A field season without field work

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This summer I realized how lucky I am, and how used to being lucky I am. This summer was the first time in over a decade I hadn’t gone to do field collections or learn abroad. And I’m either well prepared for field season, or ill prepared to not have it.

Ever since at least 2010, I’ve used the summer to travel, explore, and learn; dig around, hang out, and grow. It started with study abroad trips to Spain, Costa Rica, and India. But, it actually started when I was 4 months old, the first time my parents took me to France, my other country. Every summer growing up, we all went to France for at least a few weeks. We also joined with aunts, uncles and cousins on sub-trips to Italy, the beach, or some beautiful castle or hike. But after the family trips and the study abroad adventures, the field work started being mixed into the summer trips, until mostly, my summer was filled with field work: sampling, traveling, and exploring abroad. This past Fall, I was accepted into a joint program between the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and my home university, the University of Kansas (KU). How amazing! This summer, I was going to live in the mythical BCI (Barro Colorado Island), working with an energetic post-doc and be immersed in a world of curious nerds.

 

Fig 1. The Flux Assessment Research Team (‘FART’) from the Organization for Tropical Studies’ Field Course in Costa Rica (2017). 

I went for a short course that was part of the program for about 2 weeks in January and early February. I overcame my lifelong fear of snorkeling, hiked through beautiful forests, and got a glimpse of the surreal community of people. Then, it was March 2020. I was training Jose, a student I’d worked with in Ecuador over the past few years, here at KU, working on library preparation for our samples, when Ecuador gave him two days to get home or not be let in. The team at STRI had hope that our summer collections in Panama would be possible, 2 months later. It’s now September and I have only ever been to Panama those two weeks in early 2020. I’m graduating soon, so don’t think I’ll get to go before then.

 

Fig. 2. Jose’s last day in the US before heading home early. We crammed in all the Lawrence essentials in those next ~10 hours (one of the last normal days of 2020). 

This summer has been different for me. I’ve mostly been in my house with my husband and our kitten, working on the computer. My days are filled with R, the community cluster and Microsoft Word. My prepared field materials and pre-separated field clothes were left in our office closet. I know we were very fortunate here, safe and allowed to work on our greenhouse experiments and in the lab throughout the pandemic. Still, this summer was definitely not my ideal summer. My husband and I took a short trip out to Colorado, but I didn’t get the same ‘break’ as usual. I say ‘break’ because field season is not really a break at all, but just a break from going from computer to lab to computer. Field season is a lot of physical labor, and getting gross, and meeting great people. Seeing life from different perspectives, from the undergraduate assistant to the botanist to the hired driver and field station cooks. Living together, getting up at 5:30 together, dancing together. I really miss this, my summer world.

This lack of my normal amazing summer makes me realize that I do love this field time, and I am extremely fortunate to (usually) experience it. I so look forward to a world where traveling and this type of work starts being possible again. Until then, I’ll settle for dreaming of my next post-doc location, and all the discoveries, mishaps, and adventures that await.

Camille Suzanne Delavaux

PhD Student, University of Kansas

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