Out in the Field

This week, enjoy a blog post from Restoration and Outreach Coordinator and long-time restoration technician Cameron Davis. What does being a restoration technician really mean?

“What we contemplate here is more than ecological restoration; it is the restoration of relationship between plants and people. Scientists have made a dent in understanding how to put ecosystems back together, but our experiments focus on soil pH and hydrology—matter, to the exclusion of spirit.” — Robin Wall Kimmerer

When I introduce myself as a restoration field tech, the immediate reaction of sideways head-cocking or eye squinting demands further explanation. As I continue to describe some of the different tasks I work on throughout my eight-hour day in the field, I begin to lose my audience’s interest. Weeding, planting, irrigation building and mulch spreading are not the most glamorous sounding responsibilities. In fact, to most this sounds like a manual labor nightmare. “You do this more than one day a week?!” I spend about 30 hours of my 40-hour week outdoors in the field. But the real shock always comes when I proudly announce that this is my dream job.

Instead of trying to convince you that manual labor year-round in all types of weather is truly the most rewarding work I’ve ever done, let me show you through a day in the life.

PSA: It’s planting season. We are currently planting on four different projects. We receive plant deliveries of about 300-400 plants at once. On average, I plant around 50-60 plants a day. My current record is 74. A repetitive process: dig a hole, fill it with water, let the water absorb, insert plant, water plant. Repeat.

But let me start my day from the beginning.

When I arrive on site, the canyon is slowly waking up as the sun creeps over the ridge. Coffee in hand, I head to the tool shed and my first treat of the day is the fresh bobcat tracks that lead to and from the area I planted last year.

My hands are cold and my tools ready – it’s time to set out the plants. Plants are not placed at random – fun fact. Many species like to grow near their peers. For the most viable habitat structure (the one best suited to make a good home for wildlife), you need both understory species – shrubs and bushes low to the ground – and overstory ones like taller bushes and trees. The assortment of plants we choose is intentionally selected to mirror the surrounding healthy habitat. Choosing the plants’ location is a thoughtful task that requires an artist-like mindset – I try and paint the picture of a biodiverse plant community where all the native animals will thrive. After carrying the plants up the hill and picking just the right spot, I start to dig.

It’s easy to get lost in the repetition, but planting is a meditative practice to me, as well as a time to observe the plants up close and personal. I notice that the blue-eyed grass I planted the day before is starting to unfurl its petals. The black sage planted last season is visited by a monarch butterfly, who lingered long enough for me to reach for my phone and snap a photo.

The next few holes I dig reveal all kinds of neat finds. From snakeskin, a slender salamander, scorpions and centipedes – the soil tells its own story of the world below the roots.

I take a break from planting to eat some lunch and collect data for our monthly site reporting. The monthly observation forms require the close examination of certain areas to assess what plants have been the most successful, if they were grown from seeds or plants we brought in ourselves or sprouted naturally from seeds of the surrounding vegetation. What wildlife is using the area and evidence of this is noted.

By the end of the day, my hands are tired and my body sore. I clean my tools and return them to their dusty shelves while listening to two noisy red-tailed hawks circling above me. There are still 250 plants that need to go into the ground, which I remember anxiously but look forward to the days of planting ahead.

Of course, there are many days that are not as romantic as this one – you should hear what I have to say after a day’s work in the height of summer!

As a field tech, my callouses and body aches are a small price to pay to be a part of this habitat’s story, and most importantly, a part of its future. Please come join me at any of our upcoming restoration events. I have so much more to tell you.

Sign up for one of our public restoration events (scroll down) and experience “a day in the life” for yourself!