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Lab Rats

March of the dirt people

What are your field colleagues really like?

Tom Mahony 7 September 2010

Exposed: the good, the bad and the ugly

Inhibitions tend to vanish when you’re picking ticks off someone’s ass

Field work teaches you a lot about a person. The joys and challenges of the outdoors amplify their underlying personality traits.

That’s not always a good thing.

Some people arrive in the field prepared for rattlesnakes, poison oak, sunburn – and quite possibly the Apocalypse. They’ll lace up the thickest boots you’ve ever seen, cover said boots with snake gaiters, lather on SPF 100 sunscreen, and shoulder a giant backpack stuffed with gear for every contingency. Others show up with little more than a field notebook and a good sense of direction. They’ll eschew the most rudimentary sun protection, shrug indifferently at the ticks marching up their legs, stick their hand down a rodent hole without the slightest hesitation, and sift through coyote scat like it contains a lost wedding ring.

Culinary habitats vary widely. Some people are quite civilized. They’ll bring a feast packed in tidy containers, utensils wrapped in napkins, and a plenitude of chemically-balanced thirst quencher. Before eating, they’ll search for a comfortable spot in the shade and cleanse their hands with antibacterial wipes. Others bring little more than a hunk of bread and a few swallows of tap water. They’ll work through lunch, stuffing their mouths irrespective of the mud and cow shit smeared across their fingers.

Work habits are also variable. Some people beat the brush, hard. Others avoid the brush, hard. Dawn patrollers arrive early, bring all necessary field gear, and get right down to business. Slackers arrive at the crack of noon, light on gear: there’s a high probability they’ll mooch a pen off of you. They don’t get right down to business so quickly. Sometimes they never do at all.

You never really know someone until you work with them in the field: inhibitions tend to vanish when you’re picking ticks off someone’s ass. It’s where friendships are born, where the occasional nemesis emerges. It’s where you learn things about a person you never thought you’d know.

That’s not always a good thing.