October has been a very busy month. Not only have I been spending a lot of time teaching and taking classes, I am actively working on data analysis from my spring field season. Since I am sitting in my office with a light sweater, and aware that the leaves are starting to turn colors, I thought this would be the perfect time to reflect on my experiences in the field.
Let's start out with a brief history lesson: Alexander Motten and Diane Campbell, both graduate students at Duke University in the late 1970s, studied the spring ephemeral community in Duke Forest. They recorded when flowers started blooming, their most common pollinators, and much more. In addition to carefully documenting what the forest flowering community looked like, they conducted experiments to understand how plants interact with one another.
Why did you get this history lesson? Well, I am using much of the information that Drs. Motten and Campbell collected during their dissertation to begin my own work. I want to know how these flowering communities have changed over time, and using historical community studies is perhaps a way to do this. Last fall, I was set to begin my field work in the spring, but there were just a few hurdles to overcome. One of them was tricky, GPS was not available as it is today, and therefore, how would I ever find their old research sites?
Dr. Motten is an Associate Professor of the Practice at Duke University, and was thrilled to take me to his old research sites. We jumped in the car one rainy afternoon and drove to Duke Forest, which is only 15 minutes form the university. We drove along a road for a few miles and without any warning or noticeable sign, Dr. Motten exclaimed, "Here it is!" We got out of the car and walked for some time. My notes from that day read, "Make a left at the green rock, then turn right at the red colored log." I was worried that I might not be able to get myself back to those sites again, so I went back the very next day to try and retrace my steps. It took me a few hours, but I came upon the places that Dr. Motten and I marked the day before. It looked as though this field season was off to a start.
I prepared for the day that I would go out with Dr. Motten to his old sites for a few months by carefully reading all of their articles, researching the plants online so I could identify them, and making sure that I had all of the materials that I would need. The afternoon that I spent with Dr. Motten at his research sites provided so much more than all of the preparation combined. Hearing stories about his field mishaps, learning about his personal observations that have not been recorded, and spending the day with someone who so clearly enjoyed their work provided me with the energy and excitement that I would need for the rest of my season.
Although my first field season may have not been my best, I am looking forward to learning from my mistakes and stepping out in Duke Forest in a few months. I now know how to identify the plants and pollinators, and can hit the ground running as soon as the flowers bloom when winter is over. I have been spending the last month or two analyzing my spring data, and have been able to remember the hectic, but enjoyable days spent in the field. I am looking forward to finalizing my analysis, and coming up with new experiments for next year.