Our life from the eyes of Mr. Clayton Buffer

Completion of Hitch #1: Written by the glorious Clayton Buffer Our second hitch has already come and gone. The Georgia crew has been busy! This hitch began with ACE/VUS training in Nashville. Sunday was our first day of ACE Survey Training. We watched several helpful instructional videos and learned the ins and outs of a visitor use survey, for instance the difference between a recreational and non-recreational visitor. We also became acquainted with some of our ACE contacts that are all most excellent people. Following our instructional training, which included a round of Jeopardy, we went and simulated the real thing. Needless to say, our crew had an immediate advantage to this game, being that one Nashville crew leader who will not be named had NEVER HEARD OF Jeopardy! Like a middle school dance, the boys and girls separated into groups. Each practiced setting up an ideal survey station in different areas in one of Nashville’s ACE parks. Following this highly educational experience, the boys and girls competed in a very spirited playground relay race, from which the boys emerged victorious by no small margin. The day concluded with a quiz over what we had learned in the morning and a scrumptious Mexican dinner, appetizers a la Army Corps. Those were some truly bomber chiles rellenos. Our second and last day of training proved quite as stimulating as the first. There was some review of the previous days’ lessons and new, more nuanced information presented regarding visitor use surveys. The most valuable session of the day proved to be the 7 Station Cycle of Surveying, in which each fresh faced would-be surveyor was put through their paces, by Josh and Sophie, our veteran Leaders in site set up, Meredith, the Queen of Survey Protocol, or the Ranger collective, an acting troupe uniquely skilled in the art of verbal harassment. Needless to say, we all learned a lot. The day was capped off by a very special farewell dinner, with Alex, Meredith, and Ted in attendance. I think this the appropriate spot in this entry to thank the Nashville crew for their generosity, for sharing their home with us which took patience and a willingness to live without “personal space”, and a particularly big thanks to Sophie Louis for shopping, cooking every meal, and being an all-around champion. This was an emotional night – friendships were celebrated, as was the end of training, but our imminent separation cast an unhappy shadow in the Nashville house, if only briefly. Some “Anonymous Compliments”, a rousing game of Munchkin, and some intense hair braiding quickly rid the house of any sadness, and brought our time together to an altogether splendid close. The Atlanta crew spent most of Tuesday in their now departed red VW Jetta, cruising the rolling hills of Tennessee and North Georgia. From Nashville we drove straight to Atlanta, where we picked up our rental cars and headed home. Upon our arrival, we realized there was still much work to be done at our lovely abode, which is how we spent our Wednesday. If there is a Goodwill in Northeast Georgia was not a beneficiary of our patronage, it must be a lame Goodwill. After loading up on furniture and necessities, the house was scoured; pounds of cat hair were vacuumed from the floor, years of dust were removed to uncover shiny mirrors and clear glassy surfaces. Most importantly, the pool table and hot tub were restored to working order. Party on, dudes. Party on. The rest of the week was an ongoing exercise in meeting or hanging out with truly excellent people. Thursday and Friday, we journeyed all over North Georgia, beginning with Allatoona and Carter’s Lakes, and ending Friday with Lake Sidney Lanier. At each lake we met our agency contacts, some of the hippest cats in the Land of Peaches. They were full of energy, enthusiasm, ideas, and in the case of Mark Jennings, our contact at Lanier, college rivalry. (He’s a Florida Gator but we forgive him for that.. even though Leah was a Florida State Seminole) After meeting them and discussing our epic conservation project options and ideas, we returned home to find 2/3 of the Nashville crew at our house – it turns out we couldn’t last a week apart. We were also joined by SCA alum Stuart Wilkins, on his return trip from SCA Alternative spring break in Florida. Our final weekend before surveys was spent preparing to survey as no crew had surveyed before. ATL Mike jumped rope for several hours while talking non-stop, just to be sure he’d have the stamina for busy days at the park. When not intensely training for surveys, Nashville, Georgia, and Stuart jammed on guitars, played ridiculous games, honed their billiards skills, hot tubbed, and then cried because we missed our friends in that far off paradise called Waco, Texas. (Although we were lucky enough to grab a skype conversation with them!) On Sunday, Stuart and the Nashvillains returned to their distant homelands. And then there were three. Mike and Clayton found out about a farm festival in the nick of time. Not all who wander are lost, but these two were for about 30 minutes; eventually, they found the Gwinnet Environmental Health Center- a ridiculously cool environmental center in Gwinnet county. We were fortunate enough to get some great advice on their garden, as well as some excellent local seeds and plants to start it with. On Monday, the garden began to take shape, and the finishing touches were completed on Saturday the 30th. Our Georgia mansion now has a beautiful garden, complete with potatoes, onions, lettuce and spinach. Tuesday the 26th was our first survey day. Rather, it was Clayton’s first survey day – Mike and Leah had the day off, which they used to accomplish great things. While Clayton was collecting survey data like a boy collects baseball cards – with ardor, diligence, and an insatiable need for more – Mike was setting up the coolest conservation project ever; trail rehabilitation at Tallulah Gorge for easier access to the parks’ unbelievable climbing spots. Leah was doing what she does best – being a BOSS! Wednesday, the whole crew did surveys, and did them the only way we know how, very well and with humility. Thursday the 28th was our first official Conservation Day, and the crew got conservative like the Tea Party talking about raising taxes. Mike made it a double, first travelling to the Chattahoochee River to help a fellow SCA intern with the relocation of a large sign, to be in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. After a couple hours of, in Mike’s words, “super easy”- bashing a rock bar into the ground, the work was complete and Mike moved on to Brenau University. Here he set up a booth at the internship fair, talked to students about summer internships, and basically made the SCA look, really, ridiculously good- which it is. Clayton embarked on a separate journey, straight out of Mary Shelley: to help bring back from the dead the American Chestnut. The American Chestnut project is taking place at Allatoona Lake under the watchful, nurturing eye of ACE Ranger Shea Sennett, the Dr. Frankenstein to Clayton’s Igor. He spent Thursday doing some serious weeding and preparation of the parks’ chestnut demonstration site, and returned Friday for the seasons’ first replanting. All in all, 3 seedling chestnut trees were planted, along with 7 sprouting seeds at the demo site. The weekend was a special set of surveys – our fearless leader, Meredith came all the way from DC to help us improve our survey game. She visited Leah and Mike on Friday then Mike and Clayton on Saturday. Not even driving in the rain could deter us, and Meredith took advantage of any situation to teach us how to more finely hone our survey game. She even made it to our lovely mansion, where she taught us the art of Eastern North Carolina BBQ (that’s a VINEGAR-based sauce, y’all!), gave us helpful commentary on our work, and bestowed us with copious amounts of ice cream and candy. It was awesome hanging out. Stay tuned for the haps of the next two weeks – it’s sure to be CRAZY. And thanks for reading! Signing out with Love and Affection, Herbert the Disembodied Deer Head, CEO and President, Georgia Manion LLC