My Shaver’s Creek Internship

by Ben “Swamp Fox” Steines, Spring/Summer/Fall 2016 Intern

As Shaver’s Creek prepares for construction and the end of my year here draws nearer, it’s hard not to reflect on all of the experiences I’ve had and what direction I’ll be taking in life once I leave. I’m truly going to miss this place, its people, and the spirit and tradition that make up Shaver’s Creek.

Walking on Lake Perez: Growing up with parents I was always told not to step out on frozen ponds or lakes because the ice could break and I could fall in. However, when you’re 22 years old and living on your own, your parents’ conventional wisdom is often ignored. One day in January, we were told the ice covering Lake Perez was finally thick enough to walk on. We (the interns) all headed down the hill, passed Xylem’s Sit and down to Draco’s Dock. Once we reached the edge of the lake we quickly began to feel less confident about our decision to step out onto the ice. However, one by one we soon began to test our luck on the ice-covered lake. Our steps echoed beneath our feet and across the lake; the sound was reminiscent of ice cracking and it made us fairly nervous. It was such a surreal experience to walk out over that lake. The view of the lake and its surroundings are much different when you’re actually on the ice rather than on the shore. I enjoyed it so much that I went back a couple more times. On one trip I came across some coyote tracks that were frozen into the ice!

Groundhog Day: In February, I remember arriving at the center before 7 a.m., in the dark, to celebrate Groundhog’s Day with the interns. See, Shaver’s Creek has this Groundhog’s Day tradition of hosting a ceremony with the “Inner Circle,” naming a Groundhog Day King and Queen, taking a trip up to Potter’s Knob (the Flight Cage), reading from the Book of Mammals, and singing some ridiculous songs about groundhogs. I credit that morning with being a part of the foundation that made this intern group so strong. In fact, three months after that ceremony we were still singing one of the groundhog songs in the car on our way to an Outdoor School campfire.

Maple Sugaring: By the end of February, Maple Harvest Festival preparations were in full swing, and Kirstin and I had elected to be in charge of syrup production. The task was an arduous one. In one day, we tapped 30+ maple trees and hung collecting buckets on each one of them. After that, we had to go out every couple of days to check how much sap had been collected in those buckets and by the end of each week we’d be in the Sugar Shack boiling the sap into syrup. I recall showing up to work around 8 o’clock on Friday mornings in 20° F weather and wandering down to the shack with my lunchbox in hand.

Kirstin and I would spend the entire day trying find a comfortable place in the shack, close enough to the fire that I wasn’t freezing, but far enough away that I wasn’t burning or melting my clothes (Kirstin learned that the hard way). It was a really great bonding experience to have with Kirstin. We spent so many Fridays in that shack, occasionally having conversations, often sitting in silence or arguing over whether or not to add more water to the boiling pan. We ended up having a phenomenal syrup production for Shaver’s Creek, making enough so that each staff member could take home 2 pints of homemade syrup. I credit so much of our success to Kirstin. She kept me on track and pushed me to work harder and be more precise. That season of maple sugaring is probably the founding of our strong friendship over the last year.

Cherry Springs: There was one weekend in April where the interns and SEED students were free. So as a group we made a trip up to Cherry Springs, the claimed darkest place in Pennsylvania, to camp out for the night. We took three cars up, and arrived to Cherry Springs at three very different times. My group was the second to arrive. About five miles from the park we came across some construction signs telling us we couldn’t continue on our same route. Being in the middle of Potter County, in the dark, without any detour signs, it was up to the man above to help us find our way. Eventually, after an extra 30 minutes, we arrived at Cherry Springs. Unbeknownst to us, the first group to arrive ignored the construction signs and just drove on through.

We found our designated campsite and set up our tents, started cooking some food, and just having an all around good time. Before long we headed up to the open field to do some stargazing. The sight was impeccable. There was virtually no light pollution, so we could see what felt like every star in the sky. We spent some time trying to pick out the constellations. Then we started hearing an American Woodcock, or Timberdoodle. It was too dark to actually see, but we could track where it was based on its frequent song. Torri, Stacia-Fe, and I set out to try and catch the bird. We were as quiet as we could possibly be, but each time we’d get close the Timberdoodle would fly away. We’d have to wait a few minutes for it to start singing again. Eventually, we gave up our hunt. On our way back we stumbled across some guy sleeping in the field with his dog. It turned out to be Rohan, the spring migration hawk counter. He had journeyed up with us, but disappeared shortly after arriving at Cherry Springs. Soon, we were all fairly tired and began heading back to the camp to get some sleep. We woke early the next morning and headed back to Shaver’s Creek.

Birding Cup: Near the start of May, Shaver’s Creek held it’s annual Birding Cup. The interns formed our own team: Snap, Grackle, Pop. For those who don’t know, it’s an unspoken requirement that your birding team name must be some sort of bird pun. Prior to the start, our team gathered around and Torri lead us in a pre-Birding Cup ceremony. We were each given a black bandana as a symbol of our team, and Alexa was given a wonderfully amusing cape as befitted her rank as team captain. The Birding Cup kicked off at 7pm on Friday, May 6. I think the first bird we recorded was a Rose-breasted Grosbeak. We emerged onto the boardwalk and the area erupted with a great chorus of birdcalls and songs. I recall feeling so completely overwhelmed. Not one hour in, we stumbled across a life bird for every member of the team: an American Bittern. Torri got so excited that she flopped onto the deck of the boardwalk. By the end of the night, we were nearly 30 species away from reaching our target of 100.

