Monday, December 14, 2015

Music Speaks

How many of you just listen to music because you like it?  Crap – that is a stupid question.  Of course you like it or you wouldn’t listen to it.  But do you ever let the music speak to you?  I don’t mean just listen to the lyrics or feel the beat and let the words move you.  Instead, do you have a song that “speaks” to you?  I mean does music ever appear to in your life with purpose and meaning?  It does for me and it seems that music speaking to me is a common theme for my blog (a list of past music blogs are at the bottom of this post). 
Borrowed from The World Unplugged -
Growing up, I wasn’t really into music.  Sure I listened to it but I could never tell you the words or meaning of a song.  I couldn’t even tell you who wrote or sang a song.  My entire life, I have been envious of people that can recite song lyrics and know the band in the first three notes of a song but now I realize that I listen to music differently.  I don’t listen to music to enjoy it although I do enjoy music.  I listen to music to see if it speaks to me and what it could be saying. 
Before Pandora, I rarely listened to music.  As I mention above, I am not very good at knowing bands or who sings songs that I like on the radio.  This just led me to not listen to music unless someone else was listening to it.  But Pandora has changed this.  Pandora picks the playlist for me and I think this is why music speaks to me regularly now.  The universe knows what energy I need and then plays a song that fits my mood or feeling at that moment.  The music speaks.
This morning is a GREAT example of this and it has continued through the day today (more on why I am listening to music at work in a bit).  My routine each morning is to drive to the bus stop (I should be riding my bike but that is another story) listening to Mike & Mike (sports radio show).  If they are having a conversation that I want to continue to listen to, I open the ESPN Radio app on my phone and keep listening.  However, most mornings I am not interested in what they are talking about so as I walk across the pedestrian bridge to cross the highway to catch my bus, I start the Pandora app.   Not only do I enjoy the music but it often speaks to me (see previous blogs listed below).  Here is how the music spoke to me this morning:
First song this morning:  1-8-7 on an Undercover Cop by Dr. Dre (click here to listen).  187 is the California Penal Code for murder and the song is a pretty graphic song about gangster life in Los Angeles.  First question I can hear you asking yourself right now is "Why is Cameron listening to Gangster Rap?" and I don’t really have an answer for you.  It fits my mood these days and this song really nailed it this morning.  Today is my first day reporting to my new company’s office.   I feel like everything at work has been taken away and I am just in the system.   I lost my office with a door and now I just sit at a workstation.  I feel demoted and underappreciated for my skills and work.  I am now just one of the masses at an office job.  This is something that I have never felt before and I want out.  As Dr. Dre writes and sings, “I got my eyes on the shit unfolding.  And there ain’t gonna be no trippin’ cause they know the type of shit that I be holding.”
My new "workspace" at work

I then checked my horoscope.  I used to check this frequently but haven’t in a long time but hey if the Universe is speaking to me through music, why not check my horoscope as well?  BAM!  It hit me hard. 
My horoscope for the 14th of December, 2015
My current situation is buried deep in the dirt and I have to trust that the sun is up there shining down.  If I can trust the sun, I will sprout and have a chance to grow big and beautiful.  I am not sure if this is with my current employer but I have a feeling it is talking about my snake dream.

I make the sun shine in my so called "workspace" with a snake (it isn't real unfortunately)
Immediately after I read my horoscope, the song Clint Eastwood by Gorillaz cued up on Pandora.  Bam – music speaks (listen here).  I don’t normally put an entire song’s lyrics into my blog but this is just too perfect not too.
"Clint Eastwood"
I ain't happy, I'm feeling glad
I got sunshine in a bag
I'm useless but not for long
The future is coming on
I ain't happy, I'm feeling glad
I got sunshine in a bag
I'm useless but not for long
The future is coming on
It's coming on
It's coming on
It's coming on

Yeah... Ha Ha!
Finally someone let me out of my cage
Now, time for me is nothing cause I'm counting no age
Now I couldn't be there
Now you shouldn't be scared
I'm good at repairs
And I'm under each snare
Bet you didn't think so I command you to
Panoramic view
Look I'll make it all manageable
Pick and choose
Sit and lose
All you different crews
Chicks and dudes
Who you think is really kickin' tunes?
Picture you gettin' down in a picture tube
Like you lit the fuse
You think it's fictional?
Mystical? Maybe.
Hero who appears in you to clear your view when you're too crazy
To those the definition for what life is
To you because I put you on the high shit
You like it?
Gun smokin' righteous with one toke
You're psychic among those
Possess you with one go

I ain't happy, I'm feeling glad
I got sunshine in a bag
I'm useless but not for long
The future is coming on
I ain't happy, I'm feeling glad
I got sunshine in a bag
I'm useless but not for long
The future (that's right) is coming on
It's coming on
It's coming on
It's coming on

The essence the basics
Without did you make it
Allow me to make this
Child-like in nature
You have it or you don't that's a fallacy
I'm in them
Every sprouting tree
Every child of peace
Every cloud and sea
You see with your eyes
I see destruction and demise (that's right)
Corruption in disguise
From this fuckin' enterprise
Now I'm sucked into your lies
Through Russel, not his muscles but percussion he provides
For me as a guide
Y'all can see me now 'cause you don't see with your eye
You perceive with your mind
That's the inner
So I'mma stick around with Russ and be a mentor
Bust a few rhymes so motherfuckers remember where the thought is
I brought all this
So you can survive when law is lawless (right here)
Feelings, sensations that you thought was dead
No squealing, remember that it's all in your head

I ain't happy, I'm feeling glad
I got sunshine in a bag
I'm useless but not for long
The future is coming on
I ain't happy, I'm feeling glad
I got sunshine in a bag
I'm useless but not for long
My future is coming on
It's coming on
It's coming on
It's coming on
It's coming on
My future is coming on
It's coming on
It's coming on
It's coming on
It's coming on
My future is coming on
It's coming on
It's coming on
It's coming on
It's coming on
My future is coming on
It's coming on
It's coming on
My future is coming on
It's coming on
It's coming on
My future is coming on
It's coming on
It's coming on
My future

My future is coming on.  Damn!  This is incredibly powerful for me right now.  I am stuck in bad place but the music speaks  and is telling me that my future is coming on.
As my bus was exiting the interstate into downtown Denver, “Time to Get Ill” by the Beastie Boys (Click here to listen) started playing in my ears.  Perfection!  
I'm not the type of person who like to waste my time
And when I'm on the mic I just say my rhymes
And I'm out on bail, the check is in the mail
They can sentence me to life but I won't go to jail
I'm cool calm collected, from class I was ejected”
My new office and current job are jail and I won’t go there.  It is “time to get ill” and find my way out of here.

