Sunday, November 21, 2010

Field Work

Erin Woods, Adam Chasey, and Michelle Robinson with gear before loading up the helicopter.

If Audubon at Tavernier Science Center were a religious organization, our patron saint would be Edward Murphy. Not the goofy king of blockbuster sequels, but the aerospace engineer famous for the phrase “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” We subscribe to this idiom as a way to cope with all the frustrations of field work. I have found that it’s much easier to blame the cruel and perverse universe for the failed engines, flat tires, lost boat plugs, silent alarm clocks, lightning storms, and the vulnerability of myself, my crew, and all of our equipment than to accept personal responsibility.

In fact, it’s a general rule of thumb that if you are comfortable while working in the Everglades, you’re probably not being very efficient. By the nature of our job, we are required to be constantly wet, overheated, sweaty, and bug-bitten; all during the early hours of sunrise. 

Cotton is certainly not the fabric of my life. Now I wear clothes with embedded bug repellent made from fibers that are SPF 50+ and fast-wicking so I don’t stay wet for more than 10 minutes in the Florida sun. My pants are tear-proof and can be buttoned to three quarter length or zipped off into shorts. My hat has pockets. That’s right, my clothes are complicated. What's worse, is that even my vocabulary has changed. For fear of offending my counterparts I wouldn't dare call a black vulture a buzzard, or a laughing gull a seagull, and the plants growing in the water I now must refer to as submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV). Oh, and I don't take sharp turns anymore, I negotiate them. 

We acknowledge the sacrifices required of getting to spend 10 hours working in one of the most wild places in the country. A few close calls with lightning storms or curious crocodiles seems like a small price to pay. In spite of the tough conditions, we find ways of enjoying ourselves. Recently, I've started a subtle mental terrorism campaign on my coworkers. When dropping them off at their sites, I will start humming or whistling an annoyingly catchy song just loud enough so it gets stuck in their heads for the whole day. I find Chumbawamba's hit single "Tubthumping" a powerful weapon in my arsenal.

Field work, with all its idiosyncrasies is difficult and demanding at times but the rewards are constant and overt. We traverse all kinds of environments and wilderness to get to our sites and I count on the fact that each day will be a new adventure with a new set of challenges. Just to give you an idea of what we go through, or rather, what we get to go through, I have compiled a video of outtakes from the field. Enjoy!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Beauty in the Chaos

Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park

Five years ago in the Ecuadorian amazon, I learned that rainforests were extremely hard places to photograph. Due to the mottled light patterns of a harsh sun, a dense understory, and an overwhelming abundance of life, it's difficult to extract the order from the disorder. Although we have no rainforests in Florida, the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park is as close as it gets to a visually chaotic landscape.

I met up with fellow Florida photographers John Moran, David Moynahan, and Paul Marcellini this weekend to undertake such an endeavor. All accomplished nature photographers, I figured with our powers combined we would come out with at least a few images worthy of the sweaty hours spent sloshing through the blackwater.

Photography is usually a lone venture. Most of us like it that way. But occasionally, it helps to be surrounded by others who share the same passion. It's also nice to know you're not the only one walking blindly through erie bodies of water holding hissing alligators and inconspicuous moccasins. "I'm not sure if it's power in numbers, or stupidity in numbers," as John put it so eloquently.

From left: John Moran, David Moynahan, and Paul Marcellini

For three days we shared ideas, techniques, body odors, and mosquito bites while exploring one of south Florida's gems. However daunting the task or thick the going, it is my greatest pleasure in life to constantly seek out the beauty in the chaos.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Everglades

As of today, it's been one year since I landed on this island. When I accepted the job with National Audubon back in October of 09, I was en route from having spent an unforgettable summer working in Wyoming. I loved life like a reckless child back in sagebrush country and I couldn't imagine leaving it behind. I didn't know if I was going to like the Florida Keys; I didn't know if it would speak to me the way the A Bar A Ranch had. It was a difficult transition to make with only weeks between kicking off my cowboy boots and trading them in for sandals. I can clearly say now, that my heart wasn't ready for the move for many reasons. The first month was tough - emotionally and physically. Slowly, the Keys took me in and the Everglades started working on me, wedging its way into a corner of my heart. One thing I've learned since coming here is that it takes time to develop a meaningful relationship. Love doesn't come easy and certainly not without its sacrifices and compromises. But, if our channels are open, we can receive the ultimate gift and reap the countless rewards of a love shared.

So, to an equally rewarding and inspired future, happy anniversary, Everglades.

The Everglades from Mac Stone on Vimeo.