Monday, 30 June 2014

Post 21: Fieldwork Readiness and Prep!

This morning as I packed my bags for school, I was excited to head to campus to meet some of my colleagues and bring them a little surprise. Yesterday while grocery shopping I bought a big packet of Twizzlers (remembering that Mary loves them), and for those who might not be so into gummy strawberry-flavoured sticks, I got a couple Turtles and a packet of Smarties. I had a jolt of joy thinking about the delight I hope the gift will bring.
The summer is that time of year when a lot of graduate students head to to collect their data, and this summer is no exception for the School of Environmental Studies.

                           Throw-back to my time in the mountains: Hard at work writing field notes!
                                                        (Photo credit: Mary Sanseverino)

For some, this process started already a few months ago, and the halls of the buildings become doubly quiet: first from the undergraduate students that no longer visit professors, sessional instructors and teaching assistants during their office hours as classes find their end in April, and then when the grad students take to the mountains and oceans and communities in which they conduct their studies.

Last year I packed my rental vehicle and drove from the Kootenays to Prince George and back, and made another trip to Edmonton to visit the lovely folks that I was interviewing about the mountain pine beetle. I had my recording device, spare batteries, interview questions, my usb cards, a notebook, the casual professional clothing I was going to wear, my driver's license, money, everything I thought I needed for that trip. And, here's where maybe my best advice for going into the field: do your planning and prep for your field work as soon in advance as possible. You don't want to be scrambling in the last few hours before a big (or even small, but important) trip, sometimes to places where you'll have limited access to resources. For last year, my recording device, batteries, and interview questions were super key to the success of my trip. This year, being a supporter (a small one) for the MLP crew, I thought they needed some treats in the car on their drive; the rest was up to them. :) So, with that in mind, the other tips below are suggestions from when I spent time in the mountainous field with MLP, and the ones above, from my social science, qualitative interviews field work last year. Your approach is probably your best tool to being prepared. :) 

                                    Two great examples of being prepped for the weather: sandals for the
                                    black sand beach just outside of Hana, Maui.

                                              ...and sunglasses and a windbreaker to brave the chilly
                                              winds at 10,000 feet on top of Haleakala, Maui!

This year marks the two year anniversary since my field season with the Mountain Legacy Project (MLP), who were gathering their gear and packing the truck for this year's two-team outing!

My self-set task this year was to be supportive and to provide some tips; what's best to bring and pack when you're going to be spending 8 weeks in the mountains?

Some of my top suggestions for this work (definitely reminiscent of this blog post for MLP):

-earplugs (for entering and exiting the helicopters, when it's is so, so loud!! And, you never know when some bird will wake you at 5AM and you can't quite get back to sleep, or when a bunkmate might snore....)
-longjohns (it's several degrees cooler at elevation)
-fleece sweaters and a windbreaker and layers (frequently breezy, which affects core temperature due to abovementioned point)
-make sure to get enough sleep, eat enough food, drink and pack enough water
-take lots of photos and keep a journal to record all those special moments
-a hat, bug spray, and polarized sunglasses
-a couple of your own bandaids
-NO cotton; cotton gets cold when wet, and can contribute to hypothermia in the right conditions. Unless you're somewhere super hot and humid, you're better off with breathable, layered clothes that aren't cotton, in the mountains

Sorting out account log-in information for the blog has brought me into nostalgia mode: how fun that summer was, spending time with Jenna and Mary and the big big mountainous landscapes of BC and Alberta. Huge pockets of rain cells that you could see and avoid in the helicopters. The big shadow splotches of clouds on the forests and mountain sides, that bring texture and richness to a landscape's colour. The quiet. The buzzing insects, pollinating and zipping around at 8000+ feet, causing me to wonder how on earth they survive up there. The mosquitos and their ferocity (and the difference with being on the wind- or lee-ward side of a slope). The birds-eye view from the helicopter, and the bits of fun and banter with the pilots.

So much fun! Wishing them all the very best and a great field season for 2014!

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