My boss and another coworker doomed into "workspace hoteling land"
As I got on the elevator to head up to the 17th floor of my current corporate job hell, Eminem was rapping through my headphones.  More explicit and inappropriate lyrics but damn, they spoke to me as I was headed up the elevator.   The song – Bitch Please II (Click here to listen).
“somehow, someway - tell 'em, nigga
You know about Dogg-ay
Now let me cut these niggaz up and show em where da fuck I'm comin from
I get the party crackin from the shit that I be spittin son
Hit-and-run, get it done, get the funds, split and run”
Was all this a coincidence?  You can believe that but I believe in magic.  I believe that we can control our own destiny with the energy we attract and draw upon throughout our lives.  I am struggling with finding the positive energy that will propel me to reach my dream but I know it is there.  I have to have faith that the sun is shining bright and all I need to do is sprout.  Once I sprout and my cotyledons reach the light, I will grow straight, strong, and beautiful.  I will believe that my future is bright, I have to wear shades.
The song playing right now on Pandora is “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” by the Simple Minds (Listen here).  Music speaks…
Blogs inspired by the music that speaks to me:

Ordinary Average Guy
Bittersweet Symphony
18 Wheeler
Bucket List #9 - Karaoke
White Men Can't Jump
Can't Stop The Sun
Take It Easy
Forgive Me, Forgive Me Not, Why Can't I Forgive Myself

View from my new office but not from my office - I don't have an office anymore and I certainly don't have a window.



Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Two Balls

Today marks a sad day for me.  I am losing my office tomorrow and today is the day I take everything home with me.  I am losing my office because the company I work for was bought by a much larger consulting firm that wanted access to our clients and projects.  Well they got it but in their purchase, I am losing my office.  I have had an office with a door for the last 10 years and I am not sure if I am going to know how to operate in cube land.  Actually, the new company doesn't even have cubes - they use an open floor plan with dog-bone workstations.  They use a "hoteling" system to reserve workstations for a week or two at a time.  Research has shown that this type of work environment is lousy and does not increase productivity but rather breeds resentment and a miserable work environment.  I guess I will learn if I can work in this environment next week but I can already tell you that my new co-workers are not going to like the chaos and noise I bring to the workplace.
As I whine and cry with my co-workers (we are an office of 7 people that work incredibly well together) about our move, I have been looking for any excuse NOT to work.  Yes - I am still getting my job done but it is the in-between times that find me looking at old photos, surfing the internet, and even shopping for Christmas gifts for my boys.  That is when I found this photo I titled "Two Balls".
Two Balls
I took this SnakeSelfie last winter on a sunny afternoon in my living room.  The snakes were new to me and I needed to get to know them before I used them in any snake programs.  I don't mind being bitten by snakes but I cannot have any of my snakes bite anyone else - that would just not be good for business.  The snake on my right shoulder is a biter but the snake on my left shoulder is a sweetheart. 
The photo title, "Two Balls", has double meaning in that it references the species of snake - ball python and it references the male anatomy.  Now, I can already feel you rolling your eyes at me and hear your thought of "that's disgusting" but really it is kind of funny if you can just let your immature self out for a moment.  I certainly can and probably do let my immaturity out too much but right now that is my frame of mind.  I am moving into an office where I am being treated as a dollar sign rather than an employee (new company is all about profit) and forced to work in a setting that resembles the a computer lab with white noise blaring from speakers to help drown out conversations.  This is a perfect storm to bring out my immaturity and this photo represents my mood almost perfectly if you can remove the sadness of losing my office.
I let my immature frame of mind about this move slip during a recent "integration" meeting that the new company had with us a few weeks ago.  They were introducing the "hoteling" and open floor plan to us in addition to other benefit related changes (I never even knew that there could be a spousal surcharge for health insurance).  During a pause in their presentation, I raised my hand and asked what day and time the Nerf wars occurred.  You should have seen the blank stares I got and the two people giving the presentation are two of the folks I thought had the better senses of humor in the new company.  FUCK - I am so screwed.
Seating Chart for my first week at the new office
One positive is that my boss is also having to give up his office and will join me in "hotel hell".  Just this week, we received our assigned workstations and Andrew (my boss) is close enough to shoot rubber bands at throughout the day.  Actually, at a previous employer, he was a part of the rogue group in their cube land that was responsible for a rubber band policy banning all shooting of rubber bands in the office.  I can see similar policy being enforced in our near future.
So despite all the negatives of being sold to a company with a very different and profit driven culture, I think my work family will find a way to bring our fun with us.  If not, I can only hope to be laid off so I will be forced to pursue my snake dream.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Seeing Past The Obstacles

Let me preface this blog post with this is not my best work but it needs to be published regardless.  I started this post last April when I took the two sunrise photos on my way into work one morning and never finished it.  It is rough, very rough but it really identifies something about myself that I need to acknowledge and address.  Here is my post and hopefully I can write another one soon that can share the successes of my journey to see past the obstacles.
Everywhere I look, I see obstacles and it is really beginning to piss me off.  This happens not only in my physical view of the world but also in how I view myself. 
Powerlines obstructing a beautiful sunrise
My experience with most other humans is that they never see the obstacles impeding our views.  I have heard people marvel at the beauty of the sunrise or sunset but all I see are the powerlines obstructing my view.  Everywhere I drive, I see the underground pipelines that have bisected our landscape.  The roads themselves are obstacles to our planet's true beauty but do people really see them?  I don't think so.  Many people think cities, buildings, and bridges are pretty but I see concrete and steel polluting my view.

