Sunday, February 11, 2018

The Fish Trap

On a cold Saturday morning, we struggle into the constrictive, clammy confines of our waders and begin the trek down the hill to our fish trap. We’re trapping the Arroyo Hondo. Situated in eastern Santa Clara County, this creek spills into the eastern edge of Calaveras Reservoir, in the outskirts of Milpitas and a Silicon Valley, virtually oblivious to the untrammeled wilderness with which it rubs elbows. I am accompanied by our brand new intern, who happens to have exactly one day more of experience at the new fish trapping site than me. It is with considerable trepidation that I recognize the possibility that there might be a trout in the trap. Sure, last summer I had PIT tagged a few trout, but only small ones that fit easily in the palm of my inexperienced hand. Certainly, none of the hogs that had been popping up in the trap in the last couple of days. Nerves twanging, I set about filling out the data sheet, arranging gear, reviewing protocols. It’s all mundane, routine. Right?

We stuff a burlap bag into opening of the live box, so the trapped fish can’t escape, unlatch each of the six bolts that secure the box, and raise the lid. Whoosh! An angry tail whips creek water over the rim of the live box. Not one, not two, but three big rainbow trout hunkered down in the cool waters of the Arroyo Hondo, waiting to be weighed, measured and fitted with a tracking tag. Damnit! I’m not ready for this. So, buying time, we use small nets to scoop out willow catkins that have accumulated in the live box, and transfer the ho-hum prickly sculpin and California roach so routine to fish trapping from the live trap to a plastic bucket.  But there is no ignoring those three, enormous trout that need to be sedated, weighed, measured, PIT tagged and scale-sampled.

At some point it can’t be postponed anymore, so I fill the buckets with appropriate amount of creek water, add the baking soda and Alka Seltzer that will deoxygenate the water and stun the fish, and net the biggest trout. It struggles as I lift it from the live trap, splashing cold water into my eyes and hair. It tries to escape from the bucket, thrashing turbulent sheets of water from the anesthetic bath. This isn’t going to be easy, is it? I watch nervously as the big fish continues to disturb the water. But the protocols don’t lie. Four minutes later it repeatedly rolls to its side and surfaces to gulp for air. It is time. I’ve already weighed it, so I plunk it on the measuring board. 490 millimeters. Woah.  

I show our intern how I want it oriented, so I can place the PIT tag correctly; starboard side up, tail pointing away from me. Thank god, she has a natural feel for this, and the fish is tired, sedated. It goes well. The tag injector pops through the skin effortlessly, I pull the trigger, extract the gun, rub the incision, read and note the tag number. Not out of the woods yet though, scale samples are still needed. I retrieve the tiny pocket knife from our gear bag, unsheathe the blade, and laboriously scrape exactly one scale from the exposed side of this monster. I wipe the knife on the contact paper, and place the scale sample the labeled envelope. Done. Carefully placing this beauty in the recovery basin, oxygen bubbler merrily churning out air, I take a breath. A breeze floats down the Arroyo Hondo and cools the sweat on the back of my neck, raising goose bumps on my arms. I lift a second fish from the trap. Weigh, measure, tag, scales. Repeat. This, is what I do.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Power of Staying Positive

When you go through a tough break-up sometimes the easiest thing to do is sink into the misery of the situation. Let's face it. Sometimes it's flat out necessary! Did you know that stress hormones are released in tears? Too much moping is bad though because moping begets more moping. So, I've been putting the power of positive thinking to work. How am I succeeding?

You know, not so badly. When I want to call and say "I miss you", I remind myself of the setback I will inflict on my emotional recovery and chose a better activity. Go for a run, take Luke for a walk, write, read the newspaper, call a friend. When my mind goes groping for the answers to the "why" questions I know I'll never get, I take inventory of the things I have control of. My job, the way I choose to spend my time, my schedule, etc. When I'm tempted to feel sorry myself for the loss of my love, I turn the situation on it's head and feel grateful for the time I am now enjoying with friends. And I REALLY am enjoying my time with friends.

The kicker is trying to put a positive spin on the loss of physical affection. I miss the HELL out of kisses and hugs, and falling asleep spooning. Among other things. The only positive I've found so far is to reflect on just how damned good it'll feel once this dry spell is over.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Getting Back to It

Forgive me Father for I have sinned. It has been two years since my last post, and what a lot has happened. I'll start with the biggest news and telescope down to the smallest. First, a divorce. After 16 years with my husband, fate flung somebody completely unexpected into my path. I had two choices: safe, secure, predictable or stepping into the abyss to ride a comet. I chose the latter. Now, two years later however, the comet has turned into a chilly asteroid and I find myself with almost nothing to concern myself with save my children, my dog, and my job. Not necessarily in that order and not that those aren't important concerns.

