West of the Fields

A tropical ecologist reporting from the field. Musings on life and art, botfly extractions, tropical plant identification, beer, parrots, machetes. Etc.

Friday, July 06, 2007

The rest of the story

I have spent a lot of time recently thinking about error, the different sorts of error and how to avoid it. This is probably related to the statistics-intensive ethics discussion we had last week, addressing how to minimize sources of experimental error. This sounds, on the surface, like a pretty dry topic, but it’s vital to scientists: how can we be sure that we’re really measuring what we want to measure, and that our results can really be interpreted the way we would like to interpret them? Basically, how can we keep from screwing up?

This blog is full of errors, too, mostly minor and inconsequential. Typos and disappearing photos; undoubtedly some butchered Spanish grammar. But there is one major error, an error of omission, that has stood uncorrected for more than a year now and needs to be rectified. How to say this... dear readers, I am in love. Not just with Costa Rica (though I do love this place), but with one Costa Rican in particular. His name is Franklin. We got together last June, at Expo Sarapiquí. At the time, on the rebound from my breakup with Matt, I really wasn’t interested in anything serious. We had great chemistry, though, and we stayed together until I left in December. He was my companion in Nicaragua (ah, yes, things other than bitterness can hide behind a sin comentarios). We kept a low profile on the field station—he was working as the lab manager and I, of course, as a researcher, and we wanted to stay out of the gossip mill as much as possible. Most of the ticos knew, I think, but the rest of the researchers were generally oblivious. It helped that Franklin’s cabina was next door to mine, and he didn’t have a roommate.

When I left in December, we didn’t make any promises. But we stayed in contact through email and Skype (where would I be without Skype?), and we really got to know each other better in those months than we had in all our time together. Then a month before I was scheduled to return, he was laid off from his job on the field station. They wanted somebody who speaks English and has a chemistry degree (and this being OTS, the job search is still underway now several months later, and poor Danilo is being run off his feet as temporary lab manager). His contract was scheduled to end the day I arrived.

Well, dear readers, you can imagine how I felt. I will spare you the shopworn metaphors of grief. Once I got over the shock of it, I tried to think of some way that we could at least see each other again. I offered him a part-time job as my field assistant and he accepted. And now we live together in a little house by the entrance road to La Selva, about a kilometer from the station. He’s gone almost every weekend, working at his other jobs—he’s a curator for about four different serpentaria (snake zoos) across the country. I’ve learned the sound of his motorcycle engine by heart.

It’s not a life I would have imagined for myself: cooking rice and beans and plátanos on the two-burner propane stove, hanging our field clothes from the rafters to dry, sweeping the termite droppings off the shelves before we put the dishes away, shouting to each other over the din of rain on the tin roof. The damp night air carries in the scent of the garden—half a hectare of flowers and fruit trees on the hill behind the house—and rain; the roosters and the howler monkeys wake us before dawn. No, not a life I would have imagined, but a life I love.

The last two weeks have been a little crazy. I’m running my liana removal experiment in six sites, two of them in young forest on private farms outside the field station. At the beginning of June, one of the landowners told me that he needs the land back for pasture. My census was scheduled for late August, after the end of the REU program, but Don José was not persuaded. He gave me until the 15th of July to finish everything.

Franklin started working for me on the 18th of June, and ever since then I’ve been leading a triple life: in the mornings, we would bike the 3k out to the plot in Flaminia and frantically take light measurements, growth data, and leaf samples from unknown plants. In the afternoon, I’d bike back to the station and do my REU work. In the evening, I’d come back home and cook (Franklin’s not much of a cook, so he washes dishes and cleans up the kitchen after supper). I love my work—all of it—but at the end of the day I feel kind of stretched-thin. Fortunately, we finished up the plot yesterday, well ahead of schedule. Now I just need to train Franklin for the other aspects of the project and show him where the other plots are, and I can go back to leading a merely double life. I’m looking forward to it.

(Franklin, before and after his change of jobs. He's always been a bit of a rebel: note the bat on the lab coat pocket.)

(Viva la pareja impareja.)


At 7:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Susan, I'm so glad you are enjoying your triple life. That's about what I'm doing now, getting ready for ATBC, while trying to be on vacation! At least I've got it down to a double life for now! (Robin was here)

At 6:51 PM, Blogger Susan said...

Good luck, Robin! I hope your vacation is going well. Don't stress out too much-- I know the talk will be great. See you soon in Mexico!

At 12:31 PM, Anonymous sandra shaw said...

Susan, been wondering what happened to you. Saw your mother at the post office and she gave me this site. Glad you're doing well. Miss you a lot. Please email me super@acadia.net. Will send Sensei your site. love ya' baby. keep up the good work. What no hair??? Must because you f--- one goat! Sandy Shaw


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