Field work has its ups and downs. It can be the best time of our lives and sometimes the most difficult. This weeks blog comes to you from Olivia Box telling her story of tackling those less than ideal conditions in a one of a kind place. We learn a lot about ourselves in the field including how we can overcome difficulties and still find the good and the beautiful. Enjoy!
It is the first day that I feel confident in my plant identification. That’s absolutely Celastrus orbiculatus, Asiatic bittersweet. It has wide, open leaves made distinct by their tiny teeth. After I record the presence and azimuth, I continue to sift visually through the one-meter-squared plot. I’m careful not to ruffle my hands through the plants- despite wearing thick gloves, I’ve spent so much of the field season with streaks of poison ivy on my forearms.
I look forward all year to fieldwork. That perfect feeling once you’ve shaken the dust of academia off and are finally immersed in the place you’ve been studying. I had spent so long combing through forest management plans, examining maps, and reading about the previous work in the area. Finally, I here was with my Newcomb’s plant guide and tapes in hand.
Yet, this day is no different from the weeks that came before. I have had my period every day this summer, rain or shine. It has been nonstop, and ultimately it lasted the entire summer.
When I dropped my field assistant off that afternoon, I couldn’t take it anymore. I grabbed my phone, turned on my data, and called my doctor. “I’d like to make an appointment for sometime this summer, I can be flexible” I begged breathlessly.
“Let me see honey” the receptionist replied, which made me recoil. What in my voice indicated honey, when I’m covered in dirt, peanut butter, and sweat? “We’re booked until June 2019, perhaps we can set an appoint for then?” I mumble through the rest of the conversation and set some arbitrary appointment. The humor was biting. June 2019 would be my very next field season.
Field work, in the simplest of Wikipedia definitions is a “well-defined, although variable process”. Controversially, I had created a rigid definition for myself of what field work was. As a new master’s student, I had constructed an experience of field work that left me out of the experience. I was focusing on getting to know the crevices of my field sites, on devising efficient ways to take measurements. I knew how to be flexible in a rainstorm and I have the patience to walk (and re-walk) a field site to find the edges of the forest. And yet, I ignored what field work is: a well-defined, although variable process. It was never going to go as planned.
So many things that summer didn’t go as planned. I had to redo a field site, it rained more than I would have hoped, and I found a better way to take a measurement my last day. Each mishap made it what it was: a field season. What started as a well-defined plan molted into a variable learning process. Despite the mishaps, I did feel like I had joined the place. I became a brief part of the land, and with my data sheets in hand I went back to the office ready to tell the story of this place.
And as to my period? As Mary Oliver said, “things take the time they take”. All is well.
Interested in telling your whole tale? We would love to hear from you!