Once upon a time, during field season, I tried to keep up with the blog and that\’s all I managed:
It is strange to think that a couple of months ago I was stressing to death about fly butts as I am walking through a forest and my only current worry is whether the clouds hiding the sun are innocent fluffy white clouds or the grey bearers of a thunderstorm.
Admittedly, it was the latter, but who cares – I finalised my \’pulling bears out of fly bottoms\’ technique in the lab and I am writing this from the foot of a Greek mountain! I know my lab expertise is nothing to be proud of, but, damn, it was glorious! I doubt that anyone has ever been happier about the contents of a fly abdomen (but if you can prove me wrong, please get in touch. You and I need to have a chat).
At the end of July turned again into a field scientist! I cannot begin to explain how happy working outdoors makes me. This is the part of my work I truly love and feel confident doing. Being that I\’ve been feeling as capable at lab work as a leopard seal is at eating with chopsticks, this is pretty great news.
It is becoming clear that a PhD is a mini journey full of waves, perfectly reflecting life. Sometimes you are up, sometimes you are down.
Have you ever played with the waves on the seashore? I did that a lot as a kid. As long as it\’s on your terms, you are happy to dive in and get splashed, but then, for a second, you are not paying enough attention and one just smacks you in the face and before you know it, your nose is full of water. And as you are trying to convince yourself that a tiny bit of salt up your nose will not be the end of you, a second one hits you… and a third one… Suddenly you forget that it was a fun game in the first place and that you have been playing in shallow water all along. Your feet can still touch the ground, but somehow drowning looks like the only possible end to this story.
Wait a minute! Complete and total annihilation was never on the cards.
How embarrassing that would be? \”She was a good girl… She died doing what she loved, but forgetting that she could straighten her legs and just breathe.\”
Surfacing and finding a ground to stand on amongst the waves marks the moment when all the problems start being solved. Most of my PhD journey so far has had very little to do with solutions, but a lot more with finding the courage and energy to try again and try harder.
Once I was confident with my primers and the lab techniques, I got the ok to return to my field site for more data collection.
I have never packed a bag faster.
Fieldwork is home for me. In both senses of the word: conceptually, it is something I love doing so much, it truly makes me feel at peace. But it is also where my family home is, so I get to return to my siblings and the youth centre we run, The Children\’s Orchard. There I was, back to my beautiful, tiny village, with the GPS handheld and fly traps ready! But this time something was different – I had help. Alex and Steffi, my two brilliant field assistants came into my life, home and research maze and made all the difference!
I have no words to describe the gratitude I have for them. Their help made fieldwork truly fun and productive. I now know that Alex can drive a Lada Niva like a 4×4 ninja, Steffi… not so much! Steffi channelled an indescribable love for goats, even though they blocked the mountain roads and we had to wait for ages for them to move so we can drive away. Alex is an aspiring wildlife photographer (and also took pretty amazing pictures of Kiki, my fat puppy fluff). Steffi connected with the girls at the youth centre through teenager music, glitter and general mermaid demeanour! Alex, through volleyball, Harry Potter and a ridiculous set of pyjama bottoms. Steffi tried out volley – it probably isn\’t her thing!
And the magic that glued us all together, the steamy piles of bear poop, came in all shapes and forms, making me a very happy field lady.
We nailed it. Thank you for everything my dear bear assistants.
As I am writing this, Alex and Steffi are attending induction classes for a Masters course in Advanced Wildlife Conservation Science. I hope that the bear (poop) hunting and fly trapping and all the crazy adventures in the land of the bears inspired them to learn more and conduct their own research. Good luck my wonderful sidekicks!
I could go on about the field for hours. I will go on about the field for hours, but perhaps in future posts.
Aside from the fieldwork success, this summer was not easy. I made changes in my personal life I never wanted to make and learned a lot about standing on my own two feet and trying to solve the big and the scary. The stress has been piling up and I am finding it difficult to manage it all, but I am learning.
However, this blog is not the space for personal drama! The shit discussed here are meant to be literal, animal shit and not messy human theoretical piles of dung. Many went through the stresses of PhDs before me and many will do so too after me. And it will all be ok.
I aim to write about each of the techniques I used, with photos and other interesting material in future posts. I will also tell you more about Kiki, the puppy that came to our family this summer. Her and Haku, the rescue Alsatian cross, followed me on many mountain adventures and brightened every single day. Kiki was abandoned outside the fence of our house before she was even weened and Bert and Samantha took care of her until I arrived. Sadly, it is very common in Greece for pets and even whole litters to get abandoned. Kiki was one of those lucky animals to be found by a family that cares for her and she is loved to a ridiculous degree. She was named after Kiki\’s Delivery Service, for obvious reasons.
I shall be back for more field talk soon. I leave you with the beauty of the mountains and forests of North Greece.