July 19, 2012 Goodbye Toolik
Today is my last full day in the Arctic. Tomorrow will mark the 46th day I've been north of the Arctic Circle. It's really hard to believe that we've been here for more than 6 weeks already! The constant daylight, combined with an endless amount of things to do (work and play) makes the days run together. I've looked at my watch to determine the day of the week more than I've used it to determine the time of day. I've seen the lake thaw and the last remnants of snow leave the field station. I've seen the plants go from a dormant brown to a bright green, and a very few are showing the first signs of fall. Spring, summer, and fall seem to be squished into a little more than a 3 month span of time! That's part of what makes this such a unique place to conduct research.
I'm not sure that I can write effectively enough to convey what an experience this has been. I think I would do a better job writing about this after some time for reflection, but I would be remiss to not look back on my last day in the field. I've learned so much science, and got to know some of the most interesting people I have ever met. I've made a lot of new friends. I was part of a team that ended up being far more fun than I could have imagined. When you are isolated in a camp that is this remote, the other 80 people become your closest friends for that period of time. I'm proud to have been part of Team Spider, and I'm sure I'll keep in touch with Amanda and Kiki in years to come. It was a pleasure to work with such intelligent, hard-working, fun people! My experience as a member of Team Spider is something I will never forget, and I'm also grateful that Amanda encouraged me to get out in the field with other teams. I've caught fish, birds, squirrels, sampled soil, plucked tussocks, lugged gear in a helicopter… this experience has really been a science teacher's dream!
I was a bit introspective walking to breakfast realizing that my time here has come to a close, but the experience seems to have just begun. You get a lot of time to reflect in the field, and I'm sure my worldview has changed some. Our little world at Toolik is so secluded that you don't realize how much changes in the "real world" while you are gone. This has been a remarkable experience, but it's time to move forward. I have a few weeks of travel planned throughout the Kenai Peninsula, and I'll continue to blog about those adventures. Mostly I hope to soak up some nature and attempt to digest this experience. I'll then continue my transition back from Toolik to the "real world."
The work of researchers is very complex and can be extremely stressful, sometimes involving very long hours and months away from friends and family. Aside from that, life itself is really simple here. A good friend who has spent some time in the field reminded me that "You're not living in reality when you're there." You don't have to shop, cook, wash dishes, go to the gas station, get mail, sit in traffic… You really don't have TV, cell phones don't work…. Eliminating those distractions enables researchers to focus on their work while up here for limited times and at high costs. Eliminating those same distractions also simplifies life in a way that seems otherwise impossible. It has been an absolute privilege to live and work in such a unique place.
“The hardest thing in the world is to simplify your life. It’s so easy to make it complex. What’s important is leading an examined life.” - Yvon Chouinard
"A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone." - Henry David Thoreau