Esma Pajt

Journal #9
April 5, 2024

It is Saturday afternoon; I am preparing to write this journal knowing that it is my last one. The sadness of not being at the paradise of Southern 8ths yesterday as well as the thought of never working with the same group of people again is taking over my mind. I am saddened this part of my semester is coming to an end, yet incredibly happy with the experience and connection I was able to build with many people who surrounded me for the past nine weeks. As our tenth week approaches, and I prepare my presentation, I can’t help but be thankful for all of the moments I’ve spent freezing my toes in Thompson Creek, and all the moments I soaked in the beauty of nature once more. I am thankful for all the birds whose chirps made me smile, and all the leaves that accidentally fell onto my clothes. I am thankful for all the rain that made the air moist, the smell of the earth and the mud we walked through.

This Friday was the hardest day I had experienced during my internship journey. I found myself split between two things I love; things I had separated for a long time and now realize they go hand in hand. If it was not for my love of sport, I would have never found myself in the United States, and possibly would have never gone to college at all. And if it was not for my love of nature and biology, I would have never discovered a higher purpose in life. It is always hard when I have to split the two apart, knowing that one would not work without the other. The life on Southern 8ths and all the people that contribute to make the internship into what it is, Mr. Brad, Mr. David, Brianna, Emily, Heavenly, Angel all the people we met on the way, and all the life we encountered here, have opened doors for me, not only in experience and exposure but also the doors in my mind that didn’t exist before. I have learned and I have grown, and I would be lying if I said I didn’t shed a tear as I write this journal.

This Friday I couldn’t help but feel guilt, my mind left the track meet multiple times, wondering what is happening at Southern 8ths. The track and field meet this weekend took place at the beautiful facility of High Point University. It was a cold morning and winds were stronger than I expected so I buried myself in 3 blankets as I laid on a yoga mat trying to focus and prepare on the competition. The day took a turn when the sun decided to peek out of the clouds around noon, just in time for my warmup. The competition was long and there were more than 100 hammer throwers in one spot which is a turnout we don’t see that often. Division 1 competitions are always hard and after my performance in the qualifying round, I was convinced I would not make it to finals. About an hour later I was warming up again, as I found out I took the last spot in the final. The competition did not go as planned, my body did not feel great, I was in pain, and I got disoriented as I left the circle after each throw. Something was wrong, and it didn’t take long to figure out I was sun sick. I spiked a fever; my skin was burning, and my stomach was turning. I ended the competition in ninth place, in pain and feeling sick. And even with all the unfortunate things that happened, I am still grateful to have gotten the opportunity to compete and gain one more experience.

Journal #8
March 22, 2024

Today was a day as gloomy as ever before at Southern 8ths. The clouds were piling up and the rain was excitingly waiting to pour down on us. The wait for the rainfall created pressure in my head. It felt like a balloon too full of air, just waiting for a needle or a thorn to pop it. The birds were not as loud as they usually are, they were not flying too high in the sky, however, I could hear the ducks that were on their way back from the South.

Even though the day was gloomy, learning cannot wait, and neither can nature, as Mr. David pointed out. After our time in the learning center, where we reviewed the weather, last week’s trail cameras, and the new blooming flowers that have been populating the already beautiful Southern 8ths property, we headed to observe our plants. We drove to the Fireworks Prairie station first to take a look at the new growth and changes that occurred in the past two weeks. And let me tell you, there were definitely some changes. We looked at our Baccharis and decided that it had no fruits and seeds left over from last season. Our two Ragworts had grown much larger than I remember, they had some new young leaves present, but we also observed an obvious leaf growth. We observed new growth on several of our other plants, however, we are yet to see any flowering or fruits. Maybe next time!

We walked on and headed to the forest next, where we were stopped by Mr. Brad himself. He came to say hi and give us some encouraging words, in his way, which were highly appreciated and needed, and I am sure will stick with us for quite some time. While exchanging some thoughts with Mr. Brad, the clouds released their burden and the raindrops fell down quickly and heavily, and there was no stop to them. At that moment I was very glad I had my rain jacket on, even though my jacket left me hanging about an hour after.

