Ten days on the tundra. This was an experience I never imagined that I would have but thanks to my involvement on a science research project at Colorado State University and my amazing boss, I was given this opportunity of a lifetime. There is something special about bringing a group of strangers together for a common purpose, getting to know these folks in ways we would not otherwise know them had we not been together in one of the most remote places in North America, and making connections with each other and our work that will continue long after we have separated.
For me, this trip did more than allow me to worry non-stop about the 8 teachers who travelled and worked with us on the pluck. It allowed me to learn some things about myself.
#1. I am not used to other people taking care of me. When I was injured and could not carry my own bags, everyone helped me and watched out for me. I felt like I had 11 parents all there to make sure I was taking care of myself and being safe. This was amazing to me and very difficult as I am usually the one caring for others. I learned that it is okay to let others give a hand, even if I do feel helpless and kind of like a wimp.
#2. Field work and learning are my passions. I spend most days sitting in an office at a computer helping to manage people and projects, which I am generally happy doing. I feel that I do this well and for now it is a good thing for me. Being back in a lab with my hands in the soil, out on the tundra learning new research methods, and being immersed in a natural environment, brought more life back into my life. At Toolik I felt like I was where I should be, with people I belong with, doing what matters the most to me. It was here that I felt connected to people and my surroundings, as part of a community and as a piece of the ecosystem.
#3. There is no substitute for experience. You can read all you want about doing something, study my blogs and listen to the stories others tell about their experiences, and convince yourself that you know what it is all about so there is no reason to go do it yourself. But until you are watching a herd of caribou stepping clumsily around tundra tussocks, watching a sun that doesn’t set, or feeling the weightlessness of a lichen between your finger-tips, you don’t know. Until you are gazing across the biggest landscape you can imagine, getting a twinge of fear that makes you so dizzy that you want to puke because you realize how insignificant and yet how powerful you are, and trying to come to terms with this, you don’t know. It changes you in a deep and profound way that I cannot even attempt to put into words.
This journey is now a part of me. From the very beginning it has been shaping me, giving me new perspectives, understanding, and meaning.
THANK YOU to everyone who was involved: John M., Laura G., Gus S., Dave S., Mary H., Brad B., Aki K., Greg S., Mary G., Marty B., Lisa W., Jasmin C., and David W. Special thanks to Rachel who shares my love of running and to Gretchen for being the best washer tournament partner. And lastly, a shout out to Tim from Purdue who asked for some of my moon and mountain photos, which made me feel like I do actually know how to operate a camera!