Thursday, July 2, 2009

Travelin' boots

I bought a new pair of boots a few weeks ago. This is my third pair since 2000. With each pair of boots I develop an attachment. I catalog the places I've traveled on those boots, and each of those places in turn, have their own special memories.

I bought my first pair of boots in the summer of 2000, before I went out to my first field job in Oklahoma and New Mexico. I was hired to work for the Sutton Avian Research Center for about 6 weeks. The field biologists were monitoring several populations of Lesser Prairie Chickens in Laverne Oklahoma and Causey, New Mexico with radio telemetry units. The batteries attached to the Chickens were only good for about one year and it was our job to gather the birds up and replace those units. The biologists timed the chicken wranglin' with their summer molt, so the birds couldn't fly very far when spooked. And for reasons that I cannot recall, we captured the birds at night. We worked from 10pm - 6am.

Those 6 weeks were an eye opener for me. I was immersed into a completely different world that was physically demanding and required me to work in close quarters with complete strangers. For 4 of those weeks, we snuck around in complete darkness, with only a few head lights and a series of electronic blips on the telementry unit to guide us around the uneven terrain of farmland and prairie. When it was determined we were close to the birds, we would switch all lights off and with nets in hand, allow the biologist with telementry device to lead us in closer. The biologist would still have his headlamp on and he would point us in the direction of the birds we were following. The birds would burst into flight with loud whistles from their wings and we would chase and scoop the birds into our nets.

Night time on the prairie was amazing. It was walking under a vast sky filled with countless twinkling stars, maybe witnessing a dozen falling stars or watching lightning blink between clouds in the distance, all while listening to the distant yips of coyotes. In New Mexico the prairie had the added bonus of Barn Owls ghosting across the midnight blue sky.

Those first pair of boots also went up to Alaska for my third field job in 2002. That was an amazing, yet incredibly physically demanding trip. I spent the month of June in Denali National Park, assisting the field biologist with a bird census of the park. For 2 out of the 4 weeks I was there, I camped in an ecological zone where the trees were gnarled and dwarfed by the intense winds and short growing season. The mountains filled up the sky and there was no night.
Like a mountain goat, I scrambled up scree and crossed icy cold glacial streams that ran waist high. I watched Caribou graze on fireweed, observed a female bear climb up a hillside with her cubs, had a brush with a fox and saw a wolf carefully pick its way across several tumbled rocks in the pouring rain. Mt. McKinley loomed over the park like a silent guardian, always present, always in view. The mountain was usually shrouded in clouds but I was fortunate to get a glimpse of the peaks when the clouds cleared for a moment one morning.

Those boots had also been to the North Woods of Wisconsin, the Swamps of Louisiana, and walked the great city of Seattle. I loved those boots. I felt almost as if they were an extension of my body. But I was hard on those boots and the soles began to separate from the shoes. I used Gorilla Glue to adhere the soles back on, but that only works for so long.

In 2006 I bought my second pair of boots. I was saddened in replacing my first pair of boots, but these new shoes were marvelous. They were lightweight and water resistant. They were comfortable and I loved them. However, I bought the boots around the same time we rescued a certain kitten by the name of Olivia. Her momma gave birth to her and her 2 other littermates in our backyard. I was planning to retrieve Olivia and her littermates around 6 weeks of age and tame them but urban nature rushed my hand a bit. When they were 4 weeks of age, Dan heard a ruckus around midnight and went outside to investigate. The adult male cat that was hanging around had killed one of the kittens and was working on a second one. That following morning I found Olivia and her brother and immediately set to taming them.

To make a long story short, I found a home for the male kitten, but was having trouble placing Olivia. Dan felt sorry for her (well, probably more for me) and conceded we could keep her as long as she was declawed. Initially I was bothered by the declawing bit, but Olivia seemed to go out of her way to convince me she needed the procedure. She climbed up doorframes, screen windows and the speakers. And my poor BRAND NEW boots. Olivia loved my boots. She played with the shoestrings and scratched her razor sharp claws across the sides and within a month, my new shoes looked like this.

I knew I needed to replace the shoes, but I was stubborn. I had just bought these awesome boots and wanted them to follow in the stead of their predecessor. So with boots on foot, I returned to Seattle, went to the beaches of Alabama, traveled up to Canada and hiked through Big Bend National Park before I decided to retire them.

What new adventures will be in store for me and the new pair of boots? Where will we travel? What will we see? I shouldn't get ahead of myself. First I need to make sure the boots stay safe from the little beast known as Olivia and it looks like I'm going to have my work cut out for me.

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