We woke the next morning around 4 o’clock and started back on our quest. We were leaving Stone Valley for the heart of Huntingdon County. We spent a solid 7 hours driving through Huntingdon proper and all of it’s immediate surrounding towns. By 2 p.m. Joe and Maris had left to attend to other duties, and so it was up to Alexa, Torri, Kirstin, and myself to complete the Cup. The next couple of hours were slow; we were getting about 3 or 4 bird species per hour. However, our momentum picked back up again once we pulled into the driveway of Doug Wentzel! Doug had his bird feeders hanging in the front yard, and from them we got our 100th bird, a Pine Siskin. We celebrated with our traditional group high-five before driving off in search of more birds. In the end, we found a total of 111 bird species, and won the Potter Mug, the trophy for the beginning birding team who found the most species! Shortly thereafter I went to bed for some much needed rest.

Summer Camp: Summer camp took up almost the entire summer internship. The first two weeks were full of orientation and training for camp. Then we had six weeks of summer camp. We had a week-long break where the interns could focus on projects and other work followed by a week of Ag Progress Days to finish out the season. Summer Camp was a different kind of beast, unlike anything I had experienced in my short experience with environmental education. The first week was called “Wee Wonderers.” It was a 3-day camp designed specifically for 3- and 4-year-olds. We mostly just walked around the center for three hours each day and played games with the little ones. It was adorable.

The next 5 weeks consisted of Discovery and Explorer camp. This camp was for kids from 1st to 6th grade. Groups were broken up by age so there weren’t 12-year-olds in the same group as 6-year-olds. Each week the counselors would pick new groups, so we got to experience working with children of different ages. Those next five weeks were a chaotic fun. Many times I felt lost and didn’t have a plan of what to do next, but then I remembered the whole point of summer camp is just to have fun and so I went with it. There were a lot of games and a lot of parades and ho-downs, and by the end of each week I was glad to have gotten a chance to be a part of it.

Ag Progress Days: Ag Progress Days began in the middle of August. The interns and Jon Kauffman (Raptor Center Assistant Director) packed up some of our animals and props and moved them over to Penn State’s Agriculture Fields for the week-long fair. We had several tables set up under a big tent where visitors could come in and take a look at our animals and converse with us about natural history. It was a generally stress-free week. My favorite memory came from the very beginning. Torri decided she wanted to be filmed doing something stupid, so she had Gabe turn on his camera phone. Then, she shouted “Ag Progress Days 2016! Are you ready?!” and ran at me full charge. I ducked and tackled her at the knees, she flipped and ended up on the ground on her back. The film didn’t turn out the way she wanted so we repeated steps 1–3 a couple more times. Why did Torri want to do this to herself? Hard to say. But it gives me a laugh each time I think about it.

The Raptor Center: By the start of my third and final season at Shaver’s Creek I had been working with the center’s Red-shouldered Hawk and Short-eared Owl for several months as their lead trainer. It was a stressful journey, and there had been a couple of times when I’d considered giving up. But now, with less than twoweeks before I leave, things with the birds are going great. Our relationship started as a hate-hate relationship, moving to a love-hate, and now we seem to have a mutual respect for each other. Being wild birds, they’ll never actually love me, but they’ve come to learn that I mean them no harm and are more comfortable with me when I attempt to advance the trainings. The Short-eared Owl is an awesome example of this. He used to seemingly hate most everybody who entered his enclosure. He would hiss and try to run away if anyone got within 5 feet of him. It took patience, but now, 8 months later I can bring my face within inches of his and feed him from my tongs without him balking. The same can be said for the Red-shouldered Hawk who would back away at any sight of our training gloves. However, he now willingly steps up onto those same gloves during training and lets me feed him from there. I feel as though I’ve made great progress with both birds, and it’s been one of the crowning achievements of my time spent at the internship.

Outdoor School: Outdoor School has been the most impactful program that Shaver’s Creek offers. It’s the reason I applied for the internship, and it’s the reason I know about Shaver’s Creek at all. It’s where I found my nature name, Swamp Fox. It’s changed my life in so many ways, and it’s what I will miss the most when this season ends.

I first learned about Outdoor School (ODS) in the spring of my third year at Penn State. I was sitting in class and some man came in and gave a spiel about Outdoor School. It turns out his nature name was Thunder, and he was an assistant director for the program. Well, he did enough to convince me to try it out. On April 27th I headed over to Camp Blue Diamond to start my week at ODS, unaware of how much that week would change my life.

The week was filled with 5th graders, hiking, games, campfires, and three full meals a day. Somewhere in all of it I made new friends and found a new love for nature. Since that week I have felt as though I was a part of the Shaver’s Creek family. I came back in the fall and did Outdoor School twice more as a counselor. I graduated in December and by January I was back at Shaver’s Creek as an intern, gleefully waiting for Outdoor School season to kick off so I could begin my new role as a Learning Group Leader.

I’m leaving Shaver’s Creek with 13 weeks of Outdoor School under my belt. As I look back and reminisce about all of the memories I have I can’t help but think about all the lives I’ve had a chance to change. Whether they were elementary school kids or college students, I’ve met a lot of people through the program and have had a chance to positively affect their lives in the same way my life was impacted the first time I came to ODS. It’s very humbling to think about and I can only hope I was able to give those people a great experience as a friend, a teacher, and as a role model.

Thank you for reading this and the other blogs I’ve written over the last year. It’s been helpful for me to write and reflect on the things I’ve done and seen, especially this final blog. There have been times where I’ve questioned why I stuck around for so long and if what I’m doing ultimately matters, but thinking back about everything I’ve done I don’t regret being here. Shaver’s Creek is a special place, and if you’re reading this you probably already know that.

Best,

Swamp Fox