CHS Blog

Fieldwork Reflections

December 17, 2022
Briar Hunter, MSc Candidate, Laurentian University

There is something glorious in the midst of, or perhaps on account of, the unglamorous nature of field work. Entering wild spaces to seek and observe reptiles and amphibians in their natural environment is both delicate and harsh.

The glimpse of coiled scales beneath juniper boughs, soaking in dappled sunlight, causes my breath to catch. I step more carefully, quietly acknowledging the delicate balance of peace in this place. A moment later the sound of a low rattle reminds me how unforgiving nature can be to those who do not respect it.

Moments later I am struck by the gracefulness of a small turtle head making its way to air, breaking the surface yet remaining one with the water.

The distraction of yet another deerfly landing inside the brim of my hat fills my vision, taunting me with the buzz of a thousand more still swirling around my head. I focus my attention back on the turtle before me, subconsciously aware of the gentle cushion of the bog mat beneath me as I take another step forward. The moss absorbs my feet with a peppy bounce, until, too late, I realize this embrace is not as welcoming as I supposed. My feet sink deeper and faster until the bog mat seems to pull some hidden lever, removing all support, and I am plunged into the water below. Mercifully, the moss around me holds under my flailing arms, almost mocking in its support as my legs dangle without purchase. The turtle has disappeared.

Field work is both surreal and stressful.

Boat days were boat days.

The ride in was a fast and fresh way to start long days of hiking and surveying for reptiles. When it started to get cold, however, boat days became less refreshing and more freezing.

On this particular morning, however, I hardly noticed the bite of the wind on the boat ride in because I was caught up in euphoria at the beauty surrounding me. The river was still and silent, truly epitomizing the phrase “clear as glass” as it reflected everything in its grasp. The sun was rising, pushing the fog delicately away from us as we approached—like a playful game of tag. The trees on either side seemed an extension of the sunrise through their vibrant autumn colours. The towering rock barrens, like a canvas, welcomed the creative flourish of each lichen and moss spreading over their surface.

In that moment I wished I were an artist. That I could somehow capture this image and freeze it in a worthy manner. Alas I am not. I am, however, a biologist. And as a biologist I realized I have my own unique manner of experiencing and appreciating the beauty around me. Sitting on that boat I realized while gazing upon the rocks, I was naming each shrub, moss, and lichen I recognized. Inwardly calling out their Latin names, a truer identity, gave me greater scope and understanding of the magnitude of life teeming over this landscape. It was more than just a backdrop. It was a relational and intimate experience, enhanced by the knowledge that my team was on the boat with me, sharing in the moment.

It was my last morning boat ride, and it was glorious.