Washington sunsets.

I woke up early on Wednesday morning, cooked up some oatmeal, and threw it in a tupperware container before climbing in the car at 5:30 with my coworkers to drive up to Washington.

One of our three field sites is between Tenino and Rainier, and we go up there once every week or two. Sometimes, we bring as many people as we can find and try to get all of our fieldwork done in one day. It’s a long day, but when we get back at 8 or 9 p.m. we can crawl into our own beds and recuperate.

Other times, though, people or busy or there is simply too much work. And so Tim, Sean and I brought our camping gear and prepared ourselves for a night in the field.

Wednesday was hot and as we worked we became quieter and quieter, trying to minimize our energy and to not take our discomfort out on each other. We clipped biomass and measured plant after plant. At about four in the afternoon – after we’d been on the clock for almost eleven hours – Sean and I discovered that we had made a big mistake and had to try to fix it as we measured our next cohort of plants. It took some intense focus and reorganizing our brains. Then we discovered that the correction we had made was the opposite of the one we should have made. Start over again. We knew we each had only a few plants left to measure but my brainpower and patience was seriously fading. When we finished that cohort, we were done for the day, unable to imagine checking the basal area of even one more Microseris laciniata.

Luckily, by then it was cooling down. We headed into town and Sean bought some bread and peanut butter at the grocery store while Tim picked up takeout Chinese. We drove to a state park and ate our dinners at a mossy picnic table amidst the tall, quiet trees overlooking a deep lake. Ah. Peace and quiet. And shade.

When we got back to the site and each cracked open a beer, the temperature was quite manageable. I even put on a sweater when I headed out into the prairie of the Nature Conservancy preserve. It was a beautiful evening and I was in a beautiful place, and most excitingly, my 12-hour workday was over.

When I got back to the site, Sean asked whether I had seen Mount Rainier.

“No,” I replied. “The trees were in the way.”

He implied that I simply hadn’t walked far enough “around the corner” and so we headed off together, me insisting that the corner did not exist and we couldn’t see the giant mountain, and Sean protesting that I was wrong.

We never did find the mountain, which we only saw on the road driving to the site. But we did get to revel in dusky savannah, which was enough. The moon rose and the cows stopped lowing. We headed back to the sites, where we still had work to do that night, under the cover of darkness and in the absence of the daytime wind.

Thursday dawned foggy and cold. The sun came out at about 2:30. We were tired from working the night before and knew there was no way we were going to make it through all of the plants we were supposed to measure. Even a trip to the Giddyup Coffee Corral in Tenino, where I very uncharacteristically bought an espresso drink called a “nutty pony” (it was delicious) couldn’t change the fact that we were going to leave five cohorts of unmeasured plants for the next trip. While Tim mowed around the site with the push mower, Sean and I dictated measurements to each other. Plot 38. Nail B7. Pink Pin. Two leaves. Basal area 27 x 14 mm. Unassisted height 54 mm. Longest leaf 87 x 2 mm. No flowers. 30 mm SW of the nail. Repeat.

By the time we were driving home we were cranky and sick of each other. To make matters worse, we got stuck in Portland traffic. When I arrived back on Grant Street at 7:30 that night, I couldn’t be more relieved to have the house to myself and to take a shower. But even though work had been hard and it was unsatisfying not to check more tasks off of our list, I still had the memories – and pictures – of a beautiful night on the prairie, so the trip was worthwhile anyway.


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