For many biologists the field is sacred. The field is an alternate reality. The field is rarely a field and the less like one, the better. The field is too frequently a roadside and sometimes underwater. The field means unexpectedly fascinating places or fascination in unexpected places or places with unexpected fashions. Good coffee, bakeries and pubs are found and savoured in the field. People you barely know accompany you to the field, often chosen simply because they are free, and content with food, a bed and no pay. Friendships are formed that last a lifetime. The field teaches you about yourself and others very quickly from spending all day, everyday together. In the field you can be super-human, finding strength you never knew you had. The field forces you to be industrious. The field highlights your foibles, faults and failings too. In the field you lead or follow. Everyone smells the same in the field. The field is dizzily hot, freezing and wet or just so damned stunning you wonder how you landed there. In the field you meet extraordinary and strange people or see no-one at all. In the field you can escape all the crap and measure reality. You can’t easily be contacted and remain blissfully ignorant of emails, paperwork and deadlines (sorry, I was in the field). You escape from old routines and fall into strange new ones. If the field is good, it can make you laugh and laugh, it can change your world. But the field can treat you badly too, and make you want to cry with frustration. The field is full of the unexpected: shipping containers, heart-attacks, singing, a free lunch, generosity, abuse, orchids, volcanic protrusions, rare species, painters, sharks, new hypotheses, rescue helicopters, hibernating lizards, good luck, results. The field always provides fodder for many a good tale. The field seems like a dream when you return home. But returning to said field after many years always tugs at your heart.
Where have you been?
In the field.
And those that know nod, smile and wait for the stories.