Saturday, December 6, 2008

Field work: this might be heaven or this might be hell

I love field work. No, really, I do. But when I tell stories about it, they always end up being about running out of food or wrecking vans or collecting samples of giant mosquitoes by slamming a field notebook shut or not being able to find a single sample of high-pressure metamorphic minerals except trapped as inclusions in a garnet. (And that was just my PhD area.) I've thrashed through ice-storm-damaged woods, taking an hour to walk a mile, in search of non-existent staurolites. I've fallen into streams. I've broken a canoe paddle while trying to cross a melt-swollen river. I've post-holed through snow banks. I come back from the field covered in mud, sweat, scratches, bruises, and occasionally blood from where my hammer missed the chisel and slammed the back of my hand.

Which makes me wonder, while lying in a tent with an aching back and wondering whether that sound outside is a hungry bear or just a vole with insomnia, whether it's worth it.

Then I come back to the human world, where people care about things like other people's shoes*, and I think: worth it? Are you kidding?

Photo: me, someplace where the temperatures are cold and the rocks are hot. In other words: someplace close to heaven.

(For the November Accretionary Wedge.)

* Edit: a story, in explanation. In my second or third year in my previous job, I was a junior faculty member on one of those campus-wide committees. Before one snowy winter meeting, I found myself outside the meeting building with the committee chair, a faculty member in another department on campus. She said to me: "Isn't the etiquette of Vermont winters funny? It's inappropriate to look at other people's shoes until they've had a chance to change them." I was flustered and had no idea what to say; I generally changed into indoor shoes because my winter boots were snow-covered, muddy, and made my feet sweat. It had never occurred to me that I was being judged by my footwear.

I failed to successfully negotiate the social boundaries between effective teaching, interesting research, and the expected image of a female faculty member. My favorite field area was in northeastern Vermont - although it was in dense, bug-filled woods, it was the first place where I found surprising results and struggled through to models that were my own, not my advisor's or another mentor's. And I haven't been back there since I was denied tenure.

I've found a new, beautiful place to work. I haven't had the thrill of finding things that are unexpected yet. But there are beautiful views, and in Durango, nobody cares what I wear.

1 comment:

Silver Fox said...

Heaven, I think it looks like in the picture. :)