A BEMPer makes the most of her summer internship

Blog Post by Laura Martinez, BEMP Summer High School Intern 2017

Well, here it goes, my very first blog. My name is Laura Martinez and this summer I had the privilege of being a BEMP high school summer intern. I have just graduated from Rio Rancho High School and will be attending UNM this fall semester pursuing a Biology degree. What to do with that Biology degree? I may never know. As I write this blog, I just finished my last morning as a BEMP intern, collecting litterfall from the black tubs that are scattered in reasonable yet still hard to find places at each BEMP site. More on that later, for now I will start at the beginning.

Laura with a ferret she found in the bosque while doing monitoring field work

I honestly had no idea BEMP existed or what BEMP stood for until one of my favorite teachers sent out the application for the position. That teachers name was Matt Farley, the supreme zoologist and AP environmental teacher at Rio Rancho High School.

Mr. Farley was a teacher each student could easily communicate with, and a teacher who found joy in the area he taught, a teacher that any student would be lucky to have. He sent me many tips on what to do with my resume as well as my cover letter. When I got the position, I was ecstatic, but I am sure he was even more so when I told him the news. Unfortunately, soon after I started I learned that he was in a bad car accident, a six-car pile-up. He is currently still at UNM hospital in a coma, and Rio Rancho High School has started a year with something missing in its education. His passion for the animals and the earth he taught about was and is compelling, and I do not think I would be here and be in this position without his unconditional support. I am so glad I received this opportunity, and I sure hope that I can tell him about it soon.

With that being said, BEMP for me, was a great way to express my gratitude towards the people who helped me find my passion, as well as learn more about what I wanted to do with my life. When I first started I was nervous, as I tend to be more on the quiet side of life. My first task was to prepare bags for monthly monitoring and I was worried they were not going to be perfect, that I may forget to put a gauge in or not enough oil, or not enough bags to collect leaves etc. Anyways I am pretty sure everything was good in the end because the data was successfully collected. Working with BEMP I learned that there is always something to do, especially sorting litterfall. Which in brief, is literately weighing and sorting leaves for continuous hours. Believe it or not, it is actually very fun, looking and learning about all the different plants in New Mexico. Although I must admit, after an hour, it does tend to get tedious, especially when you feel like you have done so much but have really done so little.

a tamarisk leaf beetle

Litterfall was only one of the many mini adventures I had while working with BEMP. I also had the privilege of identifying tamarisk leaf beetles in the lab. Looking at bugs under microscopes tends to be a greater experience then having them crawl over you and not knowing what it is. I am confident I have enough knowledge to maybe stay away from the ones that bite, and I also know that every time you touch a branch slightly, there are probably microscopic bugs all over you.

I enjoyed the field work at BEMP the most. Although I did show up in leggings for the first field trip, and proceeded to get eaten alive by mosquitoes on all parts of my legs, I eventually learned the right way to handle things. I bought sturdy children’s pants at a store that specializes in outdoor wear; since I’m almost five feet tall, the pants were not only cheaper than adult pants, but they have pockets, which tend to be lacking in most women’s pants!

In a short while you’ll be able to see what I did in the field by way of the instructional videos we made at BEMP this summer.  I will star as the rain-gauge reading expert! Although it felt awkward to be on camera I hope these videos will teach people things.

Baby porcupine in the bosque

Some highlights of my experiences included an encounter with a baby porcupine, the screech of juvenile red-tailed hawks, almost but not quite falling into the river, and finding an abandoned pet ferret. The ferret is in a much better home, currently residing with a man who knows his invertebrates so well that his knowledge is remarkable – Thanks Matt Leister, BEMP Entomologist for adopting the ferret.

I cannot go without referring to the wonderful people I met throughout this experience. Whether it’s the eccentric entomologist, the kind smile of a respected and genuine man, the bubbly energy of the educators, the kindness of a human without the use of her thumb, or the biologist that enjoys killing plants due to a herbology class, they are people that truly made the experience worthwhile… so worthwhile that I now desire to drag someone to the bosque with me and name plants with them, because I think it’s pretty cool knowledge. Anybody gets the opportunity to work with BEMP should rejoice, because you’re in for a world full of fun.

This is not the end for me! Once a BEMPer, always a BEMPer… but farewell for now!