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!


  1. Gorgeous Mac! Thanks for sharing, I LOVE what you are doing!!! ~Lisa Jackson

  2. Awesome video Mac! Really cool work.

  3. U need to write a book sell the rights to a movie series and well then create a foundation to fund further studies just don't make any embarrassing videos to undermine your credibility Okay

    another gainesville mom