I wish I were gifted enough to see past the obstacles.  I need a shift in my perspective. I know I am unhappy (even angry) with my current place in life but what have I done to make a change - lately, I haven't done much. 

I have wallowed in my anger that things aren't moving anywhere with my snake dreams but do I try to make them move?  Not really.  I just see the obstacles in my path to achieving my dreams.  I see the lack of time, the lack of money, and the lack of support as negatives and obstacles.  I don't see the positive and wonderful view of my work, the lives I have touched, the opinions I have changed, or the inspiration of my snake talks.  No.  I do think I can see these things but they are blocked by the obstacles I create for myself. 

It is time to see past the obstacles and I hope I can find ways to articulate my journey to reprogram my brain.  Right now, I am just spinning at my desk trying to figure out what to do next but isn't this already a success?  I know what I need to do - I need to see past the obstacles.

Concrete and steel with sunrise


Thursday, December 3, 2015

Flamin' Hot

Have you ever had Flamin' Hot Limon Cheetos?  Probably not but let me tell you that they are GROSS.  I cannot stand them but I also have a irresistible draw to them and I eat at least 1 small bag a week (maybe 2 if I am truly honest with myself and you).  Cheetos are just disgusting in general but when you take away the fake orange cheese and add a fluorescent red flamin' hot powder instead, they just get nastier.  Despite my aversion to them, I simple must have them when feeling stressed out -  especially if they are the limon flavor.

Cheetos with a Texas Indigo

I stress eat and today was one of those days I needed to bury my stress with some Flamin' Hot Limon Cheetos.  Today's bag was my second of the week.  Stress eating does funny things to my mind.  The entire time I am stuffing my face with Cheetos, my mind is screaming at me to stop but I don't.  I eat and eat until the entire bag is gone.  In no way, shape, or form does eating an entire bag of Cheetos make my stress go away.  If anything, it gives me something else to not like about myself.
Breakfast of champions while watching YouTube videos and working with Google Earth
So why eat something that I don't even like that ultimately makes me feel worse than when I started?  I have no f&#!ing clue.  It just happens.  I find myself wandering down to the 7/11 and buying a bag of the red cheese flavored snacks and before I know it, they are gone.  This happened to me at 8:30am today.  Yes - I ate an entire bag of Flamin' Hot Limon Cheetos before 9:00am on a Thursday.

Instead of beating myself up today over this, I have decided to post a few of the photos I have taken in 2015 of my disgusting habit.  My only regret is that I didn't take a photo every time I did this but I think the following photos will give you a snapshot of my response to stress.  In addition, here is a short video using the hashtag #WineCam to fully disclose my problem with stressing out and eating Flamin' Hot Limon Cheetos for breakfast.


Yes - this is embarrassing but maybe I can change this behavior if I show the world who I really am. 

Flamin' Hot Limon Cheetos with a Big Gulp for breakfast
Flamin' Hot Limon Cheetos with salmon for breakfast while delineating habitats in Texas
Flamin' Hot Limon Cheetos with pizza and salmon for breakfast

Flamin' Hot Limon Cheetos with burgers for breakfast

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Rhino Skin

You need rhino skin
If you're gonna begin
To walk
Through this world
You need elephant balls
If you don't want to crawl
On your hands
Through this world
-Tom Petty

In my last post I bashed environmental consultants that like to claim the title "biologist".  I stand by my opinion that most consultants are clueless to what it takes to be a good biologist and I have another example from the same project I wrote about in my last blog post.  However, this time I am going to bash my own company.
Last year the consulting firm that I work for was sold to another larger consulting firm.  The original plan was to keep my company as a separate business unit in an attempt to maintain our culture and profitability.  We had an incredible culture that is being destroyed by the anti-social capitol and greed inducing culture of profit centers that the new company has currently.  Wow - I could write for days about the importance of social capitol in the workplace because my old company's value of creating a workplace and work relationships that are positive is the #1 reason I am still a consultant - in short, I enjoy the people I work with and my place of work despite permitting projects that completely go against my moral person.
Texas Tortoise Selfie taken in the thick scrub in south Texas
As a part of the new and forced integration, we have been directed to share work with people in the company that now owns us.  In part, this directive comes from the new company's greed (we are more profitable than them) and secondly that they are not nearly as busy as we are (I understand the second part).  So, in our generous and cooperative nature, we have given the drafting of the Biological Assessment (BA) for our project in south Texas to staff in our new company.  The trouble is that the staff we assigned the BA to are from Massachusetts and Maryland with no experience in Texas or even the southern half of the United States.  Does this stop consultants?  ABSOLUTELY NOT!  We can work anywhere.  This just makes me chuckle to think about and when I met these folks in the field for an afternoon, I laughed even harder.
The first negative I had with my new co-workers is that they were over 5 hours late meeting me in the field for their site tour.  We planned to meet them at 10:00am but they didn't arrive until after 3:00pm.  REALLY?  Who shows up that late???  This immediately started things off on the wrong foot.
The second negative was that they had no idea or even a clue about the biological significance and uniqueness of a loma.  They thought that the entire site was dredge spoil and human-made.  It was clear that they had not done any homework before getting on a plane and traveling a full day to the field in south Texas.  They hadn't even read any of the previous reports we had sent them nor did they have a map of the site.  I spent the first hour of their field visit getting them up to speed on the ecology of the area.
Then it was time for the Otto and Cameron show.  As I mentioned in my last post, Otto is a true biologist with an insatiable appetite to learn everything he can about the ecology and biodiversity of his current location.  This could be a vacant lot in the middle of New York City but Otto would still be looking for plants and critters.  He and I share a lot in common and our passion for the field was a great synergy for this project.  I should mention here that another employee from my current company was with us in the field but she was very green to field work.  That said, she was eager to learn and had done her homework before coming to Texas.  Her role on the project was that of data collection and GPS monkey and therefore not responsible for understanding the biological complexities of the site. In fact, all the homework she did prior to coming to the field was a great introduction for her and she was able to help both Otto and myself immensely. 
So what is the Otto and Cameron show?  Well, it is where we take inexperienced people and test their abilities in the field.  I have been known to take people far from the car and then quietly and quickly disappear into the woods just to double back and watch my field partner's response.  If they continue their work without me present, they pass.  If they stop work and begin to look for me with a panic look, they fail.  I prefer to work with people who are comfortable in the field and don't need me to show them the way back to the car. 
After the hour-long introduction to the ecology of the site, Otto and I headed off into the shrubland in search of rare plants and animals.  At first, I stuck to one of the trails that had been bushwhacked through the thick scrub so the archaeological crews could complete their transects.  Once sufficiently deep into the scrub, I left the trail and never saw my two new coworkers again until it was time to wrap up surveys in that area and move to another.  I found them waiting at the car for me so at least they could get back to the car.  Otto and I both laughed that night and for the rest of our trip about how we both knew that neither of my new coworkers would follow us into the scrub.  Erin sat quietly during these discussions but she had already passed with flying colors.
Why?  Because it is hard and it hurts.  Almost every shrub in south Texas has thorns and lots of them.  Here is Erin (the GPS monkey) busting through the scrub as she followed me soon after we left our visitors on one of the archaeology transects.  The scrub will hurt you and scar you. 

