Volunteer Spotlight: Cathy Susan

Cathy Susan – Photomonitoring Volunteer
Nominated by Erika Taylor, November 2021

Volunteer Cathy Susan photomonitoring a property - Photo by Erika Taylor

Volunteer Cathy Susan photomonitoring a property – Photo by Erika Taylor

One would think that working at Legacy I would get a lot of opportunities to explore the land. But in reality, as Finance Director, I stare at spreadsheets most of the day.  It is my passion to be on the land though, so I was very pleased when it was suggested that all Legacy staff should monitor conservation easement properties to get a better firsthand knowledge of what we do.

I was paired with Cathy Susan in 2017, and we’ve monitored the same three properties for five seasons now. Cathy began photomonitoring in 2012 and was already a seasoned photomonitor, so she was the one who trained me.  The funny part is, all I ever did was hold the notebook and take back-up paper notes while she did all the work of contacting landowners, learning how to use the tablet, and writing up the monitoring reports. 

Volunteer Cathy Susan on a backpacking trip

Cathy Susan on a backpacking trip

I don’t think most people even know that we have such a dedicated team of volunteers that monitor the properties every year.  In some ways it is a very unsung job.  I was impressed by Cathy’s dedication to Legacy and her desire to do something important for the land.   For my part, I went mostly to enjoy the beautiful properties and because it was fun. Cathy was just great to talk to and we became friends.  We caught up on our families, work, and complained about our aging aches and pains.  Cathy was always just coming back from or planning some great backpacking or biking adventure, so we had a lot to talk about.    Occasionally, we had some frustrating monitoring visits, especially with the technology, but also some pretty funny moments over the years.

Volunteer Cathy Susan finds her way through giant corn stalks - Photo by Erika Taylor

Volunteer Cathy Susan finds her way through giant corn stalks – Photo by Erika Taylor

Cathy is very detailed and persistent, and she tries to make it to every photo point on a property, regardless of how hard it is to get there or how practical.  One time at our farm property, the corn was so high we practically got lost in the middle of the field and the photo we ended up with was just corn stalks! 

I have been continually humbled by how dedicated and conscientious Cathy is. One time after two full training sessions to learn the new monitoring software and one full day ahead of time practicing with the property data, the entire data set disappeared when we got to the property.  Cathy felt like she did something horrible and lost the data.  But after calling the office, it turned out the system decided to do an update right before our monitoring visit.  Instead of throwing in the towel, we travelled to the closest cafe to get wi-if, reloaded the data, and then went back to the property to complete the job.  

Cathy is also adventurous and doesn’t mind getting a bit dirty.  One of our properties is usually flooded and we always forget to bring our boots.  Often, we separate, schlepping through the tall grass and muck, each of us trying to see who can be the one to find the best path through. In the end we both always end up soaked to the knees. 

Our outings regularly include a good laugh, too.  One time we saw some snapping turtles mating in the draining channel.  It was alarming at first.  We didn’t know what it was; a giant snake, a drowning raccoon, but then we saw when the male grab the female by the back of the neck and shove her underwater.  It was a shared experience I will always remember.

Another time we found a very distinctive-looking mushroom called a Stinkhorn. (If you’re curious, Google Stinkhorn).   I put it on Cathy’s dashboard to key out later, but I forgot about it.  She gave it to me a few months later.  Needless to say, it was shriveled up by then.

Volunteer Cathy Susan prepping for a photomonitoring visit - Photo by Erika Taylor

Volunteer Cathy Susan prepping for a photomonitoring visit – Photo by Erika Taylor

There is a certain spot on another property where the GPS always goes berserk.  We can never find the photo points because they keep moving around.  We always laugh that there is a poltergeist, some door to another world, or something buried there from some of the “explosive research” in the past. Who knows? But I think that photo-point will forever be elusive.

It has been a blessing to partner with such a caring and thoughtful volunteer. Thanks, Cathy!

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