Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Story of Jim and Lola

We've been in a bit of a posting lull lately, so instead of giving you an informative post, we thought we'd tell you a fantastical story of science and adventure.

Once upon a time, a girl named Meaghan was employed by a company to do lichen, bryophyte, and vascular plant surveys up near Mt. Rainier, Washington. This job required long hours, a high tolerance for solitude, an appreciation for one's own body odor, and also the ability to look at plants and planty bits and plant-like-but-not-plant things all day without completely losing one's mind. It was remote, but this particular contract was not so remote that there weren't people around, scouting out campgrounds, drinking excessively, and shooting off guns of all types at all hours. And, as one might imagine, some of those people had accidents.

This is the story of one such accident.

First, let's paint the setting.
Microscopes powered by headlamps; "Lab" space; and of course, specimens. This is the face of science.



This was the lab space, where I spent many hours using my headlamp to illuminate lichen and moss specimens so I could identify them. It smelled like dirt, and was one of the few mosquito-free zones between the hours of 7 and 11 pm, and it felt a lot like home. Nearby there was a very cold spring with many tailed frogs in it; I was significantly more interested in looking at the frogs in it than I was bathing in it, which likely explains why several days after this story I was given a grossed-out face by a Jack-in-the-Box employee who didn't want to touch the money I was handing her.

That's right, I grossed out a Jack-in-the-Box employee. That's like shocking Dan Savage with a sex story - those employees have seen it ALL.

Tailed frogs: much much cuter than I was at the time. Much cleaner, too.
I worked here for a little over a month before transferring up to a different project even more remote, and during that time I was occasionally joined by other biologists working for the same company. During this particular week I was joined by Jon, a great guy and great biologist who I enjoyed working with.

We worked independently during the day, then came back and bitched collaboratively as we attempted to ID grasses (don't try it, it sucks). On this particular evening, Jon and I were sitting in the trailer complaining as usual when all of a sudden, a blue car drives up into our camp. If I was a car person, I would be able to tell you what type of car it was - I am not a car person, so it was some sort of blue boat that I'm sure is worth a lot of money only because people have weird nostalgia, not because it ran particularly effectively.

This visit was unusual, as our shit was very visible from the road so most people didn't try driving down to find a camp site. I exited the trailer as our guest exited his car. He was tall, pot-bellied, white-beared, approximately 70, and wearing a classy pearly-buttoned shirt with old-timey suspenders.

"Hi!" I said, "can I help you?" meaning, WTF do you want?

This man looked very distraught, and his gaze kept darting past me, scanning the camp. "My girlfriend has fallen off a cliff, I need some rope so I can pull her back up!"

"I have some in the trailer!" I said, excited.

Ok, I realize that makes me look like a psychopath, but excited is EXACTLY the right word. I got my Wilderness First Responder at age 17, had faithfully renewed it every year, and had never had a chance to use it on more than drunken houseguests who'd smashed a glass garage door. The chance to really get some of that action I'd been trained for was instantly thrilling, and I turned to go grab some rope.

This was the exact moment that Jon stepped out of the trailer and into the view of our unexpected guest, who lit up at the sight of him. "Ah!" he said, and grabbed Jon by the shoulders, "just what I need! A strapping young man! My girlfriend has fallen off a cliff!"

Now is the time in the story where I should point out that my coworker may have had a few inches on me, but almost certainly was not stronger than me. Jon's build was best described as 'elvish' or perhaps 'spritely' - even his ears were slightly pointed. I could have beaten him in an arm wrestling competition. It's also possible that I could have out bench-pressed him. The only thing that made him more qualified to pull a 70-year-old-man's girlfriend up a cliff was that he had testicles, and I did not, and if you've read this blog at all I think you might be able to discern how I felt about this development: irritated, and irrationally stubborn, ALWAYS A GREAT COMBO FOR A RESCUE.


Making me mad makes me really want to help you!
Anyways. Jon and I hopped into our truck with the first aid kit and the tow-rope, and we followed the guy to an old road with a great big birm where a bridge to the other side of the river used to be. We stepped out of the car, and the old man (who had at this point introduced himself as Jim) pointed to a section of hillside near some trees and said, "there! There's where she fell! She was standing by the edge and it just gave way!"

I walked over to it, despite Jim's warning to be very careful, and look down. There was a hill, and about 15 feet through the trees there was a shallow body of water one could generously call a river. There was no cliff, just a slightly steeper section of riverbank. I yelled over the side of the hill but got no response. "What's your girlfriend's name?"

