Field work can be fun and rewarding, but it does have its challenges. My colleagues and I have endured many unfortunate events while traipsing about the wilder parts of Ontario. Bug bites, falling trees, unplanned pond and cave entries, thunderstorms, borderline hypothermia, skunk sprays and pulled groins are just some of the troubles we have faced.
Last weekend, on a queensnake survey in Bruce Peninsula National Park (BPNP), we ran into more trouble in the form of a 5,000 pound canoe.
Tanya Pulfer, conservation science manager, and I planned to search for the endangered queensnake along the shorelines in the Bruce Peninsula National Park and had borrowed Park Canada’s canoe. Our backs ached as we lugged this beast down an unmarked portage route, hauling it over fallen trees, while tripping on roots and rocks. When we finally reached our river destination, the water level was so low that it appeared as a thin ribbon surrounded by thick mats of aquatic vegetation.
We threw the canoe down in frustration and uttered a few obscenities. But realizing we had no other option, we mustered as much mental and physical strength as we could and began pushing the canoe over floating vegetation, ever fearful of puncturing the mats and ending up shoulder deep in muck. When we finally reached the trickle of a river, our fear was realized. It was too narrow for paddles. We had to propel the canoe forward by grabbing clumps of vegetation and pulling ourselves forward, as demonstrated here by Tanya.
We persevered – what choice did we have? – and can now laugh at the sticky situation we found ourselves in a mere five days ago. After all that, we didn’t even find any snakes. We did collect some valuable habitat data, but when you slog into a site you really want to find your target species!
As you can see, field work isn’t always rainbows, sunshine and cute animals. In fact, much of the time it is wet, buggy and gruelling. After years of working outside and enduring a multitude of misfortunes, Tanya and I have compiled a list of coping mechanisms:
Cry. Just let it all out. You’ll feel a lot better.
Scream. This also helps release frustration.
Eat anything. (Especially your feelings.)
Drink water. Maybe the blind rage you’re feeling is just dehydration.
Laugh. It takes away the pain.
Remember why you are doing this work.
We put ourselves into these sorts of uncomfortable situations again and again to collect important data that will help inform conservation. This is what motivates us to push the canoe forward instead of turning around and leaving it to sink in the swamp. We really must love our jobs.
Megan Anevich was Ontario Nature’s nature reserves coordinator. She spent plenty of time at the reserves leading stewardship activities, looking for critters and falling into wetlands.