Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Field Work De-mystified

I worked out in the field yesterday.


Doesn’t that statement, “I worked out in the field”, have an aura of romanticism about it? I fell short of mortgaging my unborn child in college in an attempt to gain "field experience". There seemed to me nothing cooler in life than to get a job where you got to play around outside all day instead of being cooped up inside an office. And it isn't just me. When applying to graduate schools and jobs, most biologists ask if there is “field work” involved, because that, people, is where the life is.


While field work definitely has its perks, there are considerable downsides, not the least of which is this: the complete lack of a convenient bathroom.






There is a paradox inherent in field work. When you are working hard outside in the sun, it is imperative that you hydrate. However, with hydration come certain needs. These needs require a certain facility (aka bathroom) of which there is always a severe shortage out in the middle of nowhere.


So, what do you do?


Your options are as follows:


1. You limit your liquid intake and risk a certain amount of dehydration.

2. You attempt to “hold it” until the next facility becomes available.

3. You bow to the inevitable and you go in the field in either:


A. A bucket, in which case you try not to fall in as the boat is weaving

B. In some sort of brush, while trying not to impale yourself on any branches while also trying not to attract attention to any bug that might be curious and attracted to your white, moony butt sticking out.

C. Or my personal favorite, you attempt to pee off the side of an idling boat.


Bowing to the inevitable is difficult under normal circumstances, but becomes extremely burdensome if you are inflicted with a case of “pee fright.” I have long been subjected to this particular condition. It takes me five times as long to do my business if 1) I am under a time restraint or 2) if I think someone is actually listening to me pee.


My worst field bathroom experience included both of those categories. I was working as a summer field technician for a marine lab. I was hired later in the summer than everyone else which meant that everyone else knew each other pretty well, and I was the odd person out. One day we were out on the water in the middle of the marsh for the entire day—like 12+ hours. I was doing a pretty good job of holding it (and not drinking any unnecessary liquid), but enough was enough and I had to go……bad. The boat was a small, motor boat, and there were about six of us on it, both guys and gals. The protocol while a boy was going to the bathroom was just to avert your eyes as he sauntered to the back of the boat, unzipped, and let it rip. For a girl’s bathroom break, the rest of the girls would form a half circle around the lady in question with our backs towards her as she stripped down to her knickers and sat precariously off the back of the boat.


Well my turn came. The semi-circle was formed. I pulled down my many, many layers, perched myself precariously over the side of the boat, and waited. And waited some more.


You see, 1) I really didn’t know these people, and I was uncomfortable sharing this experience with them. 2) It just wasn't conducive to go to the bathroom when you are worried about loosing your grip and falling into the water with your pants down. 3) People were waiting on me to do my business. Knowing that they were getting tired of waiting, of wondering “what in the world was taking so long”, made it even more difficult to just relax and let Mother Nature take her course. My pee fright was in full force! In the end, I succeeded and business resumed as normal, but oh! The memory!


Yesterday's experience (the inevitable search for a bathroom) wasn’t bad, but the inconvenience was still there—a constant reminder that all is not all fun and games when you are a field scientist.



The pictures have been shameless stolen without permission from my sister, N. It should be mentioned that N has had to experience more frightening bathroom experiences than I ever have, and (hopefully by all that is good, holy, and lovely) ever well.

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