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

I need...

I need a place to live in Georgia for 3 months!!! Mike will live at the academy, but as of yet I have no place to call "home." Don't fret; I'm sure some kind soul will decide to rent out their fully furnished studio apartment for precisely the time period that I need it. :)

Mike wants some photos to appear on this blog, so here goes:

We went hiking along a section of the Coastal Trail (through Redwood National Park) a couple of weeks ago, and at one point, a herd of Roosevelt Elk nearly surrounded us. This bull was definitely the boss of his harem.

Today was a LOOONG day and tomorrow I'll be at the zoo all day, so it's time to call it a night.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Drying Laundry

Today was warm and sunny enough to hang our laundry out to dry on the back porch! I'm not accustomed to having to pay to wash and dry our clothes, so it seems I never have enough quarters on, it's better for the environment to let clothes air dry. Only twice since we've moved here have I had to use the dryer...that demonstrates how unusually sunny it's been here this winter! Our neighbor washes two loads of laundry every single day. He says he doesn't get enough sun in his apartment to air dry them, so he ends up spending $6.50 every day on laundry. I wonder if he realizes that he's using up $2, 375 of his hard earned money every year on LAUNDRY!? I could buy a whole new wardrobe!

My client wasn't able to focus at all today, so it was a looong two hour session. But when I got home at 7 p.m., Mike had dinner ready to eat. What a guy!

It was one of those days when pretty much everything falls into place. Beautiful weather, tasks checked off of our "to-do" list...what more can we ask for?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

A Day at the Beach

Well, to be truthful, I didn't spent the WHOLE day at the beach, but I did get to visit for an hour or so this afternoon. We went to our wonderful church this morning and visited with many of our new friends briefly after the service. Mike then headed to his job, and I, to mine. I spent three hours with one of my autistic clients, working on various preschool age-appropriate activities. Some of the games deal with identification of colors and animals and shapes; others focus on sorting or manual dexterity skills. He's a cute little kid, full of energy. I love it when he says my name; although he has difficulty communicating in general and pronunciating even the simplest of words, he tries his best with my name. Cute. We took a nice walk around town to work on walking and social situation skills. He was fascinated with the "babies" at the playground. He kept saying "hi, babies" and "bye, babies." Sometimes the hours that I spend working as a behavior therapist fly by and are filled with cuteness; other times the hours pass painfully slowly. Today was a good day.

After work, I drove to the beach and took a nice walk. The river flows for a ways along the inner edge of the sandy beach, and its course has changed dramatically even since we first arrived. I didn't see any whales spouting (although the waves might have been too big to notice) or seals laying on the beach, but it was still a nice walk. It was quite breezy, and spattered rain for a few minutes, but eventually the sun broke out and the sky cleared up.

Now I'm preparing a chicken and veggie stir fry for dinner. Smells good. Hasta luego!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Life on the Pacific Coast

We've decided to start another "blog" rather than continue to update our website, which was a little too time intensive. I have so much fun reading family and friends' blogs that I've decided to be more vigilant about providing updates to ours, as well.

So, yes, we've moved to California. We are currently living in a small apartment in the unincorporated town of McKinleyville, about 1 mile from the Pacific coast. Mike is working as a BLM ranger and receives excellent training on a daily basis. So far he's assisted with: trail patrols, oversight of criminals who have been given community service (usually garbage clean up on the beaches), a controlled burn, marine mammal strandings (sperm whale), wildlife biology (determining concentration of deer and elk populations), removal of non-native plant species, and going undercover to catch illegal mushroom poachers. He really enjoys his job.

I, on the other hand, have left my permanent government job (well, I'm on intermittent status). Instead, I fill my days with different activities than ever before. I've always dreamed of a lifestyle which would involve volunteering in the community on a regular basis. So, I've become a member of the "zoo crew" at the Sequoia Park Zoo in Eureka. The zoo itself is small, and managed by the city. It's adjacent to the Sequoia Park (strangely named), which provides a magnificent backdrop to the zoo. Tall redwoods tower over the animals in their zoo home, providing a nice ambience for visitors and animals alike. As a zoo crew volunteer, I'm required to undergo an intensive, 24 hour training to learn how to assist with diet preparation, animal handling, and, of course, cleaning.

So far, I've spent 8 hours with two different zoo keepers. My first day was spent on side 1, with zookeeper Jan. We started off in the black bear enclosure, cleaning the area, moving a pile of tree limbs to provide variation in the habitat, and hiding food under rocks and logs so that the bear would need to "work" to find her food. This provides stimulation for the animal. It was strange to look upwards from inside the enclosure, basically from the bear's vantage point. I should mention that the bear was locked inside a small room while we were roaming around its habitat, so I was not in danger (don't worry, mom).

We then transferred the white-handed gibbons from their enclosure to a different cage. We cleaned their cage and switched out the enrichment activities. Enrichment refers to all the toys, tools, food hiding places, boxes, etc. that are used to provide a stimulus to the animals' thought process. We hid some fruit inside shredded newspaper which was stuffed into a hanging wire ball, piled some old magazines on a shelf (yes, visitors later commented than the monkeys were reading), spread banana paste onto coconut shells and hung them from a chain, etc. Every day, each animal receives a different form of enrichment in its habitat.

Next came the spider monkeys...they had to be bribed with grapes to move from their cage into the transition area, so that we could safely clean their living area. was a mess. Who knew that I would someday VOLUNTEER to clean up animal poo? The rewards far outweigh the sacrifice, though. It's quite entertaining to spend time with the animals and with the zookeepers. One of the spider monkeys climbed up the fence to allow Jan to scratch its back. Then it stuck its little lips through the chain link fence and kissed her!

We fed crickets to the tiny tamarinds (crunch, crunch) and a dead mouse to the snake. The ravens and spotted owl received enrichment and food, as did all the other animals on side one. We paid a visit to a couple of animals being quarantined, including a very old spider monkey named Toothless. She's so old that she's having trouble moving around, so it's not safe for her to live with the other monkeys anymore. The zookeepers monitor her to determine whether or not she still has a certain quality of life. When they determine that she does not, they'll put her down. This behind-the-scenes zoo stuff is really interesting.

My second training day was spent on side three with zookeeper Lucinda. She must be about 65 years old, but she's still as strong as an ox. Singlehandedly, she maneuvers heavy farm equipment, shovels hay and manure, and deals with the large petting zoo, barnyard animals. All day long I learned about domestic farm animals, everything from the social hierarchy (and unbelievable psychology) of goats, to the challenges of caring for an angora rabbit. I was thoroughly scent-marked by a large, aggressive goat named Jerry while I attempted to clean his communal area. We collected the greenish eggs from the hen's nest, which would later be consumed by the bear. The llama and alpacas kept their distance, and Jerry the goat is put in their corral if he causes too many problems.

So that's my zoo-life so far. I also work 16-20 hours per week as a behavior therapist, with children who have been diagnosed with autism. I feel like I'm making progress with a little Spanish-speaking client and his family, but I definitely need more training to thoroughly understand the necessary techniques.

Mike and I spend our days off hiking, (here, there, and everywhere). We've explored the coastal trails in Redwood National Park, the trails in Arcata Community Forest (huge redwood trees), Arcata Marsh (nationally reknown wastewater treatment plant), Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Humboldt Redwood State Park and the Avenue of the Giants, and more. It's a beautiful region of the United States, and we're excited to be here.