I don't want to spend the rest of my life alone, so I decided to sign up with a couple of internet dating sites. Stayed tuned for the success of that adventure, but so far so meh! The interesting thing about setting up a profile on one of these sites is that you realize just what a boring person you really are. "What are your interests?" Hmmm. Well, after I come home from work I look at Facebook, read my email, text a little with a friend, nibble something out of the fridge, have a glass of wine, read my book, and go to bed. Lather, rinse, repeat. Now I'm examining my life, realizing that I've spent much of the last few years riding on the coat tails of OTHER people's interests. The kids, the ex-husband, the boyfriend.

So now begins the period of self-examination. What do I enjoy doing to fill the hours when the boys are with their dad, I'm not at work, and my small group of friends is busy. I've come up with a few things I think I'll launch myself into. Again, stay tuned. The new focus of this blog will be on how this new phase of my life unfolds. This is me breaking a bottle of champagne over the bow of USS I For One.... Wish me luck.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

New Office Noises and Valentine's Gestures Gone Wrong


Nearly six years have passed since I last worked in a crowded office environment,  so I've had to take a little time to get used to the presence of co-workers over the course of the last few weeks.  Don't get me wrong, everyone is REALLY nice and very pleasant to work with.  There is hardly an ego in the place and company politics has yet to rear its ugly head.  

The issue at hand is, for lack of a better term, bodily noises.  You'd think after so many years in isolation, I would be the person who forgets herself and lets fly with unapologetic flatulence or practices indiscrete nose picking.  But it's not me who can be heard unblocking my sinuses with a cacophonous intake of air that sounds like it is rattling my eye sockets.  No do I talk to myself nearly constantly, or vigorously and loudly clear my throat once every 15 minutes.  It is not me, but a mystery co-worker (I have yet to catch this person in the act), who appears to have been born and raised in a barn.  I'm all for letting fly with a good belch when one is among close family or friends, especially when excessive beer is involved, but loud burps in the work place take a little getting used to.

Is every workplace filled with people who fail to temper their unfortunate noises throughout the course of the day? Perhaps after working in an office setting for years, these noises will become like the hum of the refrigerator turning on or the whoosh of a passing car, noises I heard but never acknowledged when I was working from home.  


My husband is very sweet and romantic.  It is commonplace for him to leave me little love notes, buy me random flowers, or bring home some small gift just because.  I really appreciate these gestures.  I always feel loved and appreciated, and who doesn't like a little gift or treat every now and then.  But, sometimes the best laid plans go awry.  A couple of days ago, before anyone else was up, I was hurrying to get out the door.  I had let the dogs back in from their morning pee and was looking in the cupboard for bones for them to gnaw on when I saw Bo drop a small foil-wrapped chocolate heart on the floor.  Annoyed, I went to retrieve it, wondering who the heck had been careless enough to leave chocolate where the dogs could get to it.  Planning to have a strict chat with children when I got home, I headed for the back door to grab my laptop case from the floor where it was propped.  Sitting on top of it was another foil-wrapped chocolate heart with a single letter U carefully colored on it with a black Sharpie.  Then it all made sense.  Steve must have left me a couple of pieces of chocolate on my laptop case spelling out the message "heart U".  Returning to the great room to get my shoes on I found a third foil heart with the letter I.  Ah ha, I must have gotten the whole message then.  Three hearts that together said "I heart U".    I hopped in my car, having tossed all the pieces of chocolate into my purse.  Then it hit me.  Oh no, what if Steve had left the message that he loved me very, very, very, very much?  There could be a major mess of dog sick to clean up by the time he got out of bed to ready the kids for school.  Fortunately Steve doesn't love me that much.  

Friday, February 06, 2009

Diarrhrea of the Mouth, Constipation of of the Brain

I consider myself a pretty easy-going person. I get along fine with the majority of people, and if I find myself annoyed by somebody I make it a policy to keep things to a polite and respectful level and simply interact with them as little as possible. Typically that works out great, and I can count on one hand with fingers to spare, the number of confrontations I have had with co-workers or other people I have to associate with.

This week proved to be a horrible exception to this general trend. Fortunately it never came to blows or even an unpleasant exchange of words, but if this person could have heard the internal monologue going on inside my brain cage he would have slunk off with his tail tucked firmly between his legs. He wasn't a bad, or even a mean person, and in a general sense I could be around him without continuously suppressing the urge to slug him. The problem was that he just wouldn't shut up! The sound of his own voice droning on about a vast array of horrifically boring topics seemed to be a balm to his psyche without which he could not function. Once he had latched onto a conversational topic, he hung onto it with the tenacity of a pack of wild dogs that have treed a three-legged cat. No facet of a particular subject was left unexplored, including every excruciating reference and sub-reference. His favorite topic was, of course, himself.

This individual was not more experienced or at a higher level on the corporate food chain than I. He was simply on the job site to fill in for some hours at the end of the day that I could not cover. Among his many charms was the annoying habit of telling me how to do things I had already done, already knew how to do, or had no need to ever accomplish. Add to that his tendency to call my bosses and suggest new ways for me to do my job, additional tasks that I should be engaged in, as well as a laundry list of problems I had not attended to on the job site, and by the end of this week this particular individual was fortunate not to be using his anal sphincter as a speaking device.

