Women and Dirt

to Eustis_162A dozen years ago, a great soil survey project leader and I had a joke.  If a woman collected rocks at 3, refused to come inside out of the rain, and loved mud pies, she had the makings of a soil scientist.  When I first traveled into the world of soil survey in the 70’s, women soil scientists were rare. Times have changed, and more than half of the young soil scientists in the field are now women.

AlisonI had the pleasure of working with one of these dirt loving young women when I managed my last project in the foothills of California.  Of course, we insiders know that “dirt” and “soil” are two very different things, but sometimes insiders lovingly refer to our particular specialty as dirty.  AKA, the bumper sticker that says “Do It In The Dirt” and other such silliness.

scoopy 2008Alison came to me by way of Chicago, detailing to California to map soils when we were bringing people in from all over the country to help complete soil survey in areas as yet unmapped.  Most of the eastern and central parts of the country have existing soil maps, but out west there are many areas with no certified soil information available.  Alison came with enthusiasm and energy and brought a great work ethic to Sonora.  Her nickname was “Scoopy”, since not one of us could dig a hole as fast as Alison, guys included!  Of course, the fact that she has run 10 marathons (including the Boston Marathon twice) probably helps. 

walking the sinkhole with AlisonWhy am I talking about Alison on the travel blog? Because visiting in Florida gives me a chance to spend a day hanging with a fellow soil scientist who has also become a good friend.  Alison left Chicago and took a well deserved promotion to Florida and loves it. With a project office in Tavares, a beautiful new home in Eustis, near the charming town of Mt Dora, and a life filled with year round running routes, Alison is happy.  Her husband Matt has settled in as well, teaching marimba and music from their home, although he does mourn the loss of easy access to university culture.

more roads with no carsWith 8 days available for Bel I didn’t feel badly about taking a day on my own to drive south for a visit.  Once again the open space of the roads around Ocala amazed me.  Traveling east on 40 and then turning south on 19 led me through the Ocala National Forest and miles of traffic free highway.  I passed Juniper Springs and Alexander Springs, remembering stories from Karen and Al’s blog about their camping sites in this part of Florida and day dreaming once again of the time when I will be here with Mo and the MoHo and the kayaks.

along the highway to Mt DoraIt was wonderful seeing Alison, laughing about some of our shared soil survey stories, catching up on good inside gossip about fellow crew members and work in general  as we walked around her favorite little sinkhole close to her home. The area has been fenced and protected and has a great trail around the ravine through some lovely habitats. Why we were walking enjoying the warm breezes, Alison came up with a line that I loved.  “People say we don’t have mountains in Florida, but we do…they are just up in the sky.”  She said that watching the huge cumulus clouds build in the afternoons always gives her the chance to look up and appreciate the scenery.

to Eustis_151Matt joined us for a drive to Mt Dora for lunch at the little French restaurant with a lovely patio and live music.  Mt Dora is a storybook town, with surprising hills surrounding several lovely lakes lined with beautiful homes.  Just down the road from the main part of town is the lakefront and boardwalk giving us another wonderful walk through the woods with views of the water. I still am trying to take photos of “velvet air” to no avail.  I think a real photo challenge is getting a picture that evokes that feeling.  Still haven’t managed it, but I keep trying.

to Eustis_129Mt Dora was quite busy on this Sunday afternoon, with many people shopping the cute shops and stores.  The Christmas music was piped outside with strains of “White Christmas” serenading the 80 degree balmy weather.  Floridians really get into the Christmas thing, and the decorations are everywhere.  Must to Eustis_184be all those retired New Englander’s missing their homeland, but not enough to actually go back and weather the awful winters. I found a perfect Christmas flag that has eluded me, a sturdy applique two sided flag with good colors.  Even an internet search didn’t yield anything I wanted.  I will hang it in the snow at Rocky Point and remember this warm, delightful afternoon in Mt Dora.

Around the neighborhood-15Bel is doing well, medications are current, her health has improved a bit with the help of “Heart of Florida” in Ocala, and I had a chance to meet her neighbors and exchange contact information. Bel’s laptop is running well and she is getting used to using the mouse and Windows 7.  She now knows how to get online, either in her back yard with a local internet from an agreeable neighbor, or a couple of miles away at Wendy’s.

to Eustis_170By the way, Wendy’s is a really great connection spot, none of that interface stuff that happens at McDonalds, and a really fast connection. I have learned to search out a Wendy’s when I need to get online and don’t want any hassles.  Wish I had a connection that fast at home!

I talk to Mo every day, and home has been uneventful.  The night temps are in the teens with daytime highs in the low 40’s at best.  I have enjoyed the break, the warmth, the sunshine, but I am ready to get back home to my real life.  Time to haul wood, hug the dog and the cat, hang the flag, have cable TV and an internet connection again, and work in my home office in my pajamas. 

Author: kyotesue

Soil scientist/mapper working for 35 years in the wild lands of the West. I am now retired, enjoying my freedom to travel, to hike without a shovel and a pack, to knit and quilt and play, to play with photography and write stories about all of it.

11 thoughts on “Women and Dirt”

  1. Now we know some of the dirty little secrets of soil science! Glad you got to spend some time with your friend and enjoy what sounds like a delightful little town. It's sure cold here so bring some of that warmth to Oregon when you return.


  2. Glad to hear that things are going so well there, now. Nice to catch up with old friends and share all the “dirt” … er…. soil…. err … whatever y'all shared. Hurry back home to Oregon so you can get in on all this wonderful cold weather. It's sunny, but it's a cold sunny! I think I'd rather have a dry heat!


  3. I love your pictures of the area. It makes one feel calm and relaxed.Thanks for sharing them.
    I know you must be ready to come home now to that lovely cabin in woods with its snow.


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