Fieldwork with two left feet
Barely six months ago, my hiking boots which had been sitting quietly in a forgotten corner of my home rarely saw the light of day. Now, it stands triumphantly on a shelf having collected numerous memorabilia from all its little adventures around the world. Its memorabilia include mud-stains on the laces from trudging around the Amazonian forest in French Guiana (where I attended a metabarcoding course), dried bunches of peat moss trapped inside the boots from bashing through the dense ground vegetation in Dividalen National Park, and numerous sediments wedged firmly under the soles from hiking in the oldest national park in Norway, Rondane National Park.
Having walked hundreds of kilometers in these boots, I can firmly attest to its ability to bring me to places that I could have never dreamt of. Even though sometimes I’m guilty of having two left feet which does not bode well for my boots (i.e. me tumbling down a slope or falling into rivers), my boots and I both agree that the only reason we are able to traverse across paradise-like landscapes is purely due to the subject that I’m studying, the western capercaillies.
Between myself and the western capercaillies, we have almost nothing in common. They are herbivores and I am strictly omnivorous. They are known for their unique courtship song and display whereas I have resigned myself to be a bathroom singer. They can occupy a range of up to 50 hectares without paying rent while I am confined to my small studio apartment 30m2 in size. Funny enough, if there’s one thing we have in common, it’s that we both share the same taste for scenic views.
While it is one thing to take a gondola up the Swiss Alps to enjoy a good view (which is what I’d prefer), it is quite another to crawl up a steep slope in the middle of a dense pine forest just to locate the preferred roosting site of the capercaillies. I can hike for hours on a relatively flat landscape looking for their faeces and there will almost never be any. The appearance of a steep slope in the middle of the forest would have most sane and normal people hiking around it. Well, tough luck if you’re a scientist looking for capercaillies’ faeces because more often than not, hiking up the slopes would result in a shitty find, literally.
‘Hunting for shit in paradise’ is quite a unique job description which is, unfortunately missing from the requirements of my project during the initial recruitment. However, after all this fieldwork, the list of skills that I’ve gained from my project that is going straight into my resume is professional shit hunter.