Westward Ho

Location: Lander, Wyoming, United States

I'm just a western boy living the good life and enjoying every minute of it.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

The Evolution of My Career

I love my job, a lot. Many people have commented that they would love to have my job and ask how I got to this point. Let's just say, it was not an easy road. Let's review, but first, let's take a look at what I do now. I am an Environmental Analyst. I work for the state of Wyoming in their environmental department, specifically the watershed program. Basically, I and my boss/coworker are charged with monitoring the streams in the western part of the state to determine what kind of condition they are in and if they are in need of restoration. We spend approximately June through October out in the field, analyzing approximately 30-40 stream sites during that time period. During a typical analysis, we collect water samples, collect aquatic bug samples, measure the discharge of the stream, determine the classification of the stream by measuring width, depth, floodplain area and gradient, perform an in-depth study of the surrounding habitat, and determine the quality of the fish habitat. This amounts to a lot of time being out in the great outdoors, many times in beautiful locations. It also means we get to camp and hike a lot. The months that we are inside, we study the results of our analyses and write up reports on the quality of the streams we assessed.

As an environmentalist and an avid outdoor lover, this is truly my dream job. But as I mentioned, it was not an easy road to get to this point. Let's start way back in college, when I was pursuing my degree in Zoology/Wildlife Management. I spent the summers working for a landscaping firm out in the scorching heat and humidity of St. Louis. It was heavy manual labor in extreme heat. However, I learned a lot from that job. (1) How to beautifully landscape a yard. (2) I am more of a cold weather person. And (3) I better keep my ass in college and get a degree so I don't wind up doing this for life.

The next step in my career came while I was attending graduate school at Southern Illinois U. in Edwardsville, Illinois. While going to school, I worked part time at my mom's retail kitchen store. Working there only proved the value of a college education. Working retail is something everyone should have to do, but only for a short while. I wouldn't wish a retail career on anyone.

After getting my master's degree in Environmental Science, I got my first "real" job with a civil engineering company out in Waldorf, Maryland. Hired as their Environmental Planner, I was tasked with helping get the necessary environmental permits for new construction projects. Although I learned a lot about development and business, I had to often compromise my principals to try and get new developments approved. I quickly realized that I was going the wrong way down the environmental path. Not to mention that I could barely afford to pay my rent in the expensive Washington D.C. suburb.

After working in Maryland for 8 months, I went out in search of greener pastures and found them in Springfield, Illinois. I was hired on at an environmental consulting company as an Environmental Specialist. I immediately began working on two large wetland projects related to expanding landfills. It was interesting work and more in line with my background. However, when the wetland projects began to dwindle down, I was refocused into project management and landfill construction work. Although this was also interesting, it was moving in another direction away from my main interests. I also began to put in long hours and stressful weeks, where a two day weekend often turned into a 1.5 day weekend that didn't give me enough time to wind down before cranking it back up. The work and stress started piling up to a point where I knew I had an important decision to make. Become a full-time workaholic or abandon ship.

Since I had left Wyoming approximately 6 years earlier to start grad school, I had missed it like no other. I missed the mountains, wide open spaces, my friends, and the simple, slow paced life. When the stress of my consulting job was at its peak, I decided to look back west, back to the state that I love. I filed a general application with the state of Wyoming, not knowing what environmental jobs were open or available. Then, a few months later, after coming home from another hot, dirty, tiring landfill monitoring trip, I saw the light blinking on my answering machine. I played the message three times before it sank in. An interview. With the state of Wyoming, Lander field office. Doing stream assessment work. I knew then and there that I would put forth my best interview and land that job. Two months later, I had the Uhaul packed and headed west towards Wyoming.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Springtime in Lander. This is the Lander webcam from about two minutes ago. Posted by Hello

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Five Songs That Make Me Wanna Boogie

I can't dance. I am the prototypical white boy with no rhythm. Sure, I can pound out a sweet drum solo on my table. But when it comes time to bustin' a move, count me out. That is, until I'm in the privacy of my own home. There are five songs in particular that when I hear them, I spontaneously cut a rug. Not sure why. There's just something about these songs that really makes me want to strut my stuff (by myself with the shades closed). They are:

1.) Jungle Love - Steve Miller Band

2.) Brown Eyed Girl - Van Morrison

3.) Beast of Burden - The Rolling Stones

4.) Freeze Frame - J. Geils Band

5.) Only the Good Die Young - Billy Joel

Feel free to comment on what songs make you do the crazy shuffle.

Monday, April 11, 2005

House Hunting

I have finally grown up (as much as I'm willing to admit anyway). I'm engaged to be married, and I'm looking for my first house. Does this mean I have to start wearing suspenders and pointing out which parts of my body are achin'? I hope not. Anyway, the house hunting is going pain-stakingly slow. Officially, I've been hunting for about 9 months now. I've looked at about 5-6 houses, and been impressed by few. Lander is a small town (pop. 6857), so the pickings are somewhat slim. It is also located at the base of a beautiful mountain range (see previous post). Therefore, it is a nice place to live, especially for the wealthy and retired. Thus, up go the house prices. No, it's still nothing like what you big city folk have to deal with. I've been down that road and don't care to again. But for Wyoming, it's high priced.

So, nine months ago, I entered house hunting with the vigorous energy of a can of Jolt cola. Although I am still anxious to get into my first home, I'm at about the level of a diet Shasta now. I know my dream starter home will pop up one of these days. But I guess I'm going to have to sift through the rubble first. I'll keep you posted on my progress.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Hiking trail near Lander, about 10 miles from my apartment. Posted by Hello

Friday, April 01, 2005

Stream List

The following words are the words my coworker and I long to hear from our program supervisor every March/April: "Here is your stream list for this field season." The list basically tells us where we will be spending our summer and fall, and after 6-7 months of being cooped up in the office, we're ready to hit the great outdoors. We quickly scan the list, like kids fumbling through the stack of presents first thing on Christmas morning. The first thing we look at is to see which of the streams we will be working that are located in the mountains, and thus, provide excellent camping. This is sometimes followed by, "Oh shit, we better bring the bear spray on that stream." No, not all the streams we sample are glorious mountain streams (about 30-40% of them are). We have our share of low-land streams in the Wyoming sagebrush basins. But even these streams have interesting stories to tell.

We received our stream list this past Wednesday. We will be spending A LOT of time in the beautiful Wyoming Range this year. I promise to post pictures.