Day 12: Project runway

Returned to the field on our final day of collection. Most of what we did was cleanup--removing flags, noting what we couldn't collect, etc. It's funny how much my standards have changed: fossil fragments that would have excited me on the first day now don't seem worth the two minutes it would take to wait for my GPS to register a satellite signal. (Again: Logan Butte is very fossiliferous.) My first field experience and I'm already spoiled.

With all that said, I want to make a few notes about field attire.

 Workin' it. Photo courtesy Win McLaughlin.

Workin' it. Photo courtesy Win McLaughlin.

I've developed a reputation among my classmates as an over-dresser. I'm also one of two people in camp who hasn't gotten horribly sunburnt in the past two weeks. (The other is an instructor who also covers up head-to-toe.) Correlation or causation? You decide.

We're working in the Oregon high desert. It's hot. I can get why others are inclined to strip down to t-shirts, shorts, and a thin layer of sunscreen. But I also remember how I was first introduced to desert attire in the original "Star Wars."

 Image from dailymail.co.uk.

Image from dailymail.co.uk.

Look: the sun is a murderer. It is constantly trying to kill us. It does so with a creative variety of murderous schemes ranging from dehydration to heatstroke to skin cancer. Given its boundless rage, it seems unwise to taunt it with exposed skin. Obi-Wan knew this to be true.

On a more serious note, there's no avoiding discomfort in the field. The work is a reminder that "comfort" itself is a relatively new human invention: we're only comfortable in a narrow range of temperatures that are not normal in most of the places we live and most of nature is not cushioned. We might call these atmospheric discomforts. They can't be avoided.

By contrast, there are plenty of discomforts that can be avoided: scrapes, cuts, bug bites, pebbles in your shoes, sunburn, etc. These can be avoided with the aid of things like long sleeves and scarves and ridiculous Legionnaires' caps. Using these aids might heighten atmospheric discomfort, but you're going to feel that discomfort anyway.

Of course, this is a utilitarian argument. One might argue that I should ditch the getup out of a sense of dignity or self-respect. To such an argument I would respond: if I don't care, then why should it matter? We're in the middle of nowhere; it's not as if a picture is going to wind up on the internet for all the world to see.