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The Best Internship Ever

25 Oct

It’s quite possible that I have the best internship ever. I get paid to, at the very least, drive a vanful of people up to a beautiful New England woodland, Smith’s Ada & Archibald MacLeish Field Station, once a week. Sometimes this happens more often; sometimes there are events, and I frequently conduct tours; I also do a lot of behind-the-scenes work for the field station. But Field Station Fridays are one of my favorite parts of my job. Despite the stress of hurrying from my 12:10 class to lunch and then to the parking lot to pick up a van and get to the meeting point by 12:30 (usually more like 12:45), I absolutely love my weekly visits to the field station.


I’ve spent the last few weeks watching the seasons change: each week the colors are brighter and more varied, the leaves on the ground more numerous, blowing up behind the van like glitter as I pass. A farm along the way has been hayed, the hay packaged into neat plastic giant marshmallows (as I like to think of them); its pumpkin patch has been advertised, harvested, and now finally turned under. Another farm has finally run out of peaches to offer. The sign advertising fresh eggs for $3 a dozen hasn’t moved from the end of a family’s driveway in all the time I’ve been visiting the field station.IMG_0791

The wildlife has been quite an enjoyment for me in the last few weeks. I saw my first wild porcupine, a fat old fellow who seemed to have a bad leg; and then, a couple weeks later, I saw another! The wild turkeys are always numerous. And I take great enjoyment in the autumnal proliferation of woolly bears and other fuzzy caterpillars, which seem to be everywhere these days. I’ve been told that the ratio of black to brown stripes on a woolly bear can predict the intensity of the coming winter; does anybody know the formula for these calculations?
Speaking of fuzzy things, I’ve discovered an odd flora: a minute beige furball, densely packed, littering the forest floor especially around oak trees. Jesse Bellemare, Smith’s plant ecologist, confirmed that it was some sort of gall, but didn’t know what kind in particular. For now, I’ve decided to call the things Tribbulus terrae, Earth-Tribbles, because they are tiny, fuzzy, and seem to proliferate before my very eyes.
Fall2013 025One of the many fuzzy creatures to be found at MacLeish- a hickory tussock moth larvae.
The weather this autumn has been stunning. I’ve yet to have a poor-weather day at the field station this semester. It’s been mild, sunny, and breezy most days, though there was one rainy day that merited a cozy time in the building with a CEEDS mug full of tea. Visitors have traipsed through in great numbers; I take a special joy in introducing first-timers to MacLeish and to the classroom.
My next trip up is this afternoon, and it’s looking to be another gorgeous autumn day. Hopefully there will be a couple more newcomers to introduce to one of Smith’s hidden gems, the MacLeish Field Station.
– EJ Wald ’15 is a CEEDS intern, a Mathematics major (because math is fun!), Landscape Studies minor (“because that’s what I want to do with life and I can’t major in it!”), and Sustainable Food concentrator. They consider themselves to be part cat, part plant, and part human.

Wildlife Sighting: Snake with Prey at MacLeish!

19 Jun

If the circle of life makes you squeamish, you might want to stop reading this post now. Otherwise, read on!


As a summer intern for MacLeish Field Station, I have the incredible luck to spend most of my workdays outdoors. This Wednesday, I spent some time planting some vegetation to screen the shed (aka the garage for the field station’s all-terrain electric-powered mini-vehicle) with my supervisor, Reid Bertone-Johnson (a landscape studies professor and Manager of the field station). As we were determining where to dig the next holes, I spotted a garter snake sliding through the grass near my feet. When I looked closer, I realized this was no everyday snake sighting: this little fellow had just caught some big prey!

Reid grabbed his camera while I kept an eye on the snake, but it wasn’t in any hurry. We got some great pictures while the snake slowly swallowed the unlucky amphibian that had just become its lunch. I wasn’t sure if it was going to happen: it looked like the snake had bitten off more than it could chew, er, swallow. To make things more difficult, the prey was still alive, despite its entire head being engulfed by the snake.

snake eating from 6-5-2013 1-44-41 PM

This guy is a Common garter snake, Thamnophis sirtalis, and its prey is a Fowler’s toad, Anaxyrus fowleri. Garter snakes are a very common venom-less snake that can be found throughout North America. They normally grow to about two feet long, but they can exceed four feet in length! The one we saw was about average, and its body was less than an inch in diameter. Fowler’s toads, previously considered a subspecies of Woodhouse’s toad, live mostly in the eastern United States, and generally grow to about 2-3 inches. Though the toad we saw was on the small side, it was still a generous portion for this small snake. You can see in the picture below that the snake’s body was already stretching to accommodate its prey, and that was only the head!

snake eating from 6-5-2013 1-44-47 PM

Our garter snake wasn’t too pleased to have an audience, and when we got too close it almost decided to abandon its meal. We backed off, and when we checked a few minutes later, the toad’s struggles had ended and the snake only had the back legs left to swallow. Yum!

Well, on that note, I’ll go finish my lunch now…although I think I’ll chew before I swallow!

-EJ Wald, ’15