Jess Cochran, Lover of Hawks (both dead and alive)
Jess Cochran, featured in No 11 The Wild, and I, Zach Clark, share a mutual love of the Chicago Blackhawks and our former home of Chicago-land(ish). Recently, we parlayed about these things, her work, and her other love: dead things.
Composite: You are a Midwesterner born and raised, who has recently relocated to Seattle. How would you sum up the cultural differences and similarities? What do you miss most about the Midwest?
Jess Cochran: A lot of the difference for me personally is the fact that I went from small town living to a relatively large city. Obviously there is much more diversity here than you would find in Stillman Valley, Illinois where I grew up. Like any city there are arts and music and something happening constantly, but there are different influences. There is a lot of Native culture, more than I really saw in the Midwest and very different aesthetically. Fishing is probably the driving industry here while back in the Midwest it’s either agriculture or manufacturing. Right now I work in shipping fish so I see a lot of that fisherman/longshoreman/maritime influence. I think here too you have a lot more of the outdoorsman culture, although it ranges from wearing your North Face for fashion and status to actually being someone who climbs mountains or skis every weekend there’s snow on the slopes.
As far as what I miss, it’s certainly not the corn fields. I would definitely say I miss my family the most; it’s hard being the only one West of the Mississippi! I think it was also easier for me to relax and center myself back in the Midwest, but that may just be more of an urban/rural dynamic since I’m used to being able to walk out the back door and hear frogs or birds or look at the stars. I really miss sleeping in my parents’ barn.
C: You are an avid Blackhawks fan. What about hockey and the black hawks do you love? How do your like their chances within the rest of playoffs?
JC: I love hockey because you take the skills of so many other sports and put them ON ICE. The absolute athleticism of the players amazes me, plus sometimes there’s fighting which is always fun. The Blackhawks have a few stars, but they have finally gotten some great depth with a few good trades and some young players really coming in to their game this year (Leddy for most improved player!); the goalies have been really confident and cleaning up, the third and fourth lines are fully capable of scoring…I’d say we have a great chance at the Cup, although I’m hoping someone else takes out the Pens.
C: Continuing on hockey, and the inevitable asterisk marring the season, attendance has been high across the board all season, why do you think hockey this time around didn’t feel the same negative impacts other sports recently have?
JC: I think that although hockey has a smaller core of fans, they are more dedicated. People have Super Bowl parties even if they don’t watch another football game all year; no one watches the Stanley Cup unless they actually like hockey. I think fans were just so desperate to see their teams they didn’t hold a grudge; I mean, half the fans are Canadian eh? I was relieved that we had a season at all and I got to watch my favorite guys tear it up on the ice.
C: Have you become a seattle sounders fan yet?
JC: I never watch soccer! I guess if I did I would root for the Sounders because it wouldn’t conflict with any other loyalties I have. I do actually see Sounders fans around town, but maybe that’s because they don’t have a hockey team to root for??
C: What exactly is COASST. How did you get connected with them and what are you doing there?
JC: COASST is the Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team. It is a group of citizen scientist volunteers organized by the University of Washington. My first roommate that I lived with out here was a UW student and worked with them, and then she passed her beach on to me. I go out to two different beaches in Seattle and walk them looking for dead and washed up seabirds. I use what parts are left and measure them to assist in identifying the birds. I once identified a grebe when I just found its leg because it has a very unique foot, and that combined with the measurement of the tarsus gave me the species I was looking for. COASST is in operation all up and down the Pacific coast, and they will be using the long term data to monitor ecosystem health and marine resources. The bird collection data sets a baseline against which events such as major storms at sea or things like oil spills caused by humans can be assessed and monitored. I just had to do a little training and now I get to beachcomb for a cause.
C: You have an expansive collection of skulls, bones, and other general remnants of animal life. What drew you to this interest, especially when your sister [Composite Editor Kara Cochran] shares a similar interest in animals, but in much more adorable means?
JC: Well, I think Kara and I get the animal love from the same place; we grew up in a veritable menagerie interacting with animals every day. Mostly domestic, but every once in a while a neighbor would bring over an orphaned bird or Dad would find a snake or raccoon to raise for a few weeks or months. I always liked going hiking or camping in the hopes of seeing some wildlife. I was interested in biology in school and then my first job in college was a field job studying birds where we would hike off trail through several parks in Illinois. That’s how I found my first skull, a beaver skull that was somehow perfectly clean and gleaming ivory with these big orange buck teeth. I am absolutely fascinated by what these animals look like under their skin and fur. The shapes can be so different even though they all have the same bones. I also like that I can get so up close and personal with dead wildlife. It’s great to see it alive from afar, but sometimes you just really want to inspect it and feel it and see how it moves and relates to itself. That’s part of the reason I really love working for COASST even though I don’t collect the birds. You get to see all these different traits and specializations of form up close and you start to understand more about them in life when you see them in death.