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.

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