Monday, November 26, 2018

Travels near and far

This past spring, I traveled to Peru to spend five weeks working in the high elevation puna grasslands of the Andes Mountains. The puna grasslands are dominated by large tussocks of bunchgrass and also many short, mat-forming plants. The mat plants grow low to the ground, which is a strategy they have evolved to survive in the harsh climate conditions above 3,000 meters in elevation. 

Puna grasslands of Peru
Traveling to such a place was no easy journey. Every day we traversed incredibly narrow roads of nonstop twists and turns on the edge of steep cliffs. Our driver swerved to avoid small landslides and honked at every turn to warn oncoming traffic of our approach. It was the rainy season, and as the roads turned to mud, I dedicated all of my energy to watching the driver, convinced that my gaze would prevent us from sliding off the cliffs. During my weeks in Peru, I learned of landslides blocking roads and even tragically killing people. But I also learned to trust that the locals hosting us knew their land and were experienced at preventing any danger.

Once I stopped so closely monitoring the roads, I was filled with excitement to experience ecosystems filled with plants I had never seen before. Parts of the trip seem like a dream now. I walked through the orchid-filled cloud forest on my own listening to the birds. I stood on the highest peak I have ever been on, looking far into the mountain-filled distance. Without much distraction from my phone, the internet, or any other tasks, I worked constantly and calmly. I also worked alongside two other women who I got to know well and filled my time in Peru with laughter and companionship. Don’t get me wrong—the trip also involved a lot of trudging up mountains soaked in heavy rain gear, labeling hundreds of envelopes with information on leaves, and perhaps one too many potatoes. Nonetheless, this was the pinnacle of my grad school experience. It was my ultimate plant-filled adventure. But now, I feel, life is changing.

Plants cover every surface in the cloud forest
I left my hometown in Michigan nearly a decade ago, working a variety of jobs far away from my family. Each new place I traveled felt like another step into independence and adulthood. Moving from state to state multiple times per year felt like success. Throughout my adventures, I was contributing to many projects and helping to conserve the nature I love, yet I also had a very strong focus on growing and improving myself. I am fortunate to have had this time, but now desire different things out of life. I hope to be in a position where I can take what I have learned both in school and in life to support others in some way. I am eager to see where life will take me while staying in one place.

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