Erin bravely fighting the scrub
This next set of photos, like yesterday's post, could get me fired.  They are in direct violation of my company's health and safety plan.  They show examples of the thorns we pulled out of our arms, legs, and hands each evening before our showers (we did, however, record and report all the ticks on our bodies to meet my company's new tick safety "near-miss" recording policy).  Technically, I should have not gone into the field without personal protective equipment (PPE) to prevent the thorns from ever touching my skin.  This means I would have had to wear body armor, gloves, and safety glasses - all of these greatly hinder biological surveys especially the safety glasses.  No way will I wear glasses of any sort in the field as they change my vision reducing my ability to detect critters.  Even clear safety glasses mess with my vision and body armor would have been way too hot causing us to take more breaks than work.  If any of my company's health and safety officers ever saw these photos, I would be answering a lot of questions.  Erin even had the spine of a Spanish Dagger plant pierce her thick rubber boot and stab her in her shin.

This thorn was discovered just before my shower on the second day in the field - it had penetrated and broken off in my skin through the heavy canvas pants I was wearing.
Example of the many thorns we removed from our hands
Does having rhino skin make me a good biologist?  Absolutely not!  However, my willingness to get stabbed repeatedly and sweat through my clothes to ensure I visited every part of the project site in the little time that I had there does.  My 34 hours on the site were spent exploring as many square feet and acres possible in hopes of finding something new or even one of the federally and state listed species I was tasked to find.  What did my colleagues that only had 4 hours on the site do?  They stuck to the trails just as expected of a stereotypical environmental consultant.  They failed my "are you a biologist test" in every manner possible and these are the people responsible for writing the Biological Assessment. 
Tom Petty sings about the need to have rhino skin to survive the "needles and pins, the arrows of sin, the evils of men" and I couldn't agree more.  I have kept my mouth shut about the sins of my profession but it may be time for me to start screaming.  I am tired of writing subpar impact assessments.  I am tired of permitting projects without science.  I am tired of pretending to be a biologist at work.  In addition, the drastic 180 degree change from a company focused on building social capitol among its staff to a company that is only focused on profit as really sent me into a frenzy.  I don't want to have rhino skin anymore.  It is time to grow elephant balls and forge my own path through the thornscrub of humans plundering our planet.

Rhino Skin - Tom Petty

You need rhino skin
If you're gonna begin
To walk
Through this world
You need elephant balls
If you don't want to crawl
On your hands
Through this world

Oh my love if I reveal
Every secret I've concealed
How many thoughts would you steal
How much of my pain would you feel

You need eagles wings
To get over things
That make no sense
In this world

You need rhino skin
If you're gonna pretend
You're not hurt by this world

If you listen long enough
You can hear my skin grow tough
Love is painful to the touch
Must be made of stronger stuff

You need rhino skin
To get to the end
Of the maze through this world

You need rhino skin
Or you're gonna give in
To the needles and pins
The arrows of sin
The evils of men
You need rhino skin

