My Time is Up.

I’m leaving for Ireland in two days. First of all, I’m very stressed. Second, yesterday was my last day interning at Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation so I’m kind of sad which is making me stressed. I am, simply, a pile of stress. But I digress.

 

The Work

I worked as a communications intern for Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation (INHF) for the last eight months. I worked full time over the summer and up to 15 hours during the semester. My job varied but I did a lot of different writing, rewriting and rephrasing. I wrote short articles for the magazine, Iowa Natural Heritage. I wrote blog posts, some of which never saw the light of day but are somewhere. I wrote press releases. I wrote social media posts. I wrote emails. I wrote whatever I was told to write, and then some.

I was never stuck doing too much of the intern thing. I never got someone else’s coffee. I never had to make copies or do filing. Sometimes I’d cover the front desk and once I helped stuff envelopes but ultimately my job was relevant.

I went out in the field. I macheted down thistles, collected prairie seeds, hauled brush, removed invasive species. I was bad at it, I would get home hot and exhausted, but I saw the land and a sampling of the work that INHF does and it’s important.

 

The Land

Iowa can be really beautiful, if you know where to look. Remnant prairies or trails or REAP projects are rarely just off the Interstate but instead involve a little more searching and quite a few dirt roads.

Iowa is tied for worst in the nation for the percentage of public land in the state so I can’t really argue that Iowa has just as much going for it as almost any other state but we’re alright. Through INHF I found that Iowa has the world’s largest concrete garden gnome. That not too far from my campus is a beautiful and really cool bridge as part of the High Trestle Trail. And that up in Allamakee county INHF owns 1200 acres of untouched, gorgeous land holding native plants, animals, and who knows what else in its awe-inspiring scenery.

People at work could direct me to different sights, tell me how best to see the land, and teach me exactly what I was seeing and even if I’m not as into the outdoors as many of them are, seeing it through that professional lens was so unique.

 

The People.

Genna was the graphic design intern who worked, literally and figuratively, beside me from day one. I’m leaving her with a “New Haley” she’s only a little afraid of meeting. Genna is eclectic, enthusiastic, strange, stressed, and a whole lot of other things. We would bond over the fact that we were not always great at our jobs and wait patiently to see if one of us would get fired for accidentally picking a photo taken in Switzerland for the calendar and having to change everything last minute. She and I worked together the longest, bonded over our renditions of Toto’s Africa to and from prairies, and our love for Kirkland brand popcorn. I will miss her.

Nora is godmother to my cat and over the summer was the grant-writing intern. The three of us were usually bus buddies to and from Drake, naming all of the other regulars on the bus. She helped make things fun in the office and the vibe changed when her position ended after the grants were all due.

Emily checked me for ticks and I am forever grateful. I also almost killed us both during our 2 hours car ride to Council Bluffs at 5:00 a.m. as my consciousness slipped in and out. Whoops.

Austin, the trails intern, abandoned our intern boy band without saying goodbye. Not bitter.

The land interns were adorable and always so nice. They never made fun of the office interns when we came to work with them in the field and didn’t know what plant was what. They would teach us about the plants and the landscape and were always super chatty and kind.

The people in the office, the real and proper adults, are plentiful and all affected me in various ways. The people at INHF are genuine people who ask you how classes are going and actually care. They compliment part of your outfit and make sure you’re feeling all right and sometimes they let you play with their pets for hours on end and that’s a sign of a really good person.

 

The Dogs. (Plus one cat)

I’m not going to say that the dogs were the highlight of my internship but I am going to say they were a big plus.

My first week, one of my coworkers brought her little Chihuahua mix into the office, let the interns fawn over her, then invited Genna and myself to take a walk with her and Frida and go get coffee. She and her peppy little dog helped me feel welcome, even if Frida’s attention span didn’t usually last as long as I wanted her to stay on my lap for.