As we walked into the forest to our Upland Hardwood Forest transect, we looked at all the trees, and the red and green color that is starting to change the brown winter coat of the forest. And there was yellow on the oak and pine trees, which seemed to be everywhere, the pollen was at its prime and my nose was getting stuffier than usual just by seeing it. We saw the smallest of frogs on our way and as the rain continued the frogs started to celebrate. In the forest there were specks of purple down near the ground, closer to the water running through the area. Brianna found some violets and next up was group taste test time. It was my first time trying a violet, and the taste reminded me a little bit of lettuce, but the texture was much different. Some of our trees had some new leaf buds, most somewhere between a hundred and a thousand. But Spring is yet to bring color to those woods.

I imagine as the rain poured the ground was smiling. It was sinking underneath my feet, and my shoes were all wet and dirty. But there was an earthly smell to it, one of my favorite smells in this entire world. It smells like Spring, and life and nature.

Journal Entry #7 (competition day)
March 15, 2024

It was Friday and I woke up at 5:00 am in the morning as usual, to prepare for my 6:00 am lifting session. I woke up very easily, excited and a little bit nervous for the day. After all, I was preparing to compete at my first outdoor track and field meet of the season. I prepared by getting dressed, putting on my lucky socks, and making a cup of coffee in the kitchen while I put all the things needed in my backpack. I checked for my water bottle, my lifting belt, straps, and my lifting shoes. It’s all there and I headed to the living room for my stretching and breathing routine. It was 5:40 am and it was time for me to go do my morning lift as a part of the competition preparation. Afterwards, I headed to the cafeteria and ate the same breakfast I have on competition day, an omelet with bacon, broccoli, and tomatoes.

I headed to my room to shower and get ready, mentally as much as physically. I put on my headphones and listened to my Spotify playlist, which consists of 14 songs, perfect for getting into the meet day mood. It was 8:30 am and we were off to UNC-Charlotte. The drive went by quickly, not only because the stadium is only 45 minutes away, but also because of all the nerves and tingles I felt in my stomach. I am a competitive person and I aim to do the best I can with every opportunity. And with that come certain feelings, like constantly sweaty palms and the need to use the bathroom every 20 minutes or so.

We arrived at UNCC, and the weather was cloudy. The birds were still chirping but the wind was picking up the pace and all I could hear were the whistles that pierced my ears. I checked in my hammers with the officials and cheered for my friends as their events started prior to mine. The hammer throw was scheduled to start at 11 am, and we were separated into 3 groups/flights of 16 throwers. I was in the 3rd flight, and I assumed I would start my event around 12:30 in the afternoon. However, by the time the 1st flight started, the rain began pouring down on us. It got wet very fast, and the ground turned into mud. We were all dripping wet and cold due to the wind. The clouds were piling up and we were hoping not to see lightning as that would mean the competition would get postponed for safety reasons. But there it was, the loud roars of thunder followed by the bright blitz of lightning, and we all evacuated the throwing area and the track stadium. We ran for shelter, some to the vans and some underneath the covered portion of the stadium. I found myself changing my clothes in a van, trying to dry my socks on the dashboard and wringing my hair with one of my shirts. We stayed there for hours, listened to the raindrops hitting the windshield and waited for the lightning to be merciful or the officials to postpone the events to the next day. And eventually it did. The lightning stopped and we found ourselves back at the throwing field, my shoes dripping in muddy water and listening to the stomping of feet on the soft grass as we tried to avoid the mud as much as possible.

It was 3 pm by the time I got to warm up. The sky was slowly clearing up and by the time I got to warming up in the throwing circle the rain was all gone, and the circle was left filled with 2 inches of rainwater. The competition went on and that prolonged nervous feeling slowly left me as I took my warming throws.

The competition had many challenges, the weather, the cold, the lack of atmosphere and more importantly the tiredness that spread like a plague throughout all the competitors. But the meet ended up in success after all. I made many mistakes during the competition and spent my throws in the final correcting them and ended up throwing my collegiate personal best result, which just so happens to be a NCAA provisional national qualifying mark and places me currently at number 4 nationally in the NCAA division 2. The weather held on until the end of the day and the atmosphere got better as the night fell and the officials turned on the stadium reflector lights. There is something special about spending time on the track late at night, competing, surrounded by people who just like me, make 2 trips to the stadium daily. We left the UNCC stadium around midnight, just to return the next morning for more.