Monday, November 30, 2015

Why I Hate My Job

Although I tell people I am the Executive Director of the Center for Snake Conservation, my paying job is a biologist at an environmental consulting firm.  Well, I claim to be a biologist but I don't do much biology work anymore.  I really just write impact assessments and make sure my clients follow applicable environmental laws such as these federal laws:
  • National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA);
  • Endangered Species Act (ESA);
  • Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (BGEPA); and
  • Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA).
I also deal with state laws but these laws are easily circumvented or even ignored (loopholes) when dealing with the large federally regulated projects I typically deal with.  Here is a recent example of how a state law is worthless when it comes to the projects I deal with.  I can't insert specific details because I could lose my job but I think you all will hate my job too once you read this story.
I work for rich people - very rich people.  Some of the richest people in the world - in short, I work for the oil and gas industry.  This industry just prints its own money whenever they want.  Not literally but extracting fossil fuels is a lucrative business.  Sure the price of oil is low right now and thousands of people are losing their jobs but these aren't the rich people anyway.  The rich people are the owners and CEOs of the corporations I work for and they make money no matter what happens to the oil and gas prices because the humans on our amazing planet are addictively dependent on oil and gas (and the products created from these) - the more we have the more we need (demand?). 
Sunrise from the Loma
One of the projects I am currently assigned to permit is a Natural Gas Export Facility in south Texas.  This facility is going to take natural gas extracted from a 65 million year old source in Mexico and freeze it after it is piped into the United States to then be shipped off to who knows where.  It will then be burned to generate electricity so more people can be productive at night rather than sleeping (gotta keep the factories running 24/7).  I may sound cynical because this is all a GREAT alternative to coal created energy.  However, I still wonder if it is really needed. Why not create the energy using the sun where it is needed - in the cities - rather than extract it in one country, pipe it to another, freeze it into a liquid, put it on a supertanker, ship it through the Panama Canal, then off load it, and burn it thousands of miles from the source.  The cost to build this one project alone would put solar panels on every house in China but no - someone that is already richer than snot needs more money.  Oh yeah - and our insatiable appetite for plastics created from components of the oil we extract adds to this huge pandemic.  Can you tell I am a bit biased?  Here is the reason I am biased:
I recently visited the over 600 acre site I am permitting this past September (one day) and October (four days).  This was a HUGE mistake for a conservation minded person like me.  This site has not been developed yet so I got to see it before the whole evil process I write about above takes place.  This site is special - very special actually and may just be one of the most biologically unique places I have ever been (and I have been a LOT of places).  The site is situated on a loma.  A loma is a clay island along the Atlantic Coast near the Rio Grande River in Texas and Mexico.  Lomas are formed by the collection of clay particles downwind of saline flats and they are old.  They are islands isolated by tidal flats and marshes making them islands of biodiversity.  I was visiting the loma on this site to conduct a wildlife and plant inventory and I found a lot of really cool things in my short time there. 

I didn't find many snakes (11 snakes total - 5 species) while on the loma (I wasn't allowed on the site at night) but the snakes I did find were impressive.  First, I saw two of the largest rattlesnakes I have ever seen in my life on the site.  These snakes were HUGE!  Easily 6 feet long and if you know me, I don't exaggerate my snake stories like some fishermen and internet snake sensations.  I did not catch and measure these snakes although I would have if handling the snakes wasn't against my company's safety protocols.  These snakes were HUGE.

However, those snakes aren't what make this site really special.  I took a botanist with me to south Texas to help with the plant inventory but soon I had him looking for snakes and tortoises more than plants with my stories of previous field ventures.  He is so into biology and ecology that his appetite to learn more about where we were was insatiable - a perfect field companion for me.  On Wednesday, we were investigating and delineating a large colony of a rare plant that Otto (the botanist) had found the afternoon before.  Otto was heading deep into the shrubland to find a good specimen to photograph when I heard him yell, "big black snake".  This could only mean one thing - he found a Texas indigo snake - a snake I had never seen in the wild before.  I was about 50 yards away from Otto but I could see he was frozen in place - this is typical of botanists that find big snakes.  I also knew I didn't have much time before the Texas indigo disappeared into the thick brush and would never be seen again so I started sprinting.  As I ran, I striped myself of my backpack, camera, and binoculars I had around my neck - I knew I would have to extend myself to catch this snake and I didn't want to miss it because my camera swung around and hit me in the face.  I wish Otto could finish the story here because he is quite colorful in his description of me sprinting towards him and diving over the cactus to catch a snake.

Otto had frozen when he saw the "large black snake" and in retrospect this allowed me to catch it.  If he had made an attempt to catch the snake, it would have been spooked well before I arrived.  I never would have even seen it.  Otto's freeze told me exactly where the snake was as I was running through the cactus filled shrubland and as I got closer to him, I watched his eyes to see where the snake was.  My eyes then caught the back half of the "large black snake" in a small grassy patch behind a large cactus.  The front half of the snake was already in the shrubs and I had little time to devise a strategy to catch it so I dove. 

Texas Indigo Snake
Texas Indigo Snake

I learned a long time ago that if you think about catching a snake, you won't catch it.  By the time your brain is done processing that it wants to catch the snake, most snakes have disappeared.  So I have taught my brain to instantly identify snakes as venomous or non-venomous and this has allowed me to react to the catch rather than plan and think about the catch.  Any non-venomous snake can bite me all it wants as long as I catch it and most venomous snakes are slow to flee making them easier to photograph with no handling.  This training ultimately gave me the opportunity to take these photos of one of our planet's most amazing snakes.  It also afforded me the pleasure of pulling cactus spines out of my arms, legs, and head after diving to make the catch.  :) 

Some of the over 50 cactus spines in my head from diving for snakes in south Texas
So is it the fact that some of the largest rattlesnakes I have ever seen and a few Texas indigo snakes are going to be killed during the construction of this project why I hate my job?  Of course I don't like knowing that these snakes will be killed but that is not why I hate my job.  Why I hate my job is that no matter how good I am at my job (a different consulting firm we previously hired as a subconsultant to conduct the surveys I did reported that Texas indigos did not occur on the site and that Texas tortoises were unlikely - see below for more on the tortoises actually on the site), the laws designed to protect our planet are weak or not enforced.

Example:  The Texas tortoise is one of 4 species of tortoise in North America.  Most of my consulting work when I lived in Florida and Georgia was spent surveying and permitting the "take" of gopher tortoises across the southeast.  "Take" is the legal word for "kill".  For gopher tortoises, there are survey requirements, a permitting process, and mitigation requirements for their "take" so at least the "take" is accounted for, recorded, and paid for in a standard way.  This is not the case for Texas tortoises despite that they are listed as "threatened" by the state of Texas. 
Male and Female Texas Tortoises - They are sexually dimorphic
Texas doesn't have survey methods for tortoises.  This creates opportunities for very unqualified consultants to visit a site and never find them (that is exactly what happened previously on this project).  These unqualified consultants (note that I do not call them biologists - the majority of consultants that call themselves biologists are NOT - don't be fooled.  Most often they have general degrees with little or no field experience - in fact most consultants in the field are straight out of college with no experience - people with experience are too expensive to spend long hours in the field) then write a report and projects proceed killing tortoises all across their range.  Even when tortoises are found, there isn't any effort to determine the number of tortoises on a project site.  This is how consulting works and the regulators just accept it rather than demanding that proven, scientific methods be used by qualified and experienced biologists.  Maybe that is okay for business and government work but it is NOT okay for the future of our planet. 

