This is another story from my 1990’s collection of Forest Service stories. It’s by Connie Mehmel, and I tried to track her down and get a photo, but was unable to locate her. It’s been another 20 years or so since she submitted this story, so time enough for another generation.
My name is Connie Mehmel. I’m a silviculturist on the Methow Valley Ranger District of the Okanogan National Forest, tucked in the rainshadow of the North Cascades, where I’m now in my 21st year with the Forest Service. Like most Forest Service folks I started my career as a seasonal employee.
In the 70’s I worked in the northeast hardwood forest, from whence my story comes. In the spring of 1977 my husband, Dale, and I arrived at the Northeast Forest Experiment Station in New Lisbon, New Jersey; a region known at the Pine Barrens, though we had nearly as much oak as pine. It was my second season (and Dale’s first season) on a project designed to study the effects of fly parasites on the gypsy moth. Although New Jersey is a densely populated state the New Lisbon station was surprisingly remote. My project employed six seasonal employees, and we would go for days without seeing another soul. The permanent employees were all stationed in Connecticut. When I had left the job in September of the previous year I was about six weeks pregnant, so when I reported to work in April the change in my shape was quite evident. My supervisor was not surprised, but wanted my assurance that I planned to work through the season. I told him not to worry, that I was committed to counting parasites until winter.
However, the parasites did not seem to be flourishing that summer. During those first four weeks we went many days without finding even one fly. May 9 was our first really good day. Although it was Saturday, we still went out to check our traps (an activity we found mildly entertaining), and actually found five flies. And that was not the end of the day’s excitement. That evening I started labor. The following morning, with a midwife in attendance, my son, Ian, was born in the bunkhouse. My husband cut the cord (a gesture I found highly symbolic), and our roommate Stan, the only other employee to be brought on that early, took pictures. We had met Stan just a month earlier, but he became an important part of our lives.
Monday morning I stuffed Ian into a snuggly pack and brought him over to the office. My supervisor exclaimed in surprise, “Well, you people had a productive weekend! Five parasites and a baby! Why don’t you take the rest of the day off?” We did, but that was all the time off we allowed ourselves. Ian rode on my back constantly that summer as we monitored gypsy moth populations and surveyed the various parasites that lived on or in them. We found a metal sign to put on the door of his room that read “Forest Research Experimental Area. Please Do Not Disturb.” It seemed appropriate.
That was twenty years ago. Last year I had the thrilling experience of taking a fire crew to eastern Oregon with Ian as one of the crew members. While we were there, I met a young woman from New York who told me that she had a six year old daughter. She said this was the first time she had left her daughter for an extended time, and she was surprised how much she missed the little girl. I told her I knew exactly how she felt, since I’d been through it too. I also told her about my son being with me now. “On fires you sometimes see fathers and sons, and I once saw a father and daughter” I told her. “To my knowledge we are the first mother and son. Next I would like to see a mother and daughter.” She shook my hand warmly after we talked, and told me she was happy we’d had this chance to talk. Maybe she and her daughter will be the first, but I expect it will happen before her daughter is old enough to swing a pulaski.