March 2, 2015
I took a trip up to Donegal last January, to download data from the Diver Level Loggers in my wells and sample the water in my dune slacks. I don’t generally get out much at that time of year, so leaving the car I was pretty optimistic. I had neoprene socks, waterproof ski trousers, five thermal layers on top, a Gore-Tex jacket and waders. I also had two large backpacks, a pump, a meter stick and a tablet computer. I set off to walk down the hill, across the valley and into the sand dunes, still optimistic, despite the fact that I was finding it a bit hard to move because I so trussed up in waterproofs and insulation.
Ten minutes later, things looked a little less rosy. Atlantic winds scoured the hillside, whipping up my tablet so it slapped me in the face repeatedly. Rain sheeted across the valley, finding chinks in my Gore-Tex and pooling in my ears. My hands were numb in my gloves and my centre of balance was way too high, causing me to teeter with each squall. My dune slack, which was raising white horses in the storm, was so full of water that I couldn’t even see one of my wells and the other was almost submerged. Undeterred, I donned my waders and walked three steps into the water; it reached my thighs, waves splashed into my waders, and I was still five meters from the visible well. I decided to leave the wells and take surface water samples. This was better, but it took a long time because of the wind blowing my samples away as I poured them from the measuring cylinder to the sample bottle. Or the sample bottle blew away. Or the lid blew away.
So, on my way back to the car, drenched, exhausted and carrying an extra seven kilos in samples, I got to thinking: why is fieldwork my absolute favourite part of this job? I was going to write a list of pros and cons, but then I realised that the pros are the cons, so it is just a list.
The sad thing is that the longer you are in the business, the harder it gets to spend a lot of time out in the field. As you become more experienced, you tend to take on more management tasks that keep you in the office. As we get older, most of us find that the demands of a full field season are not compatible with family life. This affects women more than men in Ireland, because men are not entitled to paid paternity leave. For me, this PhD might be something of a last hurrah, allowing me to take months at a time away from Dublin. So never mind my experience in January, all is forgiven. Roll on March and April, and bags full of beetles and snails.
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A small selection of our environmental equipment