Okay - so a previous consulting firm documented ZERO tortoises on the site and reported that tortoises were unlikely to occur on the site.  I was on the site for 34 hours during the first week of October and found 48 tortoises - this is more than one tortoise per hour!!!!  Now for the math to estimate the actual number of tortoises on the site.  Since I would need at least 3 weeks on the site to do an adequate survey for tortoises to get a real estimate, I have to rely on the literature.  In the 1970s and early 1980s, several very good herpetologists estimated densities of Texas tortoises on the lomas of south Texas to vary from 3 to 9 tortoises per acre but found a site were there were 49 tortoise per acre.  The site I visited for this project was covered in tortoise signs (scat, trails, pallets (places they rest)) and the densities are quite high on 110 acres of the 600+ acre site.  On the low end of average from the literature, there are 330 tortoises on the site.  On the high end of average, there are 990 tortoises on the site.  On the maximum end of the spectrum, there are 5,390 tortoises on the site.  My guess is 500 tortoises from my experience with tortoises elsewhere and the condition of the site.

No one really knows how old tortoises live but this one in the video above is ancient.  Its shell is almost smooth from age and rubbing through the grasses and shrubs for 50-60 (or 100) years.

500 Texas tortoises!  Think about it - another consulting firm said that tortoises are not likely present on the site and that Texas indigo snakes are NOT present.  This happens daily all across the planet - unqualified people make determinations that they have no business making because they are being paid as a consultant to make these determinations.  Now not all consultants are bad.  The botanist, Otto, that joined me in south Texas to help with the botany inventory is beyond excellent and extremely good at detecting all critters even though he freezes when he sees snakes. However, from my 16 years experience as a consultant, he is the minority.  Is this the fault of the consultants doing the bad work?  No.  It is the fault of the laws and regulators allowing "general" descriptions and bad assessments substitute "science" when permitting projects.  Our current culture of progress and maximizing profit has clouded our vision of the real importance of our planet - its amazing biodiversity.

Now the kicker - my survey report is a part of the public record and permitting process.  Will it change the outcome or mitigation requirements for this project?  Unfortunately no and THIS IS WHY I HATE MY JOB!  This project is being permitted by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and everything is open to public review and comment.  FERC has a permitting process that works and that should be a good thing.  But even though both the indigo snake and tortoise are listed as 'threatened" by the state of Texas, there is no permitting or mitigation required for them.  Therefore, FERC will not require anything from the project proponent (my client) for the destruction of this loma.  The public can scream and yell all they want but it won't change that Texas does not have a permitting process for listed species and also does not enforce their own law that prohibits the "take" of a state threatened species.  They just say that the project can't kill the tortoises and then they look the other way.  Over the next month, I will be tasked to write a mitigation plan that includes saving the tortoises but all we are doing is picking them up and placing them outside the construction fence - it would be better to run them over with the bulldozer than to relocate them into an area that isn't habitat.  I will write a BOGUS document that makes the public and permitting agencies feel good but really I am just writing the death warrant for 500 or more tortoises.  THIS IS WHY I HATE MY JOB!

Texas Tortoise
Can this be changed?  Maybe but that would take massive legislative changes to require REAL SCIENE when permitting projects and a change in human attitudes towards conservation.  As a National Park Service employee said during my initial site visit in September, "This site in Texas needs to be protected from all development", and he was just interested in the cultural and archaeological history of the area - not the biology! 

We documented over 200 plant, mammal, bird, reptile, and amphibian species in 34 hours on the site and this is  just a snapshot of the high biodiversity of this loma. I want to go back to find more snakes (I wasn't allowed on the site at night when I know we could have found some really cool critters).  Unfortunately, because I found so many tortoises and indigo snakes, I will probably never be allowed to go back just in case I find something (like an ocelot) that could stop this development.

I guess I am showing my true colors as a bleeding heart liberal tree (snake) hugger - I hate my job as a consultant.

