Warning: Image of dead cow and descriptive language below.
Field work presents all sorts of challenges, and if you've read some job postings, I'm sure you've noticed that many require a good sense of humor. Sometimes the work can be frustrating, painful, or just really gross. I've found there is absolutely no sense getting worked up over it and laughing is a much better way to deal with the problem.
I haven't always followed this advice, such as when a spider somehow got into the battery compartment of the trail camera and decided to build a web and attach an egg sac. This is something I should have laughed at because of the absurdity of the situation, but instead I got frustrated and decided I didn't want to deal with it. Of course, this made the situation much worse, not only for me, but also for the other intern who now had to deal with the spider and me, who had just made the situation worse.
That situation could have been funny if I had decided to take a breath and laugh instead of
getting annoyed. Luckily for me, I found that I often did laugh during situations that did not involve spiders hanging out where I needed to put my hands.
Everything involving carcasses became hilarious to me. I hope this isn't taken as disrespect towards the deceased animals, but laughing really was the only way that I, a life-long vegetarian, could deal with dragging around dead baby cows. If it makes you feel any better, these cows came almost entirely from organic dairy farms where the calves died naturally, usually during birth. I don't know how the rats and rabbits died, so we'll just move on . . .
California Condors usually eat the tongue and eyes first. They then go on to enter the oral or anal cavity to access those juicy organs. Condors have strong, sharp bills and often rip open the torso for better access. You know a happy condor when you see them pull their head out of a cow, their young black head feathers tinted red, and hold their wings slightly open while they do a happy hop around the carcass. I'm sure you can tell how used to this sight I am by the ease I write about it. The night after I placed my first calf carcass in Big Sur, I cried, but after six months, I can assure you that it no longer bothered me.
On one particular night, the batteries in the trail camera needed to be changed. We had put a cow on the slope the night before, and because it had been cold that day, the condors were only able to access the eyes and tongue. As you can see, the cow is still sitting with its head raised, just as it had been frozen weeks prior. I made the photo less graphic by drawing in a happy smile and some new eyes. This could have been horrific, but instead we chose to laugh, because it seemed like the better option.
The cabin is powered by solar power and propane. This meant that it was just like camping when the power decided not to work. When the propane ran out, it meant no heater, all food was cooked in a toaster oven or on the grill, and freezing showers were avoided for probably an unhygienic amount of time. All of this was a pain and could have led to some frustrating days, but instead, we found it quite funny.
The photo to the right is of me eating cold, leftover french fries in the dark with my headlamp set to red light. It was freezing and I wore a fleece jacket and had a blanket. It was a difficult night as we attempted to watch a film, switching to the other's laptop when the first ran out of charge. A picture was taken to document the ridiculous night.
I took the photo below after about four days of not showering. As you can see, I'm wearing a thermal shirt under a knit sweater. It was cold, and I really didn't want to take a shower in freezing cold water. As you can tell by my hair and expression, I felt disgusting but tried to keep my spirits up. If I recall correctly, I braved the cold and took a shower the next morning.
I think I laughed throughout my month in Costa Rica. It was full of absurd situations from waking at 4am to track Capuchins, to being peed on by a monkey, to batting hundreds of cobwebs out of the way while hiking the trails, to being completely stuck in the mud. It was an amazing experience and was only made great because the mental and physical difficulties were made hilarious by laughing at them as a group. Even having to take Imodium because I ate some poorly cleaned lettuce became hilarious because an outside toilet with no roof can be nothing but funny in that situation. The point I'm attempting to make is that field work is truly difficult. Laughing at yourself and the situation makes coping for yourself and those around you much, much easier. You can choose to cry and become stressed or you can laugh. If you choose the latter, you'll have a hilarious story to tell your loved ones when you return home.
This is a photo of a friend and classmate ankle-deep on a trail in the rainforest. Remember to wiggle your foot back and forth before each step, otherwise your boot will be left behind and you'll risk stepping in mud with only a sock on.
P.S. Monkey urine smells worse than cat pee, and doesn't really wash out.