Working on the Beach (updated).

My exit from Craftsbury was abrupt, much more abrupt than I meant it to be. After looking for jobs for the month-and-a-half after I decided to leave the Green Racing Project, with little success, I had decided to move back in with my parents for the spring while I continued to search for employment.

Then, my life took a U-turn. On a Friday, I applied for a research technician job with the University of Florida. I was interviewed over the phone the next day and by Monday had a job offer. I had less than a week to tie up loose ends in Craftsbury and move out, and then I drove down to Florida.

(And for the haters: the 1998 4-Runner got 22 miles per gallon, on average, over the course of the more than 1,400 miles I drove. Not so bad.)

So here I am, working on the beach in Navarre, Florida, studying the Santa Rosa beach mouse.

Every day we leave our cars at the Navarre Beach State Park and walk fifteen minutes along the beach until we come to our first field site. At 7:15, it’s a beautiful walk: it’s still cool and breezy, the sun is still rising, and the morning light is soft and pink. I drink my Earl Grey as we stroll but the surroundings are more than enough to jolt me awake.

Work so far is pretty much manual labor, but then again, fieldwork often is. Theoretically, we are looking at the foraging behavior of beach mice. Practically, we spend eight hours each day planting experimental plots of broom sedge in the sand.

My boss is awesome – she served in the Peace Corps after college and her last batch of fieldwork was in Bolivia. I am lucky to be working for someone who is happy to discuss the particulars of the study with me, and to explain how she selected an experimental design and all the nuances of what we are doing.

That interaction and education always makes it worthwhile to provide the legwork on a study like this. I’m not treated like a nobody; I’m treated like someone who also has a stake in whether the research works out. As such, I’m privy to a lot of the details.

Plus, we have to talk about something while we’re planting all that broom sedge.

Another fun part of the job is that our free housing is in a FEMA trailer in a trailer park. It still has its official U.S. Government plates on it, leading our neighbors to joke that we work for the CIA. Nope. We’re just beach mouse workers, hoping not to suffer from the formaldehyde that supposedly plagues these trailers. We spend a lot of time sitting at our picnic table outside.

So: it’s a pretty drastic change from New England. Exactly a week ago, I was skiing with Jennie Brentrup at Oak Hill. Now I’m watching people waterski as I work. Wow.

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