Sunset on the Loma

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Kitchen

I live in a large house. Probably too big but whatever.  It is nice to have a house where everyone can find space of their own especially when three of the people living in it are introverts.  That said, even a large house can feel incredibly small sometimes.  This week is one of those weeks for me.
My kitchen is the only room in my large house that I feel is mine.  I spend most of my time in the kitchen when I am at home.  I have all the cooking duties for the family so that adds extra time for me in the kitchen.  I used to enjoy cooking but lately have found a rut of cooking the same thing each week.  This has made the space that I feel most comfortable in awkward and cold.  To combat these feelings, I am trying to find new things to cook.  Take this past Sunday for example - I made 3 racks of pork ribs but that was just a short term Band-Aid to my current situation. 
Slow-cooked Pork Ribs finished on a very hot charcoal fire
My current situation is that my house is full of people and more people are coming tomorrow and Thursday.  These people are in my kitchen all the time.  The kitchen, by default during the holidays, is probably the most social room in the house so everyone naturally gathers there.  But what if you are an introvert and the kitchen is normally a recharge zone for you when no one is in the house?  I have always loved cooking and especially cooking good meals for others.  This usually means that I get several hours of alone time in the kitchen preparing a meal for house guests.  This is recharge before the party time and I am learning is critically important to me. 
Heather asked me the other day if I enjoyed entertaining.  My answer was "not anymore" and this shocked her as well as upset her.  I gave her a half-assed excuse at the time that probably just made the situation worse because Heather knew that our house would be full of people for Thanksgiving and she is working hard to tune into my need for space and alone time to recharge my introverted batteries.  I don't even remember what I said but an experience last night opened my eyes to what I really used to enjoy and why I enjoyed it.
Last night was going to be a good night.  I took an extra 15 minutes on my way home to bike on Davidson Mesa as the last light was settling behind the mountains.  Let's just say that was a beautiful bike ride.  In addition, I didn't have to cook dinner as my brother-in-law and sister-in-law were making fish tacos.  This should have been even more valuable because I am in a rut in the kitchen.  It was going to be a good night.
Mountain Bike ride at Last Light on Davidson Mesa
But then the scene I walked into in my kitchen just slammed me when I got home.  For some reason I was not prepared for what was happening and now in retrospect I should have been.  I knew people were going to be cooking in my kitchen - that was the freaking plan after all.  But my evening went south the moment I opened the door.  Here is the scene and I wish I had photo-documented it. 
The first person I saw was my sister-in-law (brother-in-law's wife) on the phone having an argument with her parents about healthcare - bam, something negative.  The second person I saw was my sister-in-law (Heather's sister) making mini meatloaves for Heather and these were spread all over my counters as she was preparing them for the freezer.  This should have been a huge positive because she was doing something for Heather to make Heather happy!  But no, all I saw was someone in my kitchen taking up my space.  I quickly moved through the kitchen to try and not let it get me that there were people in my kitchen.  Then I ran into my boys playing a game with their uncle (Heather's brother).  This was great except the game just ended and my youngest began to demand attention in a very negative way by wrestling and touching the dogs.  This then got the big dog riled up and that just adds a dimension of hell in the house that is hard to explain.  Actually, this short video might explain it (this is only hell when you don't want it to happen - all other times it is fun and exciting):
This may not be a big deal to most of you as you expect the kitchen to be a place of action and the social center of the house.  I agree but for some reason I was not prepared for it last night.  My ideal return to home would have been an empty kitchen because I had plans to have a tequila shot or two after work in preparation for the fish tacos that my in-laws were making.  Instead, I entered chaos and it bumped me from any sort of happy place that I may have had after my night time bike ride.
Well I knew I was in a bad place when I noticed I was walking in circles not doing anything.  Finally, I realized that I just needed to stick my plan for tequila and fake my way through the evening.  Unfortunately for me, I think it was too late and my crabbiness was noted by all because comments were made about "Cameron's kitchen" and I found myself defending how I felt.  In retrospect, I should have just smiled but that is hard to do when you are looking for a recharge and can't find it.
I did take a snake and tequila photo.  :)
Snake and Tequila
So why write and complain about "people in my kitchen"?  This is just negativity that is going to breed more negativity.  I didn't mean to complain but wanted to set the stage to say that I learned a lot yesterday.  I learned why the kitchen is so important to me and why I get upset when things are crazy in my kitchen.  I think I can use what I learned to survive the onslaught of guests over the next 3 days.  I do like entertaining and I owe Heather an apology for my brash reaction and response to her question last week.  I do like entertaining because I normally get the 3-4 hour recharge time in my kitchen as I plan and prepare the meal.  This is a good thing and can really energize me.  I have just been in a rut with cooking and I need to spend more time finding a way out of this rut (like the ribs I made on Sunday).  This rut is my fault and I need to escape it - the sooner the better.
Right now with the holidays, I don't get the alone time in the kitchen.  I get the kitchen holiday chaos instead.  Last night taught me something other than "the kitchen is my recharge zone" though.  It taught me that I like having family and guests around despite my crankiness.  Family makes Heather happy.  Family makes my boys happy.  Family makes my dogs crazy.  These are all very good things that ultimately make me happy.  It may seem like I am a grouch but I think I can turn it around for this week.  I plan on it.
I want to end with an old video from several years ago.  It shows the fun that can be had in a kitchen.  It shows the fun in my kitchen but it also shows me recharging in my kitchen.  When I made this video, I didn't know that the kitchen was my recharge zone but that can't be more clear than in this video.  Watch how I relax despite the chaos around me.  Most importantly - laugh at the video and the small glimpse it gives you in my chaotic world.  :)


Monday, November 23, 2015

Mini Me

I haven't been writing and this is probably not a good thing for me.  My moods swing up and down and all over the place and writing helps center me.  I also haven't been making any videos lately.  The only thing I have been doing for the last year or so is posting on my Instagram.  The questions all start with why?  Why haven't I been writing?  Why haven't I been using my creative side with videos to put a smile on my face?  Why have I been afraid to post my thoughts and experiences?
I don't really know why I have avoided writing actually.  Well, that isn't entirely true but I will save that blog for another day (it has to do with a huge fear of mine as being a creative fraud).  The point is that I SHOULD be writing and I should be writing daily even if I don't post a blog daily.  No reason not too really and the only reason I haven't been is that I am keeping myself back.  Enough about my fears - I am going to use the rest of this year to see what happens when I write again.
I had a mad and proud daddy moment today.  Let's start with the negative, mad daddy.  I was at work and received a text from my middle son telling me to "Give me the iPad back now".  Well, I didn't have the iPad so I was a bit confused.  Then I see the messages above this one and they are from my youngest texting a photo of himself to his brother from my iPad.  I then saw that there were similar texts to his oldest brother and his mother.  Talk about a pissed off daddy but this quickly changed to a chuckle and big smile.  The photo my youngest was sharing was almost identical to a photo that I have used as my profile photo for many months this past year. 
Proud daddy - my youngest is a snake fanatic.  He has a passion growing inside of him for snakes that rivals my passion.  He already knows more about snakes than most biologists I know.  This doesn't include the herpetologists I know but it does include a lot of the people that I know call themselves biologists.  He turns 8 next month.
Here is my version of Ashton's selfie:

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Introvert's Curse

I am an extreme introvert.  If you had asked me two years ago if I was an introvert, I probably would have lied to you because I thought it was a bad thing then.  Introverts were shy and meek people that were a bit off (weird) and were probably gamers.  As I continue my therapy (I know, I know - it has been forever since I have written about my therapy but I still go.  Shit - I need all the help I can get!), I have learned so much about myself and I can now proudly proclaim that I am an introvert.