Journal #6
March 1, 2024

This week’s internship was special. It was only two days before the World Wildlife Day which falls on the third of March each year since it was proclaimed by the United Nations in 2013. Technology brings inevitable advancements, so this week we focused on how it is already incorporated into wildlife research collection and observation. It was incredible to learn how much technology is already in use at Southern 8ths. From different trail cameras, metal detectors, weather stations, GPS, GIS, location antennas and sound meters to pH, oxygen level and temperature meters, all helping towards collection of data on biodiversity and the ecosystem.

It was our first rainy day at Southern 8ths property. The temperature was around mid-forty degrees Fahrenheit and the rain was cold. Even with all the rain gear and additional warm clothes, the cold wind rose all of my arm hairs. At the same time, it brought me peace. The sound of rain hitting my thick rain jacket was soothing and nostalgic. Rain is necessary and natural and that’s what makes it beautiful.

This week we headed to check on our plant growth and our first destination was to our Firework Prairie transects. We stomped along the flags we placed weeks ago, and my shoes kept sinking into the mud and made loud smacking sounds. We looked at the initial growth and new leaf growth of our plants. We observed a Rosinweed, a Black-Eyed Susan, a Sweetgum, a Baccharis, two of our Small’s Ragwort, a Geranium, and a Goldenrod that we tagged on our first field day back in the beginning of February. But we also looked at some of the recognizable plants on the way. Brianna pointed out a Vetch, a funny-named Rattlesnake Master, a Little Blue-stem grass, and a Dogfennel which was not in blossom but can dye clothes with yellow color.

Next, we headed to our Upland Hardwood Forest transects, where we looked at a White Oak, an Eastern Red Cedar, a Catch Weed, a Red Maple, a Water Oak, a Loblolly Pine, and some newly blooming Common Blue Violets which brought the much-needed color into the forest. We made sure not to touch the tempting and hairy Poison Ivy, a vine growing on a tree next to a small creek that flowed much faster than usual due to the rainfall. We saw some budding, some initial growth and we observed growing leaf size, but not much of anything else. As the clock ticked into the afternoon, the rain poured harder. The sound of the rain hitting the leaves is like nothing else and the same goes for the smell the ground creates when in touch with more water than usual. Something about it feels gentle and true.

Journal #5
February 23, 2024

This week was our 5th time spending the afternoon at the Southern 8ths property. And, as always, it was too short. It was gloomy outside with the sun peeking through the clouds, just enough to give me a mild sunburn. The clouds were grey and moving at a fast pace and at times it felt like the rain was about to pour, but it only came for a couple of minutes while we were getting ready to collect our samples. I saw color on the fields of green. It was blue, and it was tiny. As February approaches it’s end, the Blue Violet has started to flower. This week we collected our data at the stream again. I came ready with three pairs of socks and another pair of sweatpants so my feet wouldn’t get cold once I got into the water. We put our waders on and our rain jackets and headed for the stream. Our first site, Kayak Put-in was calm. The water was loud as it ran over the rocks, but the birds were letting out less chirps than usual. The stream was fast, faster than last time and the water was deep only at some points where it reached to my knees. Erosion was visible and the organic foam piled up in between two branches that sat in the water. The air was fresh and humid and gentle, and the breeze felt good on my face. The water was clear, but more turbid than last time. We collected 3 samples with the kick net and looked for any kind of movement each time. Two small fish got stuck in the net and we released them back. We collected some organisms, mainly fly larvae, but our catch was less impressive than the one we caught the other week. We wasted no time and headed for site two.

