Notes from the Field: Corona Virus Edition

Entering what is hopefully the home stretch of this PhD in the midst of a global pandemic is an odd place to find myself. There’s still fieldwork to be done, and samples to be sent out to labs, but it’s all against the backdrop of upheaval that makes me wonder if any of this is even worth it–surely there are things I could be doing with my time, things that would actually contribute to the well-being of people and the planet. But here I am, on the prairie, trying to finish a PhD in a pandemic and renewed civil rights movement.

I have, fortunately, been able to go out and do some fieldwork. The work itself is hopefully pushing me forward. But even if it isn’t, I’ve gotten to spend some breathtakingly beautiful days outside. Yesterday being one of the most gorgeous days I’ve experienced.

You all know I’m not a prairie person (too inland, too flat), but yesterday was pure majesty. My pictures can never do it justice. But here are a couple anyway, because the colors alone are pretty majestic. And some notes from the field–no notebook pages this time, just thoughts about how beautiful our world is.

Low, rolling, grassy prairie hills, with a big section of exposed red soil. The white dot between the two trees is a ~6' person for scale
Cutbank along Spring Creek in northeastern Kansas. The little white spot between two trees is my advisor for scale

It was clear and windy all day. Just big blue skies and a couple clouds being stretched thin way up high. The perfect day for climbing cutbanks and tooling around on gravel roads.

In the late morning, we clambered up a cutbank where Spring Creek had cut into an old co-alluvial fan, the dark bands of buried soils easy to see from a distance but looking all the same up close.

We stayed out til almost dark, trying to cram in as much work as we could.

Cutbank along the Big Blue River with two people working. The dead trees and overgrown weeds are visible at the top of the bank, and the river to the left
My advisor and his golden (former) student finishing up some long-ago started work along the Big Blue River. It doesn’t look like we moved a lot of dirt, but we moved a lot of dirt.

As the sun went down, we were standing on a cutbank further west, the Big Blue River at our backs. Owls hooted back and forth in the groves of bare white-gray trees killed by last year’s flood. And coyotes howled from thinned patches in the brush. Those high pitched, almost sweet sounding yips and howls, calling to each other and the setting sun across the valley floor. The river lapped quietly at the bank (and our backdirt pile), the cleanest I’ve ever seen it, with waves kicked up by the steady breeze and fish big enough to see their pink bellies flash as they leapt to catch bugs out of the cooling evening air.

Moonrise seen through a car windshield. The grassy rolling prairie and little groves of trees are seen all around
This is one of the few times I wished I had a better camera. It was one of the most beautiful moonrises I’ve ever seen, and I wish I could have actually captured it.

I watched the moonrise on the drive home: this year’s new black asphalt winding through the rolling, grass-lush valley, and the light dimming little by little. The Moon so enormous and glowing so it looked almost like backlit paper against the plum, rose-peach and gold of the fading blue sky.

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