“Have a good trip! How’s the trip going? How was the trip?” These are things people say to me before, during, and after fieldwork trips. I go into the field to collect insects. I do this because that’s where a lot of my research data comes from. So, over the past couple of days, as I wind up my sixth summer of arctic fieldwork, I’ve been thinking that all my answers to all those questions are always “good” (or some superlative flavour of good, usually something along the lines of “great” or “11 out of 10” or “I’m not coming home”).
But yesterday as I was driving south from Dawson City bound for Whitehorse, I was thinking about what does make a good collecting trip good, and I realized that, for me at least, it’s the conjunction of many little pieces. So here, without further preamble or disclaimer, and in no particular order except for the first one, is my list of some of the things that make a good collecting trip good for me.
• We collect surprising insects in places I didn’t expect to find them (good collecting is, after all, the main purpose of doing this fieldwork in the first place!)
• Replicated samples are successfully gathered in numbers suitable for the appropriate analyses.
• None of the collecting nets or traps are destroyed by bears, muskox, dogs, ravens, rose bushes, falling trees, off-road vehicles, or other non-demonic intrusions (except where we have brought extras of the low-cost ones, thereby making me seem like a brilliant planner).
• Neither the first-aid kit nor the bear spray are used.
• On the Opening Grocery Expedition, we buy enough food, but not too much food. And everybody has a say in, and agrees on, what food we buy.
• The food is good and healthy and fresh and never so repetitive that rumours of mutiny are heard.
• The music we bring is good and varied and never so repetitive that rumours of mutiny are heard.
• Everybody works hard, but not so hard that we miss out on chances to explore natural history, cultural history and the sheer joy of being in a special place.
• All the field guides we bring are used, but we don’t regret not having any that we didn’t bring.
• I learn some new things about the natural history or cultural history of the place that I didn’t know before the trip.
• We meet interesting people along the road. All sorts of people. Some are curious about our work and want to know more.
• Nobody bickers with anybody else. But if we do, it is defused quickly, then we’re all OK again.
• Nobody is the Big Boss, and nobody is an underling. We’re a Team.
• There is ice cream.