Our next destination was called Kayak Pull-out. This one was different, the water was deeper everywhere. The moss found it’s home on the rocks which made them slippery and hard to get into water. The flow was fast, much faster than last time and I was trying my hardest to get my feet firmly between the rocks on the stream bottom. Once we crossed the stream, we reached a bed of rocks which we settled our equipment on. We used the kick net to collect our three samples once again. We collected them based on the rocks in the water. Not only for safety purposes but also to see if there are differences in the abundance and variety of our macroinvertebrates. We collected one right in front of all the riffles, one behind a big rock and one in the fast water, behind multiple riffles that were created by piled up rocks. Our sampling was very successful as we found multiple new organisms that we haven’t collected before. The difference between this week and two weeks ago and the organisms that we found can be explained by considering the stages different organisms enter based on their life cycles and the environmental conditions they thrive in. The mean temperature was 2.2 degrees Celsius higher than it was two weeks ago. After collecting we were on our way back to the Learning Center where Dr. Niland set up a microscope for us to look at the tiny organisms we couldn’t identify with the naked eye. She placed the rest in a petri dish, and we used the Pocket Macros app to recognize them by Order and Family. We ran into some trouble identifying some of them, especially the super smelly Crayfish we collected weeks ago, that after some time started looking exactly like every other Crayfish in the area. Dr. Niland used the key to eliminate species of crayfish and identified the crayfish as a species of Cambarus. It was time to go, it started getting colder and the sun was not visible anymore as it got blocked by the tall trees on the property. Our time at Southern 8ths ended too quickly, as usual.

Journal #4
February 16, 2024

Today was a gloomy day. A warm day that got much chillier with the clock ticking towards the evening. A day of sun hiding behind the clouds, but the clouds were grey, and I had that feeling that rain is right around the corner. But rain never came. And the weather stayed the same throughout our day at Southern 8ths just like it stayed the same all week- warm, too warm for February.

It was a special day today thanks to Mr. Brandon Hough, who we talked to over a video call. Mr. Hough is the Executive Director at Homegrown National Park which he talked about. He explained his career path, how he got into conservation work without a biology degree and what connects him to it. It was interesting to hear about someone single-handedly influencing change in other people’s lives. It is inspiring and emotional because I see myself in his passion. He takes change personally. Any change, the change his friends make when they plant native species in their backyard and cut the invasive ones or the change that occurs on the national level when more and more landowners commit to the movement. He believes in conservation, he lives for change, and he is an optimist who sees hope in the future.

Today we headed out to look at the growth of our plants we tagged two weeks ago. We headed to the Fireworks Prairie West site to walk our trail and document any changes that we see. Before we walked into the crammed pile of annuals and perennials, Brianna demonstrated flying the drone, and we all got to try it out. It was my first time flying the drone and it was surprisingly easier than expected. We stomped into the Fireworks Prairie, trying to avoid getting the thorns stuck to my pants. We looked at our plants and identified any new growth, new leaves and their color, flowers, and seeds. We looked at the surroundings to see how many are in the area. Most of our plants only had some initial growth and/or leaves. One of them also had some last season seeds which was very interesting to see. And one of them got nibbled on by a rabbit or maybe a deer.

We looked around and listened to the birds. The birds sang beautifully and there were many. We saw 6 or 7 vultures hanging out on one of the trees. Just sitting there, waiting for the next meal. We headed for the forest. The ground was wet and muddy with countless of footprints, some we could recognize. There were big buck footprints and also some itty-bitty ones from a young fawn. We also recognized some racoon prints that look freakishly hand-like and some small cat prints. We looked at our marked trees and looked for any changes in leaves, flowers and fruits. Some of our trees were budding already. The Red Maple was flowering, and it added some color to the mostly brown forest. I could see the red from across the field, it is obvious. Spring is close.

We left the forest and with the spare time we had remaining we headed to explore what seems like a never-ending property. We walked across the ‘danger bridge’, we enjoyed the sound of water running across the rocks- creating riffles the bugs enjoyed sliding around, and we admired the inspiration rock that’s a part of an incredible ecosystem the plants have created. Nature on that side is greener and wetter from the one we usually stay on. It was special and soothing and in a way gentle, like spring.

