A Year in Review

This past year has been an eventful one to say the least. Here are a few highlights from my 2016:

It’s hard to believe that less than 12 months ago I was living and working in a different place. It was a big move to make from a rural area to a big city and to start a new job with a new organization. It was filled with uncertainty, but I’m happy to say that so far, I think it is paying off. With the move came new opportunities to discover new natural areas of Ontario and meet new people.

Another highlight was going camping in Algonquin Provincial Park this past fall. Although we were a week early to see the park in all its fall colour glory and we failed to see a moose, we still managed to have a memorable visit. On a morning hike we spotted a beaver and quietly watched it for a while as it gathered food. It was the perfect time to look for weird and wonderful fungi and a meal cooked over a campfire is always something to look forward too. Until I got my own vehicle a couple of years ago, I never had much opportunity to explore Ontario they way I do now. I look forward to visiting more provincial parks in the future.

Algonquin Provincial Park

Twelve months ago I set out to practice my writing skills and write a blog each month. I’ll admit that there were times where I was kicking myself for saying I would do this each month and there were times where inspiration was difficult to find. But I did it! And in the end I’m glad that I did it. It’s helped me find stories in experiences I wouldn’t have thought about otherwise. It’s helped me communicate ideas more clearly that I’ve thought about but never bothered to write down. Writing is a skill that needs regular practice and evaluation to improve. I don’t plan to hold myself to a monthly deadline anymore, but I do plan to continue finding inspiration in my experiences to write about and share.

I’m ready to see what 2017 has in store!




Making Friends in Tough Places

For most jobs it’s the people you work with can really make or break your experience. This is especially true when working in the field. Thankfully, I’ve always worked with good field crews, and have never been in a situation in the field where I’ve regretted who I’m with.

I landed my first field job during my undergraduate. I was hired to be a field assistant for research being done in the Yukon. I remember in the interview, my supervisor said something along the lines of: “I want someone who can endure the conditions of the field. Learning the knowledge and techniques will come later”. I’m not sure that I fully understood what he meant at the time, but now after having experienced many field seasons and gone through the process of hiring my own field assistants, I couldn’t agree more.

Identifying plants on the tundra
Identifying plants on the tundra

Fieldwork is a unique working environment. It’s challenging in many ways and often unpredictable. The hours are long, flushable toilets are sometimes a luxury, weather may not be in your favour, and the biting insects can be unbearable. It’s the people along side you who will help you laugh with you and get through the tough times. They also bring often bring the fun times!

When we were in the Yukon, we decided to cook beans one night for dinner during a multi-day excursion. We soaked them the night before and the whole day of before cooking them thinking, the longer they soak the better. We ate them and they were a bit hard, but edible. The next day hiking in the alpine doing fieldwork, I think we all found out that over-soaking beans is a real problem as we were all sick. We were banned from bringing dried beans on future excursions. Another time in a remote area with no easy way out, aside from a multi-day hike or a helicopter, we were hiking back to our campsite to find one of our brand new mountaineering tents had blown over in the strong mountain winds! We hurried back and patched up the tent with duct tape. These experiences were embarrassing and stressful at the time, but they are now some of my most memorable stories from that season and ones that bonded us.

It snowed the day after our tent blew over!
It snowed the day after our tent blew over!

It’s not just the eventful situations that bond people together during fieldwork. When you’re in the field with someone, you spend a LOT of time together. It can be pretty intense work, tedious, and mundane. You get into a routine together and can get to know each other pretty well while working. I remember the times of sitting in the car waiting out the rain and finding ways to entertain ourselves. Or running into the lake after long hot field days during my master’s – of which there were many – and driving back to the field station soaking wet. It was worth it! Or simply discovering nature together whether it’s running around like mad people catching butterflies, finding snakes, and helping turtles off the road. I’m grateful to have shared these experiences with the people I worked with.

In the end, it’s not just about the discussions you’re bound to have, good field crews are the people who jump into lakes with you, who share those embarrassing field mishaps, and most of all, who share your enthusiasm for a sometimes difficult, but always rewarding job.

'Catching' butterflies.
‘Catching’ butterflies.

A New Year, A New Challenge

I am usually not one to wait for a new year to declare a resolution. A large majority of New Year’s resolutions aren’t kept anyway. Maybe the goals are unrealistic or maybe it’s the lack of self-discipline. I think the idea is a little over-rated. Why wait for a new year to do something you wish you were already doing?

I know that if I feel very strongly about something that itself inspires me to challenge myself to adopt better habits for a period of time, and it usually sticks long term. For example, during my undergrad I read an article about how inefficient large scale meat production is and decided I was going to try out being a vegetarian and eight years later, I still am. A couple of years ago I decided to not buy anything new for a year. The rationale being there are a lot of things that I want, but there are not a lot of things that I need and if I really wanted something like clothes or a camera, I can find it second hand. By and large, it is still what I do today.

I’ll admit that some habits do not stick. Every day I tell myself: tomorrow I am going to wake up earlier and maybe clean the apartment or go to work earlier so I can come home earlier, but every morning I hit snooze… Maybe I am just not that passionate about waking up in the morning.

I do want to start a new habit and this happens to be a new year, so this is my New Year’s Resolution: write a monthly blog.

The reason why I want to write a monthly blog is to practice my writing skills. Now that I am out of school and writing is not a requirement, it is hard to stick with. Writing is important and it is a major way we communicate. Grad school is where I learned to appreciate writing, probably because I had more one on one guidance and after marking few undergraduate assignments, you learn to really appreciate that one student who proof-read their paper. Not to mention, virtually every employer is looking for someone with decent writing skills. It was never my favourite thing to do, but it is something I want to maintain. I hope that by writing a monthly blog, writing will get easier and maybe a little more fun over time.