Go to field camp they said. It’ll be fun they said. They were right. It was fun, but it was so much more than that.
They say that in order to be happy you have to do what you love. But doing what you love doesn’t automatically make you happy, or at least not as far as I am concerned. In order for me to achieve complete happiness, I feel that I need to find balance in mind, body, and spirit. For five weeks, that is exactly what I did. I submerged myself in my passion, in friendships, and the natural world around. Man, it was incredible.
The fact that everything I did those five weeks targeted my mind, body, and spirit at the same time is why I was able to find a balance. Every morning, I woke up confronted by a powerful and dynamic view of the Lost River Range in Mackay, Idaho. Every morning as I walked towards the barn I was greeted by Vini, Paul Link’s dog. And every time she’d drop her gross, muddy tennis ball and I would gladly pick it up and throw it across the field station for her and continue into the barn. Here is where I was greeted by a woman with a beautiful soul as I went to get ready for the day. Each morning, I ate a breakfast made with love; a breakfast I could only dream of eating in the regular world. In between eating and sitting in a lecture, I found myself barefoot on a mat with the rising sun shining to warm my body as I found my center and prepared my body for another strenuous day. At 8 am sharp, the triangle was rung and lecture began. Everyone started with a PKL signature joke that resulted in a room full of whole-hearted laughter regardless of whether or not we each got it. The next half-hour to an hour was spent staring in awe at the guest professor. Feverishly writing down every word, heavy with importance, that they spoke.
Post-lecture results in a mad dash to complete our cleaning crew’s tasks. The camp was full of hidden lessons: responsibility, hard work, and humility. The start of a new project meant new battle buddies were assigned. Someone you could bounce theories off of like a middle schooler playing wall ball. Someone who would point any detail out that shot down your idea which kind of felt like being the middle schooler who got hit by the ball after it bounced back from the wall. The great thing about field partners is they are there to cheer you on, split the work, and laugh at you when you slip and fall but only after they’ve made sure you were okay.
After a day spent in the field, a glorious day full of awe-inspiring sights, there was the car ride back. You either loved it or hated it. You either suffered through music choices or rocked out like no one was watching. The Donaldson’s were the latter, of course. Marvin Gaye, Explosions in the Sky, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, and the greatest hits of Queen. And if you had a particularly strenuous day out in the field you slept through anything and everything; head back, mouth open, and all. As soon as the ‘burb was put in park it was either a mad dash to the shower before dinner or you trudged your way to the tent to change. At 7 pm, we filled our plates with love and went out to the picnic tables because when you are surrounded by such beauty it doesn’t matter that you just spent nine hours outside, you eat dinner outside. The next several hours were filled with a personal choice of “happy juice”, jokes, and most often card games. As the night progressed and the milky way rose, one by one we made the moonlit journey to the tents where we’d wait for the new day to start.
Each of these days, I realize affected me in a way that lead to achieving balance.
A morning yoga routine resulted in a more pleasant day in the field. Releasing the tension in my body and stretching tight muscles made for a happy body. Every day was made up of nine hours of climbing up steep hills and losing elevation to drop into a ravine only to regain the elevation on the next ridge. If I hadn’t taken care of my body with yoga I would have been an unpleasant battle buddy. I wouldn’t have been able to cover the desired ground each day to have a good idea what the geology was doing.
Cathy, the woman with the beautiful soul, truly kept us happy. I’m not really sure I could describe her in a way that could do her justice. She has such a kind heart. I remember walking into the barn and her looking at me with her bright smile on her face and saying “Jade! I hadn’t seen you yet. I’m so glad you are here”. To this day, I still have no idea how she knew who I was. Every breakfast and dinner were a home-cooked meal made with only the best ingredients and love. She really cared for us. Cathy was the reason I was a morning person for five weeks. How can you not be when you are greeted by a smile and “good morning”, every morning? Cathy carried on conversations with us that were meaningful; that were good for our spirits. Could you expect anything less from someone who encouraged us to celebrate the Summer Solstice? I wouldn’t.
