Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Field work

Just spent two weeks in a major change of pace: was out doing tree-ring dating for a project of Greg's. Greg, who stayed behind and had to teach, held up the home front remarkably well, and, thanks to friends and play dates, the kids seem none the worse for wear.

I went out to Southeastern Colorado with Vanessa, a friend and dendrochronologist (tree ring dating expert) from Oxford. Traveling with Vanessa was easy. Logistics were a breeze with someone who is well able to think ahead and take care of themselves, not to mention has a interesting life and keen sense of people. I learned many things, but primary among them, the following:

I should avoid poison ivy at all costs. The itches are bad enough, but then there is the threat of infection, which reared its ugly head until I fought it off. And I have been plagued with series of freak-out skin rashes ever since. My skin just doesn’t get it that this plant is not a threat. It gets fooled every time.

Tecnu is my friend. Greg says he thought it was developed by the army to decontaminate people who had been irradiated. And yes, it is some kind of potent, noxious solvent. But it offered hope and respite when things were looking grim on the poison ivy front.

I like being out doors. We saw no other people in the field, but lots of wildlife. I was excited to spend the days in these dry, grassy arroyos. The occasional break with a trip to the store was also nice. I liked the balance of peace and quiet and activity. Who knew Safeway could be so exciting? Who knew how enchanting an empty plain could be?

I like taking care of only myself. Wow, hard to imagine doing that for a whole week. A non issue, really. Nothing more to say about that.

I like using my brain. I realized how bored out of my mind I am by the daily grind. No wonder the thought of cleaning the kitchen is usually accompanied by an overwhelming urge to lie on the sofa. I might be lazy, but I'm also bored. Much more fun to puzzle out a project, think about how the world works, and, with Vanessa’s help and guidance, find ways to coax the trees' life history out of them. What have they seen? What they've been through? What dramatic events have taken place in this seemingly placid place? "Reading" the landscape in this way with all your senses is a most enjoyable kind of puzzle.

The army is hugely complex and more interesting and diverse than I knew. Many good, public-works type projects come under the army umbrella of funding that have nothing to do with combat. When told by someone that they suspected I did not like the army, I should have replied that I didn’t know very much about the army. Instead, I said, “You think that because I am from Boulder?” Guess it is not hard to put two and two together.

While it is polite to accept an MRE (meal ready to eat) and interesting to see the way they are heated, they cannot compare to the excellent sandwiches we had for lunch.

I learned that people can be charming as acquaintances, but potentially maddening if you are related to them. It's the same, I think, with countries. They can be charming when you are a visitor or living there as a foreigner. But if it is your county, it can be terribly embarrassing.

I miss the days when Greg and I would do field work together. I now have a new goal of figuring out a way to make that work. If not now, in the near future. Maybe we'll just have to take it in small doses for a while, until the kids get older. I think they could handle being out in the field with us for a day or two at a time.