Journal #3
February 9, 2024

Today was our first day of aquatic macroinvertebrate sampling! We started the day off by learning about macroinvertebrates in general and reviewing our assigned readings. This week we read about water quality, how to restore it and we talked about the current state of Thompson Creek. Some macroinvertebrates, or lack of them, can help us observe the quality of water. The variety and quantity of macroinvertebrates in streams also tell us how healthy the stream water is.

We checked last week’s weather, looked at what is flowering out there, we put on our oversized boots, also known as waders, and we were on our way to our first site where we would learn how to sample and collect data about macroinvertebrates in streams. First, we got introduced to the tools. Dr. Niland demonstrated and guided us through everything. She showed us the first step; how to measure turbidity. I was eager to try it. I stepped into the water, and it was freezing cold. I felt my leg hairs rise after a couple seconds, and I thought to myself, I should have worn 3 pairs of socks. The water current was much stronger than I expected, and the slippery rocks I stood on were not exactly helping me stay in place. Next, we learned how to use the kick net. I collected some heavy rocks to put on the bottom so the net would stay in place and the sediment, and possibly some macroinvertebrates, underneath the rocks would get caught in. Stirring up the streambed with my feet was no easy task. My legs were tired after scraping the bottom with my boots, so we switched out and everyone got their fair share of the leg workout. We were joined by a pack of good boys (Brad and Pati’s dogs). The floofsters did not bother us, and it was a delight to see them play in the water. We took the net out of the water, placed in on the ground and looked for any movement on the net. I turned the leaves with forceps in my hand, not knowing what I was supposed to look for. And there it was, some movement. They were tiny and most of them were see-through. The macroinvertebrates we found were mostly beetle larva, some fly larva and a couple of Mayfly larva. We drowned them in alcohol so we could observe and identify them later under a microscope.

We repeated this process a couple more times before we started collecting samples with the D-net. The D-net resembles the letter D and can scrape the bottom of the streambed. It looked effortless when Dr. Niland did it, but it was far from easy. Most of what was caught in the D-net were rocks, that we placed into a white plastic container. We looked at any movement on the rocks, but it was much more difficult to see compared to the Kick net. We didn’t do it for too long before we had to leave for our second site where we would repeat our sampling process. Just before we left, we took notes of the surrounding. The stream was fast, subjectively, and it was rocky. There was plenty of erosion and the trees closest to the stream were sagging down just a little bit. We measured the water temperature, ph and dissolved Oxygen levels, all of which looked good. Then, we headed to the next site.

We repeated the process for our second sampling site. This time we did it completely on our own. We chose our site and made a bit of a mistake. We put our kick-net in a rocky part of the stream, which made it a little difficult to scrape the streambed with our boots. The water was colder, faster and more turbulent in comparison to the first site. But we got a hell of a catch. We found some huge larva in our sample, some more fly larva and even some insects that got caught up in the net by accident. Dr. Niland found a crayfish! Soon after, we had to leave, even though it seemed like only 5 minutes went by. It was getting cold, and the clock was nearing 5 pm. I noted my observations, we measured the pH, temperature, and O2, all of which looked good. Then, we headed back. We were out of time and were unable to look at our findings under the microscope. Sure, can’t wait for next time!