"Lola!" Jim said, and started calling out for her while I wondered vaguely if we're being pranked.

Eventually we heard someone call back. I leaned a little further over the bank. "Uh... Lola! Can you move?"

"No!" she yelled back, "I think if I move I'm going to fall even further!"

"Ok. Are you hurt?"

"No, just stuck!"

Satisfied, I turned back to Jon and Jim. "I think I can get down over there, " I said and pointed to the hillside, which was most assuredly not a cliff in any way.

"Maybe Jon should go down?" Jim suggested helpfully, looking very worried about his not-hurt girlfriend trapped at the bottom of the not-a-cliff.

"Nope!" I blurted before Jon had a chance to volunteer. He looked reluctant, and I had shit to prove. "Jon doesn't have any first aid training." This was a lie. "I have a lot of training in stuff like this." Before Jon could defend himself, I walked down the hill. It was not hard, and I was powered by feminist indignation so at that point I could have sprinted up a mountain and punched out a camel and acted like it was no big deal.

Once at the bottom, I made my way over to where Lola was. It's really hard to describe how confusing the situation at the bottom was, but I'll give it my best try. Lola was a topless memaw wearing jeans and a bright-blue bra that really brought out the blue in her veiny arms. She wasn't wearing shoes, and she was seated very oddly on a big log, her legs splayed out and her arms clutching at the dirt wall behind her for comfort. Strewn about her was a considerable amount of garbage, as several someones had decided they'd rather toss their outworn household goods over the side of an embankment out by Mt. Adams rather than pay the fee for the dumpster.

Most importantly, Lola was about a foot away from the ground. Or in this case, the stream. So really not that much further to go, though I think she maybe couldn't see that since she was clinging to the wall with such intensity she didn't have the mental fortitude to recognize other things like elevation.
Like this but more trash
I helped Lola into a seated position (After doing my ABCs and head-to-toe exam, thank you very much any WFRs in the crowd), and shouted up to a worried Jim and bored Jon that Lola was okay.

Lola was quite certain that should her toes touch the maybe-foot-deep calm creek that she would drown instantly. She informed me that she could not swim, and despite my insistence that wouldn't be necessary, she could stand and her ankles would just get wet, Lola refused to walk back in the water. This meant we had to get her back via the shore-line, which as I mentioned was covered in trash including broken glass - not a comfy walk without shoes.

Despite all my searching I could find only one of her shoes and it was a shitty flip-flop. My solution was simple: I would wear my socks, and Lola would wear my shoes. This mostly was my solution because I was not afraid to walk in the shallow creek, and because I really wanted to stick it to the man by climbing back up this "cliff" in my socks.

We got over to the hill (eventually), and that's where I learned that Lola had all the coordination of newborn infant. To help, Jon and Jim lowered a rope, and Lola struggled with it for about 30 seconds before declaring it as futile and dangerous as the roaring trickle of water behind us. I believe Jim suggested that he and Jon tie the rope around Lola and drag her up, but this was quickly vetoed. Instead, what we settled on was Jon coming down to join me, Lola pulling herself up on the fixed tow rope, and Jon and I pushing her up from behind. This meant that we basically got both our hands on Lola's ass and just shoved her up the hill, Jon giving me a series of horrified and increasingly unamused looks as we went.

The two were joyously re-united at the top, aka Jim was very happy and Lola really wanted a cigarette. Lola got into the car and gave me my shoes back. Jim asked me incredulously if I had climbed up to the top in my socks and I shrugged casually like I hadn't also just shoved a lady up the hill by her ass while also in my socks.

Lola thanked us both then closed up the car, and Jim thanked us as well (mostly Jon), and then got into the car... which didn't start. We then spent another 10 minutes of Jim telling Jon how to jump his car while Jon ground his teeth and ignored him. Lola called to me, and rolled down the window to talk to me. I came over, convinced she would thank me again - instead, she dropped her used cigarette out the window and asked me to tap it out.

...seriously?
Rapidly losing my "fuck the patriarchy" steam, I bemusedly tapped out the cigarette. The car roared to life, and Jim and Lola zoomed away, never to enter our lives again. I still have one of the dirty socks I walked uphill in.
The sock still smells like heroism. 
In a fitting tribute to the the events that day, much like Lola's Lost Flip-Flop, the other sock has never re-emerged.