Friday, December 12, 2008

With all that time spent in the field it'd better be good

The new Accretionary wedge on Favorite Places for fieldwork is up at Geology News. As usual I was behind on everything, so writing a post of my own slipped to the bottom of the todo list (and that's far down). Anyway the call for submissions did get me thinking about the field, which is my home for some months each year, and to try to work out whether I had a favorite place.

I have a bit of a crush on all my field sites. They are all in the northern part of the northern hemisphere in a a type of landscape I've come to love. They are all in areas where I would probably never have come as a tourist and they all involve my favorite activity of all times - travel. But they are also different. Not only as in actual geographical differences, but also different to me. The first place was like the first love that completely changes one's perspective on the world, but didn't last and now is just a faint memory. The second is the full blown longterm relationship, that gives me a great deal of happiness and inspiration, but which also sometimes sucks beyond belief because I know all it's downsides. The third one is the fling, that now seems to be developing into something more serious.

My first field site was my home for two summers more than ten years ago, when I did fieldwork for my MSc thesis. I went with a fellow grad student whom I didn't know particularly well before we left, but who became one of my best friends. We were both new to geology and to the Arctic and to field work. We didn't understand what was up and down in our outcrops. We didn't know how to do good descriptions of the sediments or what was an appropriate size of a sample and got frustrated with the quality of the data we brought with us home after the first year. The data were really that bad (at least mine were) and we did go back for a second summer to remedy this, but while I was learning how to collect data and what things to look for, I also got sucked into the geology. I hadn't been a particularly enthusiastic student prior to this, but little by little I got genuinely excited about what I was doing. I began to see patterns and systems , to see where my observations fit in with the literature and where they didn't. I went from picking the topic mainly because it gave me the possibility to go to the Arctic, to thinking that fluvial sediments were one of the coolest things ever (I still think so). It also gave me a longlasting crush on Arctic landscapes. I haven't been back to this particular place in ten years, but somehow the Arctic still looks like this* to me.
My second field site is here, and as some readers might know, I go there every summer. It has been the backbone of my professional existence for years, and will, for all I know, continue to be so for many years to come. It's where I get my best ideas. It's where I spend time with my "field family" and where I have local friends and colleagues. It's where know how things work (to whatever degree that is possible), where I know beautiful, peaceful and fun places and places I'd rather never go to again, where I have a history with people and places and where I feel at home.

Lately I've added another field site to the collection. I have spent some time in this area before, including a short field season last year, but next year will be the first time I'll have a real longterm field program here. As with all new things this is one part exciting and one part unfamiliar and a little bit frightening. I don't have the comfort of long term experience or of connection to the people who also work here. It's new and different and a little mechanical, because it is about reusing routines once learned elsewhere and about getting students involved rather than engaging wholeheartedly in the work myself. I do know the area is spectacular though, and that this is something I will be returning to.

*(no photos from this site because I did my Master's back in the day when digital photography was nothing but wishful thinking, and I'm too lazy too scan any of the real photos).


At 4:18 AM, Blogger Silver Fox said...

This is a wonderful post about your field areas! So evocative.

At 4:40 PM, Blogger  said...



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