|Start kissing; you may be a winner
||[Oct. 17th, 2003|11:22 pm]
After finishing my undergraduate degree in English, I continued with graduate studies at the University of Oregon.
My major was Pre-Wed. My ex, J, had two years of law school to finish and I needed to be doing something, and since I'd been doing school for so long, why not go with what you know? Alas, I was a shamefully poor graduate student and did not finish my ambitious Master's in Journalism and Political Science, a fact that I have long regretted and a part of the reason I'm such a freakin' overachiever in law school.
At the end of the first year I decided to follow up on the terrific time I'd had the summer before when J had taken Field Ornithology (for those of you who don't know and those of you who can't quite believe, yes, he managed to get law school credit for Graduate Level Bird Watching - tell me I don't know how to pick the party schools), by taking it for summer credit myself.*
We had several field trips associated with the class, two of which stand out in my memory, and neither was for the birds we saw. One was finding the dead body, and the other was the frogs.
The first happened in a woodland park just outside of Eugene, Oregon, early on a Saturday. My birding partner, Terri, and I wandered far afield, chasing an elusive bird cry that bobbed just ahead of us time and again, the source of the squawk never quite spotted. After almost half an hour of this I pulled up short. "Oh for gawd sake, it's squirrels!"
We both laughed at our idiocy, and turned to follow the trail back down the hillside. A puppy sprang out onto the trail, tail wagging, and bounced around us. We were surprised because we were a long way from any housing and this was a baby; surely he hadn't gotten out here by himself. He bounded back through the woods, and we decided that we should catch him and see what his tag said. We'd followed him about 20 feet down the trail when I spotted the hand.
It was lying in the trail, palm up and loose, clearly attached to a body. I stopped and pointed, and then Terri and I sort of clung to each other. We watched for what seemed like a long time but probably was only seconds, and then I squeaked, "I think it's someone dead!"
"Go look," Terri prompted. I just looked at her; was she joking? "What are we gonna do?" she asked.
"I don't know; we should look...." But neither of us was going any closer, that was clear.
Finally, an idea formed. "I'll stay here so we know where it is," I said, "and you go tell the others and call the police."
At which point the dead body leaped to his feet and Terri and I both screamed.
He was a perfectly nice guy with a healthy crop of marijuana growing deep in the forested park of Eugene, Oregon, and while tending his crop had heard the two of us coming and had lain down in the underbrush, his hand around the puppy's collar, to wait for our departure. Alas, puppy had broken loose, and his attempt at playing possum had not drawn our hoped-for disinterest. The last thing he wanted was cops around.
We all chuckled at our error and Terri and I headed down the trail in one direction while Mr. Hippie bopped off in the other. And once he was around the bend, Terri headed back to harvest a few leaves. She wrote them off as part of the guy's cost of doing business. I was high enough on adrenalin.
And then there were the frogs. Our major field trip was three days of camping beside a mountain lake in the Eastern Cascades (fabulously beautiful ponderosa pine forest), and on the second day half the crew took the canoes and paddled to the far end of the lake, checking out the water birds, while the other half, including me, walked through the marshes to reach the landing point to change places and paddle back.
I'm sure we saw birds that day. But I can only remember the frogs. We weren't too far into the marshland when they started appearing, and then within fifty yards we were completely inundated. There had been an emergence of frogs and there were millions of them. Everywhere. At first you could hesitate a moment for one or two to hop out from beneath your boot, but soon every step was an excruciating three-minute process. Lift your right foot, lower it to inches above the ground, wait for the hopping to stop, step down. Lift your left foot....
They were a carpet, a wriggling, gray-green mat of two-inch amphibians, scrambling over each other to get out of our way. We were flapping our arms in poor imitation of flamingos, always one foot in the air, a warning shadow waiting to fall.
In twenty minutes we had progressed precisely 100 feet through our two-mile hike. We had only 45 minutes until we were scheduled to rendezvous with the others. There was no denying the inevitable.
We grimaced, winced, and started walking. Every step crushed, squashed, pulverized frogs. We scrunched them into the mud, afraid to look back. We tried and abandoned tiptoeing and taking extra-large steps. Eventually we just slogged through, met the others, rinsed bits of froggy bodies from our hiking boots, and climbed into the canoes, grateful that it was over.
The canoeists became the walkers. We were back to camp with dinner made when they made their way, shuddering, to the fireside. And none of us ventured into the marsh on foot again that trip.
*In a shameful example of how bad a student I was, I ended up taking an incomplete for the class and eventually begging a retroactive withdrawal because I couldn't be bothered to write the research paper - and I almost ended up sleeping with a close friend's husband because she was home with the new baby, J was in Washington, DC, and the stars were beautiful on our weekend campout, but I did manage to be the cooler head that prevailed.