INHF’s open pet policy became better and better as another one of my coworkers brought a pocket-sized kitten in for a week. Getting anything done with the little fluffer lounging on my lap or desk was nearly impossible but for someone with a lot of anxiety, having a tiny furry friend with me as I worked was an important

emotional boost.

Later, one of my coworkers brought in four-month-old Scamp, who is the world’s greatest puppy and legitimately had me considering dognapping. Although larger than the kitten, Scamp also enjoyed sleeping on my desk and lap and hunting Genna’s shoelaces.

I met a few other cuties, including the puppy from the prairie who we taught to chew sticks and one of my coworkers’ 11-year-old dog, Gramps, who’s mostly deaf and blind but would still follow me down the hall for some love and petting.  He was here my last day and when I walked into the office and heard the jingling of his collar, a smile crossed my face.

I’m not going to lie, office work can get dull. I’ve sat staring at my computer trying to figure out how I can live the perfect balance in life of not being cooped up all day while also being really bad at being outdoors. As the first full-time position I’ve taken, getting used to waking up early, catching a bus and sitting for eight hours was an adjustment which was always made easier with a dog in the office.

The Lessons

INHF has taught me a lot. A lot of land and conservation vocabulary. A lot about nonprofits. A lot about conservation legislation. A lot about prairies. And a lot about Iowa. I can’t list it all but here are some highlights.

  1. Iowa is not a huge fan of bears.
    We have no breeding population of bears established in Iowa but that doesn’t stop a few a year from meandering through the state and stressing out the locals. It is legal to shoot a bear on your, and public, property. Bears are never not in hunting season and while the DNR asks that you report if you kill one, there is no law saving the bears.
  2. Don’t swim in the water.
    It’s almost definitely contaminated and polluted. Iowa has really not great water quality. Farms, which Iowa has a lot of, use different pesticides, chemicals, fertilizers, whatever to produce as much corn as humanly possible. Now, corn and farmers are important, but so is not poisonous water and with all those chemically things in the soil, it runs off into the water and poof, our water is full of danger and our legislature doesn’t really care.
  3. Iowa is littered with invasive species.
    No, not cane toads or zebra mollusks but water sucking, plant-killing weeds. Coming back from my adventure down to Missouri to see the eclipse this summer, I was in was stuck in traffic with everyone else who was coming back from the eclipse. We slowly crept along the highway where the medians were filled with prairie plantings. And what was primarily in those plantings? Invasive species. The same invasive species I had learned to pull. I pointed them out to the other people in my car as a fun party trick.
  4. Iowa’s landscape has been very reconstructed.
    Once upon a time, Iowa was full of luscious, beautiful prairie on strong, healthy, bountiful soil. Then, the white men came, saw the productive soil, ripped out the species that were best for the soil, and planted foreign crops in their place. This is why Iowa has so much corn and so little prairie. The prairie that we do have is usually reconstructed prairie that has been carefully managed to bring back Iowa’s native ecosystem, but it will never be as pure as the few remnant prairies that remain.
  5. Prairies, while important and pretty and sometimes full of safe to eat wild berries, are full of bugs.
    It’s not like I didn’t know that bugs exist outside. I just pretended they couldn’t get to me. But get to me they did. At a prairie in Iowa County, the ticks found me. Mostly, they found my blue prairie shirt and crawled all over it as I screamed and made my coworker flush them down the toilet. Luckily for me, ticks are dumb and slow and didn’t make it to my skin before I threw them off of me but chiggers did get me, and Genna much more so, around the ankles with swollen, itchy little bites from the microscopic jerks. So, while prairies are cool and all, I might not be cut out for extended periods of time in them, surrounded by bugs that are mocking me.

 

I learned some practical things too, like working in an office and with a communications team and the beginnings of how to post to a website and how to format a press release. But as someone with an intense interest in bears, I’m struggling to pick out the most important lesson.

 

Either way, thank you INHF.

Leave a Reply