The things we carry for fieldwork

The experience of field ecology is not as glamorous as one might imagine. Fieldwork is mostly about carrying heavy things into and out of the forest. Curiosity, brilliance, creativity – they are are present, but far less important than sweat and sometimes blood and very rarely tears. Here are a few examples from Malaysia.

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Some days are easy – just a light backpack with a notebook, water and a snack.

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Other days are harder. Here we are with three gas analyzers, one spectrometer, three tripods, three coolers full of ice, five car batteries, and one computer.

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Our vehicle can take for a short way. But in the end, it all goes up into the forest through muddy paths on shoulders and backs.

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Some days we carry things out of the forest – here, a Macaranga branch destined for segmentation in our field camp.

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Its leaves will be carried back through the forest and into our vehicle –

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– and ultimately, with the rest of our gear, back into our field lab. On rainy days the leaves can double as umbrellas.

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Some days we carry unintended things, like this leech – a major component of the ‘blood’ part of fieldwork.

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Other days we carry equipment for our lab.

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And other days we just carry rocks.

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It is hard work. But the work is worthwhile. It acquires merit through its challenges. I come to love and understand the forest more deeply through suffering in it. And I appreciate our data ever more when I understand its price.

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But sometimes a rest is nice too.

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