WAIT, WAIT, WAIT - I can hear you now complaining that this isn't true.  The Cameron that you know is outgoing and friendly (introverts can be outgoing and friendly) most of the time but just sucks at relationships.  Did you ever wonder why I suck at relationships?  I did.  I have wondered and struggled with this for years.  It has been a huge cause of my depression.  I now realize that it is not by choice - it is by nature.  This is not an excuse for me coming off like an asshole  - I shouldn't do that.  This is just an explanation for why I can come off as short and sometimes insensitive to the extroverts I live and share this world with.  I am different.

My reality from
I need time alone.  I need space to recharge.  I need room to be with my thoughts.  I came from a large family so you would have thought I would have learned this skill at an early age but I never did.  I have my entire life felt that something was wrong with me - that I should really like being with other people and that they should energize me.  This is what an extrovert feels and thinks but I never knew this until my therapist had me take temperament evaluations and questioned me extensively.  Jennifer knew immediately when she met me that I was an introvert but she has studied hard to be good at that.  Me - not so much and it has taken most of 2 years meeting with Jennifer almost weekly for me to begin to believe I am an introvert.  I may have known it but I stilled privately denied it to myself.  I just didn't know what that really meant yet.  

I have to give credit to our marriage counselor as well.  She knew I was an introvert the moment she met me too.  She recommended for months that we read "The Introvert's Advantage" but we put it off and put it off.  Heather finally purchased the book on her Kindle and started reading it while sharing excerpts with me from time to time.  I still wasn't reading it until one day while traveling for work I downloaded it to my iPad.  BAM!  Where has this book been all my life???  Everything in it agrees with me.  The author cautions the reader that most introverts won't associate with everything she writes (there is a gradient to introvertedness after all) but I couldn't find myself disagreeing with anything.  FINALLY -  I was starting to accept what being an introvert really means and is.

The Introvert's Curse - I am proud to be an introvert but at the same time I am cursed.  Very cursed actually.  It is thought that over 75% of the world's population is extroverted and even more completely misunderstand what an introvert even is.  Shit - I am one and didn't even understand it.  I have to overcome my own expectations for myself, reset expectations that others have for me, explain to people what my needs are, and finally make sure that my needs are met so that I can be the best father, husband, brother, son, uncle, and friend that all the people in my life deserve.  

Recently I did not do this and it has really bitten me in the ass - big time.  I am in so much trouble with one of my biggest advocates in this world - all because I was in shut down mode and didn't let her know.  I used to blame my anxiety and depression which are just excuses and bandaid bullshit.  I am currently doing very well and do not feel depressed.  Sure I am unhappy with my job (fucking hate it actually) and things could be better elsewhere but this is not my depression.  What really happened is that I had been overstimulated by people (we had just had our Derby party and the weekend before I attended a Social Shenanigans networking party in Denver) but I didn't tell anyone.   I didn't recharge either.   I bottled it up and was an asshole to everyone around me.  I just needed to explain that I was overstimulated and needed time to recharge.  Instead I completely IGNORED my biggest advocate's offer for help and pissed her off - trust me, she is pissed.  You should see the text I got.  I need to call her soon.

So what does all this mean?  How can I turn my curse into my advantage?  I am going to continue to trust both my therapist and my counselor and read more of the books they suggest.  I am going to re-read The Introvert's Advantage on an upcoming vacation.  I am going to explain to people that if I seem disengaged and distant that I might just need some recharge time.  I am completely new at this but the last thing I ever want to do is turn away my support network.  I unconsciously recharged my batteries in the past with running or snake hunting.  It is amazing that once a door is open to my personality that I can see all my past behaviors in a new light and they all make sense now.

Running is a good way for me to recharge
Running - when I was running a lot, I often thought I was running from my work, procrastinating writing my thesis, and avoiding responsibility.  Now I see that I would go running immediately after teaching labs at UGA for a full day.  I would go running after being on campus surrounded by 1000's of other people.  I would go running after a day working at REI dealing with customers.  I was running a lot and it was just my way of recharging.  Running also lifts my mood making me less prone to my depression.

Snake Hunting - I have said many times and very vocally that the only time I feel like I can truly be myself is when I am out looking for snakes.  I can get away from people, lose myself in myself and nature, and recharge.  I am happy.

Look at that Snake Smile!
I haven't allowed myself the luxury or recharging which is probably a huge part of my depression.  I feel guilty when I go running or go on an all day Snake Hike.  Why?  No reason except that I did not understand that I NEED that time alone to recharge.  If I don't get it I am the asshole that sucks at relationships.  In order for me to become better at relationships, I need to recharge.  I need to COMMUNICATE this with the people that love me.  I need to let them know that I am not running away from them but rather recharging so that I can be with them in a more meaningful way.  I might have the Introvert's Curse but I am going to turn it into my Blessing.

Additional recommended reading and where I got the first photo for this post:

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Snake Selfies Are Cool

This may not be everyone's cup of tea but I have been really enjoying taking  lately.  I have posted a few of these photos here on G+ but mostly I post them on Instagram (If you want to follow me there, here is the link:  

I threw together this collage of 16 of my recent  for the fun of it this morning.   Snakes are not evil creatures.  Actually, if you take the time to watch a snake, I know you will find it fascinating.  If you take this one step further and learn about the snakes in your area, you will grow to appreciate these amazing beasts and turn any fear you may have into fascination.  It is human nature to gravitate to things we know and understand which can make us fear what we don't understand.

I challenge you to stop and watch the next snake you see.  I promise it will not chase or bite you (actually it is more likely to disappear before you get a chance to really see it).  Instead of screaming and running from the snake, watch how it moves, look at its colors and patterns, try to estimate its actually length (no fish stories please).  How do these things and anything else you observe help it survive?  Simply Amazing!

If you want to take a  of you own, send me a message and I will do everything I can to make sure it can happen.  If anything, your friends will think you are crazy.  :)