11 June, 2002
Day five survived. Although it was a great day of exploring again, I am going to talk about some of the not so great things associated with field work on the arctic tundra (beyond attempting to do computer work in a tent).
First, let's talk about personal hygiene. I am definitely the rookie in camp, and one thing I notice is that they are much more comfortable being dirty than I am. Yesterday, I thought I really needed to clean up, so I had a bath from a small basin. To do this, I heated some water, poured it into the tub (which also serves as our tub to wash dishes in), carried it to my tent, then systematically cleaned up. I had to think about what parts of the I would want to use the freshest water on and what parts of the body I would not want to reuse the water from. So, I started with my face and upper body, then washed my hair by holding my head out the tent door and above the tub (no rinse water, so I used just a little soap and then towel dried out the excess), then lower body with a soapy rag and ended with my feet in the tub while I was still sitting inside the tent. By the end of that, I had more of a workout than Jane Fonda has ever put anybody through! (and this is all done ! with outside temperatures of about 40 degrees)
Continuing with personal hygiene - how about relieving oneself of wastes? We do have a couple of choices - if it is urine, walk about anywhere and you are fine. For bowel activity, we do have a tall tent set up with a bucket inside. As it is a community bucket, I prefer to walk in backwards to avoid looking. When it is fairly full, (and I've done this already) we walk away from camp with the bucket and shovel, dig a hole, dump and bury.
Onto something better - how about getting water? Our camp is sitting on top of a hill with a variety of ponds and lakes surrounding. The bigger lake (named Zema Lake) is used for drinking water. We take turns walking down the hill and filling a 5 gallon bucket from the lake, then carry it back up to the group tent. The tent is about 40 yards uphill from the lake, so that too is a bit of a workout. We then use this water for drinking, cooking, washing, or whatever else water could be used for. We have even used it for some entertainment as we try to identify some of the small aquatic invertebrates we collect with the water. So far, we have copepods, amphipods (fairy shrimp), daphnia and I think a stonefly - and no we donāt filter these out!
Cooking - that is a little challenging as well. We have a small "freezer" dug into the ground about 15 yards from the group tent, and a small "refrigerator" dug in another place about 20 yards from the tent. So to cook a meal, we may have to go behind the tent, to the freezer, then to the fridge, down to get water, then back inside to balance pans, bowls and dishes on boxes, a small table and the coleman stove. It does take a little pre-planning!
Oh, and don't forget clothes. As we don't have a washer and dryer, clothes are used repeatedly (most will wear the same pants for the entire summer!) When we get back in to camp from walking around all day, we take our hipwaders and sit them upside down on stakes we've pounded into the ground so they can air and dry out. My clothes are usually a little damp, so today I hung my socks from the points on the caribou rack I found yesterday and hung my shirts and pants from the guy wires on my tent. We also built a bigger drying rack to hang bags and coats from. At some point, I will have to wash some of the clothes (or will at least want to). I'll fill you in on how that goes after my first attempt!
Now, onto the field work. As I've described in my last journals, we have been spending most of the days out just exploring so far. We now have a pretty good idea where the majority of King Eiders and Tundra Swans are hanging out in a 5 mile radius from camp. As we are walking around, we walk on some flat land near river beds, but since not many of our birds like that habitat we don't do that often. The majority of time is walking through the hummocks of the tundra or through the swamps and ponds of the marshes. I'm not sure which is better or worse - If I had just been walking on hummocks for the last 30 minutes or so, I am glad to find a swamp that needs crossing, and vice versa. Hummocks are challenging in that they wobble when you step on top of them. So, as you are getting tired, you may step on top of one with your right foot, wobble, step with your left foot across your right leg, wobble, and step back with your right foot across your left leg - you basically stum! ble your way across the land. The problem with swamps and ponds is the resistance - both the water and the sediment at the bottom pull at your legs so that each step requires about twice as much work as walking on a paved sidewalk. Also, hidden below the sediment in many ponds is the permafrost ice. About the time you think you're used to walking, you take a step and your boot slips forward and you are concentrating on staying upright! Through a combination of both terrains, Your feet - from the heel, to the sole to the toes - are twisted and spread in every direction. Your ankles either stretch or bend and your knees are in constant tension to avoid the wobbling. I have used muscles that long ago thought they had been put into a state of permanent retirement - and they are not liking the coming out party. Today, after about 6 miles, I got the worst muscle cramp in my inner thigh. I was about 2 miles from camp, so had no choice but to walk. It finally went away - yes,! I drank lots of water tonight to avoid the problem tomorrow!
There are many other challenges science from a field camp provides. Tomorrow Iāll tell you about a few of the "mistakes" I've already made and the methods we use to measure eggs/collect data when nests are found.
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