First days in the field

Wooden post on a farm field (Photo by Encinalens/Wikimedia Commons)

Wooden post on a farm field (Photo by Encinalens/Wikimedia Commons)

May 14, 2018 | by Amanda Tracey

I remember the day like it was yesterday. Eleven years ago, it was my first day in the field (ever) and I wanted so badly to not screw up. I wasn’t an outdoorsy person, I wasn’t good at working with my hands, I really wasn’t meant for field work. I was hired as a field technician in a plant ecology lab at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. Our first task was to install wooden posts at the corners of an abandoned farm field to mark the boundaries of field plots. Being totally unprepared and inexperienced, I picked up a mallet and a stake and started hammering. The ground was soft and the stake was easing into the ground like a knife through soft butter.

I thought to myself, “Well, this is easy…not nearly as hard as it looks.” It was so easy that as I confidently swung the hammer one final time with my right hand, my left hand, which was gripping the wooden stake, slid down its jagged edge.

I felt it immediately. I dropped the hammer onto the soft, green grass and my eyes moved to the palm of my hand. It stung and it throbbed, but there was no blood. After I was able to focus my eyes, I saw it: the biggest sliver I had ever seen, sticking out of my palm. The beast measured almost seven centimetres long (we really did measure it). After I nearly fainted, and once I sat down to rest, the crew helped me remove it from my hand. Clearly, I made quite the impression on my first day on the job!

Luckily, that was the worst injury I acquired for the entire field season. It did leave a pretty neat scar though!

Forest that attacked me on my first field day with NCC (Photo by NCC)

Forest that attacked me on my first field day with NCC (Photo by NCC)

Since finishing at Queen’s University in the fall, I have started a new adventure as a conservation biologist with the Nature Conservancy of Canada. I remember the day like it was yesterday. Ok…this time it almost was yesterday! It was my first day in the field in my new role, and I wanted so badly to not screw up. I was now a super outdoorsy person, I was pretty good with working with my hands, I received training in health and safety with NCC, and I was certainly meant for field work.

Climbing poison ivy present on NCC property (Photo by NCC)

Climbing poison ivy present on NCC property (Photo by NCC)

My first task was simply to tour and visit sites with my new boss, and get used to the properties I was going to manage. On one of the properties, we reached some thick brush in a red pine forest that was completely overrun with prickly ash. I was following the person in front of me a little too closely, when, wham, a branch of prickly ash swept into my face, slowed for a second as it tore through the skin of my nose and then settled along the right side of my body. Interestingly enough, I didn’t feel a thing. My nose didn’t throb or hurt at all. But then I felt it…a slight dripping feeling. Drip, drip, drip. I put my hand to my nose, and, indeed, it was bleeding. And pretty steadily. It took a few minutes for it to subside, but alas, I survived. However, I had absolutely no mark to prove it happened. It’s funny how things come full circle. Let’s hope that this was the most significant injury in my new adventure!

This post originally appeared on Dispatches from the Field and is reposted with permission.

Amanda Tracey

About the Author

Amanda Tracey recently finished a PhD at Queen’s University where she completed 10 field seasons at the Queen’s University Biological Station. She recently joined the Nature Conservancy of Canada team as the coordinator of conservation biology for Central Ontario East.

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