Journal #2
February 2, 2024

This Friday I got to Southern 8ths early, and I got the opportunity to go and explore a different part of the land alone for 30 minutes. Mr. Harper suggested I should go in the direction towards the horses, so I did. I’ve always loved horses but had feared approaching them on my own for a while. However, it was easy to conquer that fear with Dee, or maybe it’s just D. She was so kind, she came right up, and we were both a little nervous at first, but after petting her for a couple minutes it felt like we became friends. Then she just stood still watching me walk into the woods. The air as I walked between the trees was wet, and the mud was thick. I kept slipping and digging deeper into the mud. The soles of my shoes turned brown, with small tree branches and leaves that got stuck to them as I was walking back to meet with everyone else. It was field time! First day of field work started by looking at this past week’s weather and what the wildlife cameras captured. One of the cameras captured three huge turkeys in one photo, which still surprises me. We discussed our weekly readings, and Brianna told us today’s task and we were on our way to set up our transect and select the plants. First, we headed to the Fireworks Prairie field where Emily, Angel and I chose a spot to set up our 4 transects, each 65 ft long, that would connect to create a phenology loop. The plants that grow in the Fireworks field are tall and some of them have spikes that cut through my leggings and left little scratch marks on my shins and knees. Needless to say, I won’t be wearing leggings next time. We got lucky and created an almost perfect square. We walked along the four lines we marked with blue flags and looked at the plants that grew on either side. Brianna did the job for us. She recognized the plants, showed us what they look like and why they are called a certain name right before marking them with a number. Over the next few weeks, we will be observing a Geranium, a Black-eyed Susan, a Sweetgum tree, a Baccharis, two Ragworts and a Goldenrod. Each week we will mark the changes that are or aren’t accruing in the Natures Notebook app. Our marked quadrant of transects is the first to be near the water, where we might see plants and development that has not been documented by interns yet. We headed to the woods and again we chose our area to flag. This time one of our transacts cut into a stream of water that ran in a line through the forest. The trees were bare, and the forest was brown with little specks of color on the evergreen trees. It was hard to identify the trees without the leaves that were now scattered all over the ground. Brianna and Mr. Harper identified and marked a Red Cedar, an American Holly, an Oak, a Loblolly pine, and a water Oak that was so thick Brianna had to mark a smaller tree next to it. That oak was tall and reached so high, the top of the tree was soaking in all the sun. It reflected a white color as the sunlight hit it and it was almost like it was showing off. Poison Ivy wrapped around the Water Oak, it was thick and ‘hairy’ and reached as high as I could see.

The trees were a subject to change as they grow leaves, Brianna said.

For our last hour there, Brianna and Mr. Harper took us exploring the property. We went to wake up the bats that live inside the walls of an old semi-trailer. We saw the area of the forest underwater due to recent rainfall and we saw the first blooming tree right next to the water. We looked at a field where they chopped the trees and we saw thinning of the woods on the way there. And lastly, we looked at the biggest Oak tree I have ever seen in my life. This glorious tree branched in all directions and was so thick it would take at least three of us to hug around it.

Journal #1
January 26, 2024

What better way to start of the first day of internship but to be greeted by a pack of friendly, smelly floofsters (Brad and Pati’s dogs) who walked me up to Mr. Brad Turley, the owner of Southern 8ths property. Mr. Brad shook my hand and asked me how I was doing, I told him I was good and excited. Soon after I figured out my answer was totally wrong. Mr. Brad, I assure you I’m swinging for the fence from now on.

After meeting everyone we spent a good hour and a half talking about narratives, objectives, and expectations of the internship. We got to see the diversity of plants and mammals that live at the property, and I will deny it if this ever gets out there but a video about it made me shed a few tears. I think the reason why I was emotional is because it made me feel like I’ve finally found a place where I belong, even though I couldn’t answer any of the questions that were asked that day.

After the presentation we got to go out and see some of the sites we will be working at. Mr. David, Dr. Niland and Brianna took us to the stream first. The water was muddy, fast flowing and high due to rain and the site smelled earthly, like wet dirt. We drove around in these cool off-road vehicles, and I sat in the front, and as we drove, I got to see kilometers of untouched land while I felt the cold, fresh breeze on my arms. We walked up to the sampling station next to the stream, we stopped at the family cemetery, the fireworks field, the nearby pond, and we strolled into the forest where we saw pine trees so tall, the top quarter of the trees looked like it was touching the clouds. And the sounds. We heard the owls, the frogs, the birds, and it was a natures symphony.

I was surprised to see the huge role artwork plays on the property. To say the wood carvings are beautiful is an understatement. They are complex, and ‘loud’ and each one tells a story. The art itself is so ‘loud’ there are no descriptions needed. All you have to do is observe what it’s telling you. Whether that is a representation of wildlife in the area, or history of the property or a tribute to the fallen.

We wrapped up the day early and we were sent home, away from the paradise of Southern 8ths. On my way home I was thinking about the space and the people I just met and how it made me feel safe and welcome even though I have no previous experience in field work and not much knowledge about plants either. Sometimes that makes me feel I’m not ready whatsoever.

Just kidding! I was born ready.