Introduction to Fish and Feathers (Rafael Santos)

Hi everyone! My name is Rafi, and I’m from Baltimore, Maryland. I’m a college sophomore at Agnes Scott College down near Atlanta. I’m currently studying History, English and Environmental Studies. I’ll be graduating a year early, so I’m preparing to do both of my senior seminars next year. The classes themselves begin in August, but research starts now!

Growing up in Maryland, I had a really strong environmental education. Maryland is a unique state not based on their national parks, but on their topography. Maryland has 5 distinct regions: Appalachian Plateau, Ridge and Valley, Blue Ridge, Piedmont, Atlantic Coastal Plain, and the Atlantic Continental Shelf. Maryland is like a miniature of the entire eastern seaboard regarding geography, and they are VERY proud of it! There’s also the beautiful Chesapeake Bay. I grew up taking field trips with lunch breaks in kayaks amongst the reeds. We’d catch crawfish and putting them in large tubs for the teacher to gently point out their anatomy. 

Picture of the Chesapeake Bay

At Loch Raven Academy, I joined an environmental science program where each and every day we’d take measurements of the stream behind the school. We’d complain, as middle schoolers do, about the tedious measurements, the cold muck of the river, and the long and tedious class. But it wasn’t until later I realized what a gift we had. This program introduced us to concepts that would only reappear to me in junior year of highschool, and never to the depth of what we had in that class.

While I haven’t had a lot of wildlife experience since then, there has been a lot of domestic animal work. I’ve volunteered at Petsmart charities in Maryland for years. My parents and I go to the cat kennel, clean their cages, refill their food and water, and give the cats company. Cats need to be socialized just like dogs, and many of them come from straight off the street or other situations. The saddest cases were always those who were too friendly and used to people- they were kitties that had been abandoned by their families for one reason or another. But we’d help them feel comfortable as best we could, and of course petting cats and kittens is always a boon.

Me and a shelter kitty called Mr. Piggy! He and his brother, Kermit, practically melted into my lap.
The cats at the shelter helping us clean.

Now I work at a doggy daycare. While dogs are not my pet of choice, they have grown on me. A cool thing about this job is that I take lots of walks with the dogs around the neighborhood. You get a very clear idea about how cleanly, safe, and naturally beautiful a neighborhood is from walking a dozen plus dogs there for weeks. The place where my job is is pretty, but not pedestrian friendly. All of Atlanta has an issue with this, even with improvements made to the “beltline”- A long stretch of walking and cycling focused walkways connected throughout parks and trails through the city. 


One of the dogs I worked with at the daycare! He was one of the few that didn't belong to anyone, instead being trained for adoption. He has since then found a home.
Some of the dogs are rather anxious, and like to cuddle in the middle of walks.

While I love domestic animals, there’s a reason why I’m getting a minor in environmental studies and history. My history senior seminar will be on the environmental history of Puerto Rico. My family is from there and may even have personal additions to the research- they were coffee farmers, and cash crops had a massive effect on the environment of the island. The town where they are from is called Lares, and it is in the middle of the mountains. When we go, we have to go along roads with no rails, hugging the massive cliffs and rainforest covered hills. I’ve always been interested in mountains because of it. Their beauty, relative isolation, and pattern in how cultures form within their valleys. 

For this reason, I am thrilled to be working in the Great Smoky Mountains this summer, and extremely excited in learning more about the nature and history of the Appalachians. I am also looking forward to learning how to fly fish and band birds, both of which I’ve never done. I wonder what kind of connections I’ll find between the places I’ve lived and loved, and what people and animals I’ll have the pleasure of meeting. 

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