Every day in the field was harder than the day before. I pushed my body to the breaking point then I built it up. I fought my asthma like it was someone who told me I couldn’t and I was determined to prove them wrong. I am proud to say I only used my inhaler once. I used it in the last field area because I reached a point on the hike into the field area where I felt like someone was grabbing my lungs and crushing them and I still had 1000 ft of elevation to climb. After coming home two pant sizes smaller and realizing none of my clothes fit, I can honestly say every mountain, every ravine, and every ridge I climbed was worth it. I wasn’t unhappy with my body, but I can say I look and feel damn good now. Walking along steep and unstable talus slopes triggers my vertigo. Every mapping area, the slopes got steeper and more unstable and the distance we needed to travel along them became longer. Every slope was a battle fought in my mind. However, I never let it keep me from getting to the places I needed to go and I never let it hurt my partner’s ability to see the geology. I am incredibly thankful for my battle buddies and our T.A.s in the Little Fall area who were there when I was struggling to fight my vertigo. Caring people provide the strength you need in your struggles.
In Tucson, I have been exposed to a significant amount of rocks and structures but in Idaho I saw new rocks and structures. Glorious, quizzical, and awe-inspiring rocks and structures. The greatest “aha!” moment that I witnessed and experienced at field camp was in the first official mapping area. My partner and I had spent the first half of the day mindlessly walking up a ridge taking measurements and looking at corals hoping to decipher the unit changes. There were three units and we couldn’t decipher between the upper two units. So we lumped them for the time being. Finally, we reached the peak of the ridge and notice a change in the bedding orientation. So, we go over and investigate it. Huge rugose corals screamed at us the formation name. My excitement was a result of my ability to finally recognize which fossils were which. My partner, who had only seen geology in road cuts, was so incredibly excited to be standing in a massive syncline. His excitement at this idea was contagious. Standing in giant folds is actually pretty amazing. Every field area had a new skill for me to master whether it was identifying fossils, understanding glacial formations, describing volcanic rocks, or figuring out why in the world certain rocks were in random places. The geology challenged and I accepted the challenges humbly and pushed myself to accomplish them.
Sunday nights kept us sane. A sigh of relief as you stapled and placed your assignment into the box. If you were one of the first to finish you ran out of the barn and you never looked back. You likely walked around the barn on the outside to avoid glares of people still working when you made your trip to the beer fridge. Time spent between putting the assignment in the box and dinner was filled with trips to Mackay or at the river shooting a b.b. gun, laughing, skipping rocks, or the occasional shooting of the potato gun. After dinner was when the real shenanigans began. Beer ball and horse races were played until sundown. Then, the heavy consumption of “happy juice” ensued around the fire followed by more laughter and impaired adventures. I spent an unbelievable amount of time with these people and I feel like I have known them much longer than I actually have. These are my people. The only people that endured the same struggles.
Finally, battle buddies are the true heroes of this story. Field partners keep up morale and each one has a special thing they bring to the table. Sometimes you luck out and they are exactly the strength you need. You get a partner who teaches you about fossils and how to boulder. Or you get a partner who even though he is a gazelle never leaves his gimpy partner behind and is her biggest cheerleader. Or you get caught in the rain with only your rain pants and you have two incredible guys who shield you from the rain. Or get this, they block you so that you can drop trou in the middle of the field in the pouring rain and put on your rain pants. Or how about a partner who is willing to take a quick snooze in a beautiful field area. Even better, you get two wonderful human beings who provide nothing but laughter, support you, join cults with you, wander through the woods looking for old cabins while singing creepy songs with you, and play in the snow with you. But sometimes, the best battle buddies aren’t even your partners. They are the people you super group with because there is a little less desire to be serious when they are around.
For three years, I was fed my departments propaganda that field camp would be the hardest five weeks of my undergraduate career. They told us as a scared freshman that those five weeks for many make or break their future as a geologist. If you couldn’t make it at field camp then there was no point in continuing on. Those five weeks were the hardest I’ve encountered so far in my young life, but they were worth it. Field camp pushed me past limits I had no idea I had. I climbed mountains I never dreamed of climbing to see views I never imagined seeing. For five weeks, I was irrevocably happy. I was at peace. Being healthy is not just about what you feed your body; it is about what you feed your mind and the social environment you keep.