Monday, October 19, 2009

farewell to Happy Valley

Six months ago October seemed an eon away. Now it’s here, bringing cold weather, an end to field work, and my departure from Utah County (a.k.a. Happy Valley).
So, Utah, we say our goodbyes. I know you certainly won’t miss me, that’s been clear since the ice thawed last march. The question is, will I miss you?
I loved the open spaces. The West Desert where the highway was a dirt road and rush hour traffic meant passing another truck every hour. Sure, the entirety of the Wasatch front is slowly succumbing to the mycelium of urban sprawl, but the deserts are still open- home only to eagles, horny toads, and polygamist colonies.
I am going to miss the wildlife: herds of pronghorn watching us barrel down that dirt highway, golden eagles perched on the power polls that seem to extend to infinity, the elevated heart rate that seems to accompany each up-close encounter with a moose. There were the boreal toads we searched for but never seemed to find and endless piles of minnows to be indentified and measured.
Yesterday I went climbing in Rock Canyon. I was down off the route and belaying my climing partner, Kenny, when suddenly there was the sound of slipping gravel. Seconds later a big horn sheep flew down the path, passing a mere 30 feet below our rocky perch. The big horn sheep moved towards the floor of the canyon, meandered through the dry creek bed, and then began to climb the slope on the opposite side. We watched it bounce its way up the rock and navigate the cliff edges until just the bright white patch of its rump was visible on the opposing slope. We rappelled down and then walked back down to the parking lot as the sun began to set across Utah Lake. Pretty awesome.
The job was great. At an hour that the rest of the working world is contemplating a wardrobe of business casual, we are already suited up in waders and baseball caps and tromping through the great outdoors. For the first few months we focused on frog surveys. At the end of July we switched to fish work. It’s a little hard to admit, as a herpetology geek, that the fish work was actually more fun. Herp work is a lot of searching, flipping over rocks, scanning the ground for elusive creepy critters. Fish work, on the other hand, is very active. Electroshocking, in particular, is almost like a team sport complete with flinging nets and flying fish. It’s reminiscent of that arcade game, the one where you try to hit the gophers with the mallet.
The (undeveloped) land was beautiful, the work was fun, and the critters plentiful, but I think it would be very hard to ever call Utah home. Utah might as well be another planet. In a suburban area stuffed to the brim with people I was on my own outside of work. On weekends that I stayed in town I looked forward to work on Monday, not just because I enjoyed my job, but also because there were people to talk with. I used to think that I liked being totally independent, that I wasn’t such a fan of people in general, but, well that’s just not true. I like friends (well, duh), and it’s infinitely better to actually be in the same state as those said friends because no amount of email or IM can equal a hug, a face to face conversation, or just hanging out.
So, on that note, I make my farewell to Happy Valley (officially known as Utah County) and meander my way back to California.
Yay for friends.