Violence is not an option, so instead of pinching his head off between my thumb and forefinger or yelling at him, I took to avoiding him whenever possible. This was not an easy task as all construction sites require personnel to wear Safety Orange or Dayglo Yellow as a safety measure. Fortunately some of the equipment on the site is similarly colored so on occasion I could avoid detection by fading into the contours of a front loader, or sidling up to a crane.

I am grateful to report that today was the last day I had to work with this conversational Olympian. As I left my office this evening, backing slowly away and continuously trying to terminate his stream of consciousness, he excitedly filled me in on the recent exorcism of his new home. Apparently the spirits left because they had been informed that he was "a good guy". I didn't have the heart to tell him they probably vacated to get a little peace and quiet.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Portapotty Hell

My first three weeks on the job site at my new position were in a very simple setting. Personnel on the site consisted of myself, two engineers, a security guy, and the biologist that I was replacing. There were no buildings associated with the project, save a single turquoise blue portable toilet. A toilet that I shared with all of these burly men, along with several burly fence-builders, a host of burly truckers, and the occasional burly backhoe operator.

Each day before I left for work I attempted to empty myself of all bodily excretions so as not to have to use that portable toilet any more than necessary. Not to put too fine of a point on it, but there are certain acts that are not easily achieved with earth moving equipment rumbling less than twenty feet from your personal refuge. Inevitably, the water with which I had washed down my lunch would come back to haunt me, and I would be forced to use the johnny-on-the-spot.

My greatest fear, was that my cellphone or keys would tumble out of my pocket and down the dark hole into the mess below. This fear, however unreasonable, became so overwhelming that I began leaving my phone and keys in my car while relieving myself. Entering little blue building, I'd take a deep breath in attempt to avoid breathing the foul air therein. Inside, I would flip up the lid, trying in vain to avert my eyes from the contents already lurking underneath. Not looking inside a pit toilet is much like trying to tear your eyes from a train wreck. Try as you might, you just can't avoid a quick peek.

My second greatest fear was that somehow the portable toilet would become upended by some large piece of equipment working nearby while I was using it. Perhaps it was just this fear at work, but the structure seemed to begin to vibrate and rumble ominously as soon as my efforts had reached critical mass. There I would sit, totally vulnerable, waiting for the shack to tumble. With Murphy's law at work, it would land on it's door, and I would be trapped under a foetid wave of human excrement. My coworkers must have scratched their heads in confusion upon seeing me burst from the Portapotty, wild-eyed in fear, hastily buckling up my jeans.

Now that trailers are in place, lots of new people have arrived on the job site and things are not as simple as they once were. A complicated chain of command is in place and it's much more difficult to get things done. You'll here no complaints from me though. I'm just thrilled to have an indoor toilet that flushes, and hot water and soap with which to wash my hands. I for one will not miss a daily update on what recently exited the entails of my co-workers.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Family: The people you can be your real self around. If they put up with you, you know a) you have good family and/or, b) you probably aren't that big of an asshole.

Doer or Slacker?

In the last couple of weeks I've been developing a theory about how people work. When deadlines get tight and project hours get long there seem to be two kinds of workers. There are those that buckle down, and no matter how crappy the conditions, how tough the job, how many other items are on their to do list, or how inconvenient the hours may be they just "get 'er done". The other kind shows up late, is missing many of the tools they need to get the job done, has multiple excuses for why they can't complete the task ahead of them, and needs constant supervision and nagging to get the job finished. I am developing a deep admiration for the former (the doer) and an equal disdain for the latter (the slacker).

The doer seems to be an expert in task prioritization. If they have a list of 15 things that need to get done over the course of the day, they pick the most important one to get done first or properly order tasks so that work flows smoothly. In the face of an interruption that requires them to step away from one task and deal with some sort of emergency, they do so without grumbling, quickly and efficiently deal with the situation, and then get right back to the original high priority task. You'll never hear them complain about having too much to do. Conversely the slacker jumps from task to task, often inappropriately reacting to an interruption or emergency by permanently switching their focus so that no task ever gets finished properly. Their work flow is not managed well so that badly-needed materials will show up at the job site but are rendered useless because the equipment or personnel needed to use those materials has not been scheduled. The work they do perform is done to a minimum quality standard and will not be improved upon until they are specifically instructed on how to fix their mistakes.

The doer seems to always be getting something done. They may be ill, tired, sore and terribly overworked but rather than spending time complaining they lead by quiet example, simply getting the job done. The slacker will start his day enumerating all of the ways he has been ill-used by his boss, his subordinates, the virus that has attacked him, or his car that has broken down. Throughout the day he will stop often to talk with others about how tired he is, how he has been asked to work that falls outside of his job description, or how much more grandiose his former job was.

I will admit there have been many times that I have been guilty of being a slacker, and no doubt some of the hardest working doers on the job go home on the weekends and refuse to do little around the house but hold down a recliner and watch football. My goal with this new job is to be viewed whenever possible as a doer. With that said, I think there might be something good on TV right now.....