I am told that my soul suffers every winter- I don’t think I’ve ever denied that. But now as I look out the window and see the veneer of snow with frozen dirt peeking through, thermometer reading a high for the day of 17°F, I reflect that my resolution for the year was to be more positive. So: I am warm inside the house, my bed is super warm, soft, and snuggly at night, I am not in a broken tent*, and I think my family did miss me when I was sunning myself in Florida. On a super positive note I have successfully spent one whole month of winter below 30° of latitude** (Mexico to visit family in December and then Florida for the J-term). Continuing the positivity, a group of 13 Earlhamites (12 students and myself) left on Jan. 4th and all returned on the 21st after 4000 miles of travel (healthy, though stinky). That is how I usually define a successful fieldtrip- returning from adventure with life and limbs intact. In our case, though, we were also all much richer – in experience, community, and of course, natural history. On this trip there were many firsts for members of the group- from seeing many ‘lifer’ species, to going on a rope swing into a gator-infested clear blue spring (ok, gator-present but not visible), to chumming for sharks in kayaks with 16 freshly fileted mullet corpses, to seeing an owl poop, to pooping in the woods (sadly not with the owl), to nearly being capsized by a giant stingray, to tracking a Florida panther (one of only ~200 in the wild!!!), to….

As the de facto person in charge of the trip it is my honor to say how awesome this group was. Unbidden, this same message was repeated to me by many independent parties throughout the trip, though my favorite was when they were referred to as ‘well behaved kids’. I really could not have asked for a better group. I learned volumes from them and admire them – they are much better students than I will ever be. Most of all, they were very good at tolerating and at times embracing my ‘leadership style’, which was likened to benign dictator.

Usually on trips like this there is something that throws a wrench in the gears. That is, despite planning and anticipation, there is always something unanticipated like bad weather, injury, sickness, car trouble, malaise, anguish, fire ants, etc. Other than fire ants, we were trouble free…and with the fire ants we gave as good as we received, so touché. Repeating, everything went exactly as planned! Even the bit of rain we had brought great things- like crocs, manatees, and heaps of wading birds (at someone else’s underwater campsite). Just to be clear, the crocs and manatees were at the docks, the birds were at the flooded campsite.

In conclusion, thank you to all of the students, alums, friends, and strangers that supported this trip. Especially thanks to the alums who have donated in the past so that we can offer programs like this without transferring additional burdens onto the students.

By Chris Smith, Associate Professor of Biology at Earlham

*One of my tent poles broke after week one and the other pole snapped in the second week – my dome tent became an unstable teepee.
**Being able to escape midwestern winters by doing research in the (sub)tropics was what initially made the Midwest seem habitable --- that was the offer by my PhD adviser at Illinois now 20 years ago. I haven’t managed to escape the winter too many times.

Posted on January 25, 2022 09:51 PM by crsmithant crsmithant


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